Inner Circle Seminar No. 207
‘Violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organised and educated by its leaders, makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them. Without that struggle, without that knowledge of the practice of action, there’s nothing but a fancy-dress parade and the blare of the trumpets. There’s nothing but a minimum of readaptation, a few reforms at the top, a flag waving: and down there at the bottom an undivided mass, still living in the middle ages, endlessly marking time.’
As Sartre put it:
‘The rebel’s weapon is the proof of his humanity. For in the first days of the revolt you must kill: to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time: there remain a dead man, and a free man... ’
Hannah Arendt criticised this thesis in On Violence (1970). David Macey, in his biography of Fanon (2001), writes:
‘He certainly had a talent for hate and he did advocate and justify a violence that I can no longer justify. And yet, his first readers sensed in his work a great generosity.’
There is, indeed, far more to Fanon than the advocacy of violence. To give just one example: his classic account of the police torturer who consults him as a psychotherapist to help him continue torturing but without feeling guilt is essential reading for psychotherapists of any school in any society.
Fanon, at the end of his first book, wrote:
‘I am not a prisoner of history. I should not seek there for the meaning of my destiny.
I should constantly remind myself that the real leap consists in introducing invention into existence.
The body of history does not determine a single one of my actions.
Was my freedom not given to me then in order to build the world of the You [Toi]?
My final prayer:
O my body, make of me always a man who questions!’
R. D. Laing identified Fanon as one of a select few (‘Artaud, Merleau-Ponty, Fanon, Marcuse, Grass’) with whom ‘truly contemporary experience and thought begins’. In today’s seminar we shall study Fanon as a great, if problematic, existential pioneer. We shall draw on his two books mentioned above, on his Studies in a Dying Colonialism (1959) and For the African Revolution (1964), and on Macey’s fine biography. Your contribution will, as always, be welcome.