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Frantz Fanon and Achille Mbembe: The Legacies of Colonialism

Lecturer: Peter Gratton

Originally Taught: Winter School 2020

The writings of Frantz Fanon (1925-61) and Achille Mbembe (1957- ) take on the racist legacies of the West while charting a “new humanism” that could finally speak to the existential freedom of each and every one of us. Both Fanon and Mbembe use resources from within the tradition of Continental philosophy (Hegel, Marx, Freud, Sartre, and early Lacan, among others, for Fanon; Hegel, Heidegger, Bataille, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, and Nancy, among others, for Mbembe), along with thinkers from within Africana philosophy, to confront the legacies of slavery, colonialism, and apartheid, which have done so much to upend the lives of countless blacks in Africa and beyond. Allergic to any essentialist notions of identity tied to a mythical past or to one’s race, both Fanon and Mbembe offer the glimmers of a post-racial politics while providing devastating and often searing accounts of the effects of colonialism on the colonized and formerly colonized.

This course will review these thinkers’ most important writings to assess Fanon’s critical race theory and his call for overthrowing violent colonial regimes as well as Mbembe’s writings on what he dubs the postcolony and the necropolitical stakes of new forms of colonialism. The class will thus move from Fanon’s psychological account of the “inferiority complex” of the colonized to his account of liberatory practices under colonialism to Mbembe’s histories of the dehumanization of Africans, all to arrive in the final hours of the class with a discussion of Mbembe’s extended reading of Fanon as offering a model of a curative and reparational politics we need in order to transition from regimes of violence toward a future politics worthy of the name. Those who take this course, therefore, will gain insights into these two Francophone thinkers’ influence on Continental philosophy, critical race theory, and post-colonial theory as well as activists the world over.

LECTURE 1:

This class will go over the major themes of Fanon’s classic, Black Skin/White Masks, carefully following his account of the lived experience of the black under colonialism. We will concentrate the preface and chapter 5 to see how Fanon offers a theory of (mis)recognition in the colonial situation that locks the black in “crushing objecthood.”

Readings:

  • Frantz Fanon, Black Skin/White Masks, selections.
  • Lewis Gordon, What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to His Life and Thought, selections (for those who wish to read a secondary source).

LECTURE 2:

On this day we will finish Fanon’s Black Skin/White Masks to consider the revolutionary potential of his conclusion and the “new humanism” he calls for. We will then turn to selections from Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, a work that was completed just before his death and would be read during the 1960s and after by revolutionaries and black power movements in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Francophone Africa, and elsewhere. We will read Fanon’s defense of anti-colonial violence with the subtlety needed to understand how he doesn’t simply, as some believe, offer an over-romanticized view of the cleansing and unifying function of violence.

Readings:

  • Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, selections.
  • Nigel Gibson, Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination, selections (for those who wish to read a secondary source).

LECTURE 3:

We turn to the writings of Achille Mbembe, in particular his award-winning work Critique of Black Reason (2016). We will follow Mbembe’s discussion of the legacies of colonialism, enslavement, and apartheid on the African continent as well as the depictions of the black Other that went along with them. We will also see where Mbembe takes his distance from what he believes to be the racial essentialism of previous generations of black philosophers (those engaged in the other side of black reason) in order to offer his own world “politics” of the “in-common.”

Readings:

  • Achille Mbembe, Critique of Black Reason, selections.
  • Josias Tembo and Schalk Gerber, “Toward a Postcolonial Universal Ontology: Notes on the Thought of Achille Mbembe,” in The Handbook of African Philosophy of Difference (London: Spring, 2019) (for those who wish to read a secondary source).

LECTURE 4:

This class will continue looking at Mbembe’s Critique of Black Reason to explore further his account of black reason and its effect on the contemporary period. We will also concentrate on what he means by the “becoming black of the world,” which clearly has stakes for politics beyond the areas of the world that were formerly colonized.

Readings:

LECTURE 5:

This class will look at Mbembe’s Necropolitics to understand further his account of contemporary world politics and its relation to violent practices first seen under colonialism. We will then concentrate on chapter 5, which provides a reading of Fanon’s curative politics, and the book’s conclusion, which offers Mbembe’s “ethics of the passerby.”

  • Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics, selections.