Homage to Frantz Fanon
Frantz Fanon is dead. We expected this for many months, but against all reason,
we were hopeful. We knew him as such a determined person, capable of
miracles, and as such a crucial figure on the horizon of men. We must accept
the facts: Frantz Fanon is dead at age 37. A short life, but extraordinary. Brief,
but bright, illuminating one of the most atrocious tragedies of the 20th century
and detailing in an exemplary manner the human condition, the condition of
modern man. If the word “commitment” has a meaning, then it is embodied in
the person of Frantz Fanon. He was called “an advocate of violence, a terrorist.”
And it’s true Fanon appointed himself the theoretician of violence, the sole
weapon of the colonized against the barbarism of colonialism.
However odd it seems, his violence was non-violent; the violence of justice,
of pureness, uncompromising. His revolt was ethical, his approach one of generosity.
He did not simply join a cause. He gave himself to it. Wholly. Without
reserve. Without measure. With unqualified passion.
A doctor, he knew human suffering. As a psychiatrist, he observed the impact
on the human mind of traumatic events. Above all, as a “colonial” man
he felt and understood what it was to be born and live in a colonial situation;
he studied this situation scientifically, aided by introspection as much as
His revolt was in this context. As a doctor in Algeria, he witnessed the unfolding
of colonial atrocities, and this was what gave birth to rebellion. It wasn’t
enough for him to argue in defense of the Algerian people. He united himself
with the oppressed, humiliated, tortured and beaten down Algerian. He became
Algerian. Lived, fought and died Algerian. A theoretician of violence,
doubtless, and yet more so of action. Because he had an aversion to mere talk.
Because he had an aversion to compromise. Because he had an aversion to cowardice.
No one was more respectful of ideas, more responsible to his own ideals,
more exacting of life he imagined as a practical ideal.
It is thus that he became a combatant, and a writer, one of the most brilliant
of his generation.
On colonialism, the human consequences of colonization and racism, the
key text to read is Black Skin, White Masks. On decolonization, again by Fanon,
The Wretched of the Earth.
Fanon died and one reflects on his life; his epic side as well as his tragic side.
The epic side is that Fanon lived to the very end his destiny of a champion of
liberty, mastering to the heights his sense of identity with humanity and that
he died a fighter for Internationalism.
At the actual moment when he himself was entering the “great darkness,”
at the brink of which he was reeling, he understands: “Come Comrades, it is
better to change our thinking. To shake off and leave behind the great darkness
into which we have plunged. . . . It is necessary to invent, to discover . . . for
Europe, for ourselves, and for mankind, . . . to develop a new way of thinking,
to try to bring forth a new humankind.”
I don’t know of anything more moving or greater than this lesson of life
coming from a deathbed.
Présence Africaine, no. 40 (1962); translated by Connie Rosemont