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Bring Back Fanon

by | September 28, 2015

How have we lived, in the last thirty years? Before replying, try to read the conclusions of this book*, which did so much in its time. The first of eight Italian editions is from 1962, one year after the French, a few months before Fanon’s death.

The revolt of the Arab world and of the Black world, Africa and Algeria. Who was that doctor from the Antilles, between psychoanalysis and Marxism, prefaced by Sartre, who still dared to write: ‘Come, then, comrades, brothers’? The idiot who, one eye open, dozes in all of us, opens the other one. And smiles. What use do we have, he mutters, for this kind of oratory, after so many catastrophes and disproofs?

Open your newspapers or walk in the streets. You’ll soon find out.

It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man, a history which will have regard to the sometimes prodigious theses which Europe has put forward, but which will also not forget Europe’s crimes, of which the most horrible was committed in the heart of man, and consisted of the pathological tearing apart of his functions and the crumbling away of his unity.

These formulas are still current, direct. But isn’t that also true of the ensemble of ‘racial hatreds, slavery, exploitation and above all the bloodless genocide which consisted in the setting aside of fifteen thousand millions of men’?

Frantz Fanon erred on the side of optimism. In these thirty years we have moved: from the design to turn Africa and Latin America into a new Europe, to the homicidal wish to construct cultures at two or three ‘speeds’, stable and cohesive castes, neo-Darwinist ethics.

With his books he contributed to forming the cadres of an undertaking that we continue to refuse to decipher, as evidenced by today’s diffuse and fearsome fears, the enormous armies of the Gulfs, the chronicles of conflict. Does a reality exist? For fifteen years it has been hidden from the young by anti-political moralism. They rediscovered it, staring them in the face, a year ago, in the guise of a massacre [the first Iraq War]. Then they started dreaming again. When we have awakened them, but not before, we might be able to criticise Fanon’s mistakes.

At the end of his essay on violence, he has a hallucination: ‘At the level of individuals, violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex … The attempt at mystification becomes, in the long run, practically impossible.’ In my copy I see today that, adding the date 1972, I had written on that page: ‘It’s not true.’ Mystification is still active, the ‘task’ is endless. But let us thank those who, with violence, force us to remember.

Franco Fortini, L’Espresso, 12 April 1992

Translated by Alberto Toscano

*Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Franco Fortini (10 September 1917 – 28 November 1994) was the pseudonym of Franco Lattes, an Italian Marxist essayist, poet and translator.