Rereading Frantz Fanon in the light of his unpublished texts
Jean Khalfa, Trinity College, Cambridge
Frantz Fanon (1925–1961) is principally known as a great theoretician of race relations and decolonization, in particular through the two main books he published during his lifetime Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961).
What is less known is that he was in parallel a pioneering psychiatrist and an early and recognized theoretician of ethnopsychiatry.
A volume of about a thousand pages of texts either difficult to access or presumed lost was recently published, following more than a decade of research in archives located in different parts of the world. It reveals first the importance and originality of his thought as a scientist, and secondly the importance of this dimension of his work for the understanding of his political texts.
This is shown on two points: 1) the role of violence in the decolonization process, when compared with Fanon’s texts on psychiatric internment, the phenomenon of agitation and the alternative model of social therapy and 2) the use of «identity» as cultural foundation for newly decolonized states, which he strongly criticised, when compared with Fanon’s systematic questioning of any personal «constitution» in his psychiatric and ethnopsychiatric work.
Exploring archives and searching for lost works can be essential to the understanding of a writer but is also fraught with the seductions and risks of a comfortable fetishism, that of reaching the complete meaning of a work through the patient and exhaustive inventory and analysis of its corpus. When setting out to work on an edition of Frantz Fanon’s unpublished or inaccessible writings my aim was rather to reveal the complexity of a body of thought of which the astonish-ing creativity, its freedom and its uncertainties, had been progressively masked under proliferating interpretations linked to various agendas.
The point was to recreate its genesis in relation to the debates and historical events it responded to, and then evaluate its relevance to our time, which is now determined by the consciousness of a history Fanon was one of the first to conceptualise, that of decolonisation.