The book is written in the style of auto-theory,  which Fanon shares his own experiences in addition to presenting a historical critique of the effects of racism and dehumanization, inherent in situations of colonial domination, on the human psyche. The violent overtones in Fanon can be broken down into two categories: The violence of the colonizer through annihilation of body, psyche, culture, along with the demarcation of space. And secondly the violence of the colonized as an attempt to retrieve dignity, sense of self, and history through anti-colonial struggle. Fanon confronts complex formations of colonized psychic constructions of Blackness in the book. He applies psychoanalysis to explain the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that black people experience.
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Yet while blacks continue to remain segregated under Jim Crow, the situation for the French man of color haunted by liberal metropolitan racism, is rather different. Fanon contends in BSWM that there is no more insidious obstacle than racism to the realization of our species capacities or the completion of the historical dialectic.
Of course this claim only makes sense if racism is treated, like in BSWM, as a symptom of capitalism. For no one quoting BSWM can miss its incisive rebuke of black militancy as proffering a chimeric freedom or its bold claim about alienation as the exclusive privilege of a certain class of blacks. He died of leukemia related complications in Bethesda, Maryland in The French war in Algeria lasted from We cannot forget the lumpenproletariat, the wretched of the earth, who still stream to Europe from Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the countries of the former Eastern bloc, living on the periphery in their shantytowns.
No doubt this at least partially explains why the new translation elicits a tepid foreword by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Hence, in its endeavor to restore some of the philosophically inflected categories particularly in the fifth chapter , the new translation mirrors a wider historical trend privileging a descriptive phenomenology of race over a psychoanalytic interpretation.
But these virtues are limited by the fact that it lacks the apparatus of a critical edition with which to adjudicate matters of nuance. Despite its infelicities, the older translation by Charles Lam Markmann, first issued in , seems more aware of its intended audience; its age captures quaintly the historical texture of BSWM.
The older translation was, in an important sense, more aware of the stakes of BSWM. Sigmund Freud — , the founder of modern psychoanalysis, was a key influence in the theory of racism and black disalienation that Fanon develops in Black Skin, White Masks. But, paradoxically, the obverse, that whiteness is the flipside of blackness, is false. This is the central claim of BSWM that stands at both ends of the book. That is, if we bracket the socio-structural causes of racism, then we can attack the psychopathology of race.
Anti-black racism often serves to alibi poverty or class differences, but to confuse anti-black racism as the cause of structural disparities is to misunderstand the particularity of modern racism, which is also why a psychoanalytic explanation of racism differs from a sociological one, despite the fact that its object of analysis is the same.
A psychoanalytic treatment of racism takes as its concrete concern the affective satisfaction that blacks as well as whites obtain from anti-black racism. Fanon thus develops an analysis of racism rather than race—the naturalization of race is the object of this critique.
To simply identify oneself politically as either black or white is to eschew the hard work of analysis. The ambitiousness of BSWM is rooted in its attempt to deal with the ways in which the psychical or fantastical reality of race might be more consequential than the empirical one. Because the connotations with the color black are purely negative, blacks share the stereotypes as much as whites, so disalienation can never mean a simple negation of what is black. Fanon as a Martiniquan who is a French citizen does not feel himself to be black, subjectively, but then the realization comes that objectively, the Martiniquan is seen as black.
All I wanted was to be a man among other men. I wanted to come lithe and young into a world that was ours and to help build it together. But much like the Jew who once stood in as the symbol of humanity, the black man is now forced to do the same; the struggle for disalienation carries within it the emergent universal category of man.
The black man thus finds himself faced with the task of transcendence. He is only a rational subject whom others can recognize in spite of this blackness. However the extent to which the black man is an object of racism he cannot be a subject.
There is then a bad-faith quality to racism that delivers it its affective charge. And Fanon is interested in inquiring: What kind of a subject with a weakened or hyper-cathected ego needs the affirmation of the other? The only way out of this dual narcissism is to liquidate history so that one can recognize that what is attributed to the other is what one should attribute to oneself.
Fanon urges that the same affect that is enlisted in racism which, when it is negative and destructive is what we refer to as authoritarianism is, when it is turned inside out, the dynamic invested with the hope of destroying racism—the denied, twisted investment in the other that racism plays on is the same affective source for the obliteration of racism!
The interracial utopian vision in BSWM is that this transformation needs to occur within the context of capitalism. In no way do I have to dedicate myself to reviving a black civilization unjustly ignored. I will not make myself the man of any past. I do not want to sing the past to the detriment of my present and my future. I must constantly remind myself that the real leap consists of introducing invention in life…. The collapse of the utopian framework of BSWM in W of E amounts to an affective disorientation over what is versus what ought to be the relationship between the struggles against oppressions of various kinds that are reproduced in the context of capital, that therefore also contribute to its reproduction, in the struggle to overcome capital.
This shift, which renders the utopianism of BSWM implausible, is useful negatively, in provoking a critical recognition of the ways in which the Left abandoned the aim of emancipation. These failures obscure, putting it simply, what the black narrator of BSWM advocates, namely the rejection of ontology.
The Arab like the black Martiniquan had the right to refuse being in the name of becoming. See Homi K. Yet Fanon the Marxist probably stood no chance once the mullahs turned their ire against their leftist counterparts who were treated as atheistic interlopers in their revolution. Fanon is also often remembered as a mujahid warrior of the Algerian War. He became Algerian. Lived, fought and died Algerian. A more complete consideration of the awkward relationship between existentialism and phenomenology in BSWM is beyond the remit of this review, but if the earlier Markmann translation was weighted toward existentialism, in the new edition Philcox sometimes veers in the opposite direction.
Book Review: Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks.
During World War II Fanon enlisted in the French army and was initially sent with allied forces to Casablanca, Morocco, yet was transferred to France where he fought and was wounded in the battle at Colmar, in northern France. After the war Fanon studied medicine in France, where he specialized in psychiatry. It was while studying in France that Fanon wrote his first book, entitled Black Skin, White Masks , a study of the black subjugation in the western white world. A major influence on civil rights, anti-colonial, and black consciousness movements internationally, Black Skin, White Masks is the unsurpassed study of the black psyche in a white world. Hailed for its scientific analysis and poetic grace when it was first published in , the book remains a vital force today from one of the most important theorists of revolutionary struggle, colonialism, and racial difference in history. As a writer he demonstrates how insidiously the problem of race, of color, connects with a whole range of words and images.
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