Frantz Fanon was quite a provocative fellow. In his most influential work, The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon says that “For the colonized, life can only materialize from the rotting cadaver of the colonist.”
What is it
Frantz Fanon is a thinker who has inspired radical liberation movements in places ranging from Palestine to South Africa to the United States. Most famous for his work The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon is often understood as a proponent of revolutionary violence. But is this a fair characterization of Fanon, or is it an oversimplification of a deeper and richer body of work? What exactly is Fanon’s philosophy of violence, and how does it relate to his philosophy and psychology of the colonial subject? How has Fanon shaped how we think of identity politics? The Philosophers welcome Nigel Gibson from Emerson College, author of Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination.
As the show begins, Josh and Ken question whether violence is an appropriate response to colonial oppression. The work of 20th century philosopher Frantz Fanon – who is well-known for advocating for rebellious violence – is the stasis point for this conversation. While Ken is dissuaded from this approach – arguing that non-violent approaches similar to those of Gandhi are more ethical – Josh pushes back by arguing that non-violence is a tool used by colonialism to quell its subjects. In a word, the colonized can become so deeply colonized that they reject violence on the grounds of their oppressors’ values such as dignity, equality, and individualism.
The hosts are joined by guest Nigel Gibson, professor in the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College. Nigel claims that a violent reading of Fanon’s work does not recognize his project to help the colonized rebuild a post-colonial world despite the historical struggles underlying it. For Nigel, the question becomes “how do the colonized produce a new consciousness that resists colonialism’s influence?” He argues that in Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon seeks to explain the process by which individuals internalize oppression due to the failure of the colonizer to live up to his/her professed commitment to universal equality.
In the last segment of the show, Josh, Ken, and Nigel discuss the tension between cosmopolitanism and Fanon’s commitment to the constant struggle between the colonizer and colonized. Nigel recasts the latter as a collective struggle to liberate the colonized from their conditions to produce independent, sovereign national consciousness. Moreover, the colonizer isn’t fully pervasive, as Nigel explains that certain elites (such as the intellectual class) can play an important role as revolutionaries in the effort toward liberation.
- Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 6:45): Liza Veale joins the show with an overview of Fanon’s biography. When Fanon was a teenager, he joined the French struggle against Nazism. Motivated by French liberal ideals, he grew to understand himself as a subject of colonialism. As an academic, he earned a reputation for rejecting these democratic ideals in favor of violent revolution, though many academics dispute the extent to which he recommended violence. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: in our current political economy, Fanon’s work is becoming more relevant.
- Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:30): Ian Shoales brings some historical context to Fanon’s last work, the Wretched of the Earth. With conflict occurring around the world at the time of its publication, Shoales claims that violence begets violence, as according to Fanon.