Frantz Fanon ‘s Contribution to Postcolonial Criticism

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A pioneering postcolonial theorist and activist, who wrote in the 1960s in the context of the French occupation of Algeria, Frantz Fanon through his seminal works, The Wretched of the Earth (1961) and Black Skin, White Masks (1967), analysed the psychological effects of colonialism on both the coloniser and the colonised. Fanon argued that the native develops a sense of ‘self’ as defined by the ‘colonial master’ through representation and discourse, while the coloniser develops a sense of superiority. Fanon thus develops a psychoanalytical theory of postcolonialism where he suggests that the European “Self” develops in its relation and encounter with the “Other.”

In an attempt to deal with the psychological inadequacy, the native tries to be as white as possible, by adopting the Western values, religion, language and practices of the White, and by rejecting his own culture. Fanon calls this phenomenon donning white masks over black skins resulting in a duality, and experiencing a schizophrenic atmosphere. Further the sense of inadequacy and insecurity in the colonised’s psyche results in violence, which is a form of self-assertion.

Fanon argued that the sense of ‘inadequacy and inferiority in the colonized’s psyche results in violence, which according to the natives, is a form of self assertion. This violence even erupts against his ow natives, when the native realizes that he cannot become truly “white.” Thus, tribal wars, for Fanon, are an instance of this violence, generated through the colonial system, where the natives turn against each other, haunted by a failure to  turn against the colonial master.

In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon propounded idea of a national literature and a national culture, recognising the significance of cultural nationalism, leading to national consciousness. He attempted to plead for a greater, pan-African cause, as the blacks had to create their own histories and rewrite their stories. Fanon believed that such a national culture must take recourse to the African myths and cultural practices. He formulated the three stages in which a national culture is formed: 1) The native, under the influence of the coloniser’s culture, seeks to emulate and assimilate it by discarding his own culture (what Homi K Bhabha later calls mimicry). 2) the native acknowledges the wide disparity and discovers that he can never be truly white or white enough for the coloniser to treat him as equal, and returns to study his own culture, with a romantic and celebratory mode. 3) However in the third stage, the native is truly anticolonial, accompanied by a critical analysis of his own culture.

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However, Fanon also foresaw the flipside of cultural nationalism — that it may lead to xenophobia and intolerance. He realised that national culture had only a limited value, to help define the native culture against the overwhelming assault of the colonial. Another limitation of cultural nationalism that Fanon pointed out was that it would not ensure that the working classes and the oppressed would be remedied. Thus while his concept of cultural nationalism was representational, it was also materialistic and economical. He also proposed a dynamic culture that must be critically evaluated, and is responsive to the changing socio-historical circumstances. Yet another prophetic argument was that after political  independence, the power struggle between the Coloniser and the native would reemerge in the form of that between the native elite and the rest of the postcolonial society, and that the oppression, exploitation and corruption continues, as reflected in Ayi Kwei Armah‘s The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born.

 

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2 thoughts on “Frantz Fanon ‘s Contribution to Postcolonial Criticism

  1. […] Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth (1961) discussed the role of language in colonisation, which involved subjugation in terms of linguistic ability and identity. Chinua Achebe also realised that language was a powerful instrument of control used by the coloniser, because it is through language (which is a large part of culture) that people express their folktales, myths, proverbs and history, the totality of which defines a culture’s identity. And for this reason, the imperial powers attempted to obliterate the local languages and replace them with their own. The two possible responses, as Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin point out, are rejection and subversion. While Ngugi wa Thiong’o outrightly rejected the coloniser’s language (abrogation), Chinua Achebe opted for subversion (appropriation). […]

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  2. […] Frantz Fanon here develops a psychoanalytic theory of colonialism where he suggests that the European self develops in its relation and encounter with the other. For the native, the only way of dealing with this psychological inadequacy is by trying to be as “white” as possible. However, according to Homi K Bhabha, “The menace of mimicry is its trouble vision which in disclosing the ambivalence of colonial discourse also disrupts its authority.” Mimicry also fails because the colonial master, on the one hand, wants the native as similar to himself as possible, and on the other, wishes to keep the difference between the native and himself. The mimicry of the native often encodes 1) a facile obedience and obsequiousness and 2) a deeper disobedience and mockery (what Bhabha in his essay of the same title, calls “sly civility“). Mimicry that results in a dualism of deference and disobedience is what Bhabha sees as resistance. […]

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