Tag Archives: Frantz Fanon

Violence as liberation in ‘Season of Migration to the North’ and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’

1 Mar

In Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ (available on google books), the author makes a case for the positive influence of violence in the anti-colonial struggle by claiming “at the individual level”, it is a “cleansing force” that “… frees the native from his inferiority complex and his despair and inaction” (94). Fanon also describes violence as “all inclusive”,  and calls it an “illuminating force” (94).

This reading of violence as a positive, proactive force for change can be applied to the ending of Rhys’ ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ as well as to the final pages of Salih’s ‘Season of Migration to the North’– In the former, Antoinette’s last words give the reader the impression that through the violence of a house fire, she will finally be able to reclaim her true identity– “the sky is red and all my life is in it” (Rhys 112). In Salih’s novel, the narrator describes his struggle in the water:

I was conscious of the river’s destructive forces pulling me downwards and of the current pushing me to the southern shore in a curving angle. I would not be able to keep thus poised for long; sooner or later the river’s forces would pull me down into its depths (168).

In keeping with the classic doppelganger trope often seen in Post-Colonial literature, the narrator mirrors Sa’eed’s own literal struggle with life when he almost drowns in the river, but survives when he gives up his struggle to migrate– figuratively and literally– from south to north.  On the final page of Salih’s book, the narrator appears to be claiming that by choosing to live, to engage with a community of his choosing and the discharge of his duties (168), he is choosing to not give into the struggle of belonging or being in either the north or the south– “Though floating on the water, I was not part of it” (168).

By placing violence in an active, positive context, Fanon seems to be suggesting that violence = action = agency = individualism = liberation. In ‘Black Skin, White Masks’, Fanon speaks of liberation again when he talks about freeing “the black man.. from himself”, and by association freeing him from the urge to seamlessly assimilate or mimic aspects of the colonizer. When Salih’s narrator vocalizes his yearning (a hunger, a thirst for a cigarette) and ceases to attempt to get to either north or south shore, and instead yells for help, he is eschewing the struggle Sa’eed faced before him, viz. being appropriated and objectified as an English Educated Black African. Similarly, when Rhys’ Antoinette lights all the candles she finds and makes plans for her final escape, she — through an act of violence– finally releases herself from the Othering forces of both her ethnic heritage and her white husband. It is only through violence and death (figurative for the former, literal for the latter) that both Salih’s narrator as well as Rhys’ Antoinette are able to escape the weight of their doubles (Sa’eed, the ghost/Tia) and truly return to their own sense of selfhood.

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Literary Labels as an Othering Force

22 Feb

Fanon writes, “I believe that the fact of a juxtaposition of the white and black races has created a massive psychoexistential complex. I hope by analyzing it to destroy.”

One of the most regrettable behaviors in literature is the pidgeonholing of work. “Queer lit,” “African-American lit,” “feminist lit,” etc. While these labels are often apt and speak to the subject matter, they give no indication of style and expose the unfortunate part of human nature that leads us to limit our consumption to work that deals with people like us. Furthermore, we are committing that most terrible sin: judging work by different standards. It seems condescending to think that there are different standards for African American literature (or African literature for that matter). This seems related to ideas that Said rejected.

The tendency is somewhat understandable and at times necessarily for practical and consumerist reasons, but it seems to reinforce divisions. By attaching these labels, we create the juxtaposition that Fanon writes about. One might assume that the labels exist, in part, to separate these works from predominantly white literature or the literary canon. For example, it seems that we are sometimes saying “this is good for Middle Eastern literature” instead of “this is good literature.” That creates a dynamic that is not entirely constructive. 

The flip side of this that these genres or subgenres add a great deal of texture. If we read, say, a work of African-American lit, it not only presents the reader with a well crafted and entertaining story, but a story that enhances our understanding of the African-American experience. This seems to be of literary value and also socially conscious. It would seem like a mistake not to read Cesaire as Martiniquan or black literature. Also, in light of Cesaire’s chosen subject matter, it would also be incredibly contrived to discuss the work as not Martiniquan or not a statement on being the other.

In some cases, it seems important that authors work under these labels so as not to be confused with those who would wear the “white mask” that Fanon writes of. In other cases, it seems that society is using these labels as to intentionally segregate “literature” from black or queer or third world literature as if those works would not stand up outside their own literary realm. Of course, it can and should be argued that these same labels put Caribbean literature on an equal plane with British literature by virtue of the admission that the Caribbean or Africa or the Middle East have produced works that can be called literature. It is more problematic to consider the question: if there is black literature does that mean that so many other works belong to “white” literature?

I know, of course, that these labels are largely innocuous or, at best, extremely useful for scholars. The labels are also reflective of a reality created after centuries of colonialism and oppression, a reality that many of us regret and attempt to remedy but a reality all the same. I am not arguing to the cessation of these labels, but I think it is worth noting why they sometimes stick in my throat.

Bluring the Black and White

22 Feb

Frantz Fanon essentially argues that the only way to achieve complete freedom from European colonial domination is “nothing short of the liberation of the man of color from himself” (8).  He proposes a liberation through the understanding of the racial inferiority complex caused by “the juxtaposition of the white and black races” (12); but I question the importance Fanon places on this juxtaposition.  In hunter-gatherer and other “pre-state” societies (i.e. small-scale societies without a functioning state or state-like system) Jared Diamond argues in The World until Yesterday that there were only three groups of people: known members of the community, known enemies, and (rarely) strangers that were assumed to be enemies.  So isn’t the perceived superiority of European culture and reason used as a way to distinguish between ‘members of the community’ and ‘foreigners who are probably enemies?’  If Africa had been full of whiteness instead of blackness, would the outcome of slavery and colonization really have been any different?  Wouldn’t a cultural distinction still have been invoked to separate “Europeans” from “Africans”?

I’m not implying that we ignore racism, but questioning Fanon’s solution for liberating the blackness from the idea of weakness and victimhood.  Instead of focusing on identifying the dichotomy of white and black, which only adds to the loss of identity of those who are “Not yet white, no longer wholly black” (138), wouldn’t it be more constructive to adopt elements of the white into the black, and the black into the white in a process of transculturation?  The white and black have become so entwined with each other that one cannot exist without the other. Even Aimé Césaire’s embrace of negritude can only be a means of identifying the elements of the blackness that could enrich the white, not an end in of itself.  Through a mutual process of cultural enrichment, the white can be redeemed by regaining the negritude’s captivation with “the essence of things” (Césaire, 35) while the black can achieve liberation from ideological domination of the white.