Lynne Lipkind on Fanon, "On National Culture"

Fanon explores the interrelation of politics and culture while saying little about the economic aspects of colonialism, just as Gramsci insists on the importance of superstructure in order to counter the emphasis on structure in prior readings of Marx. Whereas Gramsci focuses on the skin (outside, visible reality; society) rather than on the skeleton (underneath; economy) (197), Frantz Fanon undermines blackness as the basis of Africa's cultural liberation from colonial oppression. He explores the "legitimacy of the claims of a nation" (207) in his chapter "On National Culture."

Referring specifically to the poetry of negritude, he first introduces pan-Africanism as an alternative to colonialism. As the italicized introduction would suggest, however, Fanon calls this investment in indifferentiation a necessarily blind and defeatist intellectual project that needs to be replaced by real bodily struggle against colonial domination and by the re-establishment of specific nations on the African continent. The rhythmic drum images characteristic of the poetry of negritude must be reinterpreted from a revolutionary standpoint (as Althusser describes the process of education like a drumming into the students), something with which Fanon credits Keita Fodeba. The difficulty emerges when Fanon seems to undermine differentiation and the inherent particularity of African nations by reading a transparent and "unquestioned pedagogical value" into the poem; he returns to the idea of the universal colonial subject against which he positioned himself earlier: "There is not a single colonized person who will not receive the message that this poem holds" (231). Likewise, Fanon describes the ironic amazement of the European nationalist colonizer at the native intellectual's defense of an African national culture (209), yet he does not consider the foreboding correlation between European nationalism and colonialism.

The image of the human body emerges throughout his argument for nationhood (as Gramsci refers to French political unrest as "convulsions" [204]). Fanon insists repeatedly that culture cannot survive in the absence of a nation; nationless culture becomes emaciated and exists finally as a skeleton of dead customs. Fanon redefines the conventional distinction between rational Europe and corporeal Africa: he privileges the reason that emerges from political action by the (black) national body. Unlike the poetry of negritude, which upholds the European's characterization of all Africans as black, black and only black, the physical struggle for national independence rationally refuses the racial logic of colonialism. Such physical resistance will bring back to life moribund African national cultures. Faced with the vestigial dregs of culture that sit inert in cold storage (245) and that possess "no overflowing life" (238), Fanon calls for anti-colonial activism to restore the nations of the African continent. By such a preparation of the ground "where vigorous shoots are already springing up" (233), culture is revivified for (post-)colonial subjects.

Fanon represents the process of liberation not as the bodily rhythm of tom-toms in the merely theoretical poetry he critiques, but as a "muscular" rejection of the West by the native intellectual (220). This intellectual recognizes the horror of his homeland--ironically voided of its dignity by the "enlightener" who has in reality degraded his people ("today's barbarity" [210] versus what was viewed by the colonizer as "pre-colonial barbarism" [209]). The physical struggle also generates a return to "forgotton muscular tensions" in a changed post-colonial form (241) that produces a national literature ("the songs will come by themselves" [206]). Anti-colonial combat not only has its "repurcussions on the cultural plane" (239), but also is the "most complete and obvious cultural manifestation that exists" (245); the struggle for national liberation places nations and their cultures on the map so that they may play a "part on the stage of history" (247).

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