Tag Archives: Narrative Style

To Science or Not To Science, That is the Question

22 Feb

Aimee Cesaire’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land is written as a poem, although its unusual amalgamation of shorter lines and solid blocks of text and its rambling style might make some skeptical of that label.  Similarly, in his introduction, Fanon, who was trained as a psychologist, calls his White Skins, White Masks a “clinical study,” although he refuses to explain his methods, saying “I leave methods to the botanists and the mathematicians.” (12).  In fact, throughout the book, Fanon’s style seems to echo Cesaire’s, albeit in a less “surreal” way–it rambles, it incorporates personal anecdotes and dialogue (using free indirect discourse), and it contains very little actual clinical language.  In fact, the majority of Chapter Three is an analysis of a literary character, Jean Veneuse.  While literary scholars are if course aware of the strong ties between early psychoanalysis and literature (that Freud sure does love his Oedipus and his Hamlet!), we are also painfully aware of the ways in which the study of literature is denigrated for not being “scientific” (an accusation that led Frye and others in the 1950s to attempt to systematize the study of literature through identifying an essential “thesis” prevalent in all literature).  Might, therefore, this incorporation of personal and fictional stories hurt, rather than aid, Fanon’s argument?  If he is trained in scientific research and language, why would he resort to this unscientific style?  

The text does contain clues as to why Fanon might decide not to stick to a clinical analysis when writing about race. In Chapter Four, page 111, Fanon says,

For several years certain laboratories have been trying to produce a serum for  “denegrification”; with all the earnestness in the world, laboratories have sterilized their test tubes, checked their scales, and embarked on researches that might make it possible for the miserable Negro to whiten himself and thus to throw off the burden of that corporal malediction.

Fanon appears to have invented the idea of this “serum,” which stands therefore as a metaphor for a process of “attempting to turn black people white” that he sees both black and white people promoting (making the particular universal, rather than allowing all particulars to be part of a larger universal).  But his bitter language about science and “progress” here reminds us that science is a human invention and has been used throughout history to subjugate those deemed “Other” (in modern history, eugenics, phrenology, social darwinism).  Fanon’s use of narratives, of stories, of dialogue, therefore, can be seen as a way for him to highlight his humanity–his membership in a universal human community.  Instead of making the discussion of race clinical, scientific, and therefore removed, supposedly unbiased and objective (again, see above for how that sometimes works out), he insists on speaking to us human-to-human, making his personal situation and stake in the discussion clear, and asking us to look him in the eyes and recognize his humanity.  As such, perhaps his style is more effective than a clinical study might be, after all.