Fanon was born in 1925, to a middle-class family in the French colony of Martinique. He left Martinique in 1943, when he volunteered to fight with the Free French in World War II, and he remained in France after the war to study medicine and psychiatry on scholarship in Lyon. Here he began writing political essays and plays, and he married a Frenchwoman, Jose Duble. Before he left France, Fanon had already published his first analysis of the effects of racism and colonization, Black Skin, White Masks (BSWM), originally titled "An Essay for the Disalienation of Blacks," in part based on his lectures and experiences in Lyon.
Frantz Fanon's relatively short life
June 24, 2000
Alvin Wyman Walker, Ph.D., P.D., P.C.
As a postscript to "Remembering Fanon," a few additional comments. Frantz Fanon was born on 20 July 1925 into a fairly typical bourgeois family in Martinique and grew up with assimilationist values which encouraged him to reject his "blackness" or African heritage.
In the Antilles, a black bourgeoisie had already evolved which strove for assimilation rather than national independence. Fanon's family belonged to this class. His father (1891-1947) was a customs inspector. Five of the eight Fanon children after finishing secondary school went on to study at French universities. In high school or lycee, Fanon was taught by Aime Cesaire who introduced him to the philosophy of Negritude which he embraced briefly.
By the time he published his first book, "Peau Noire, Masques Blancs," he had abandoned the philosophy of Negritude for what he described as a so-called "non-racist humanism" as if loving yourself and your culture is racist. In the same year as the publication of his first book, he married a white, French woman, Marie-Josephe ("Josie") Duble in October 1952, suggesting continuing, unresolved ambivalence and conflict regarding his own blackness. Fanon's relationship with a difficult and rejecting mother is also implicated here. Gendzier's description of Mrs. Fanon makes this clear:
His mother was of Alsatian origin, herself the illegitimate daughter of parents of mixed blood. In the context of the islands, the factor of illegitimacy was of less importance than the ethnic quotient. Frantz's name reflected the Alsatian past.
Later, when he was in his thirties, Fanon had a relapse of his leukemia. He sought treatment in the United States with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency who arranged for Fanon to be brought to Washington, D.C. where he was kept in a hotel room for seven or eight days prior to being hospitalized. According to an article written by Joseph Alsop in the "Washington Post" on 21 February 1968, Fanon was brought to D.C. by the case officer assigned to him by the CIA, Ollie Iselin. On his arrival in Washington, he resided at the Dupont Plaza Hotel from 3 to 10 October, and was subsequently admitted to the National Institute of Health. The Chief of the Medical Record Department at the Clinical Center noted that "Ibrahim Fanon", was admitted to the Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesada, Maryland, on October 10, 1961 and expired on December 6, 1961."
His grandparents on his mother's side had disapproved of their daughter's marriage to a man of darker color, and one may assume that the questions of class and color entered the picture. Frantz, the fourth and youngest of 4 boys, and the middle child in a total of eight, was the darkest of the family.
The senior Mrs. Fanon appears to have been of rather difficult temperament, described as not overly affectionate and with a tendency to be domineering. In the years of their young adulthood, she seems to have favored her daughters . . .. Knowing that skin color was not an irrelevant subject, that Fanon's mother had apparently had a surfeit of boys by the time Frantz was born, and that she came to consider Frantz as a junior troublemaker, one may conclude that in the best of all worlds, Fanon's mother would have been a formidable challenge. In "Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon noted that in the Antilles, "there is nothing surprising, within a family, in hearing a mother remark that 'X is the blackest of my children'-it means that X is the least white." To know the meaning of whiteness in the Antilles among non-whites is to understand the full range of identity-confusion that was in store for Fanon and for others like him.
Irene Gendzier in "Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study" comments on Fanon's CIA connection as follows:
The general allegation that Fanon died in the arms of the CIA has never been entirely cleared up. It is possible, given the attitude of the United States government towards the Algerian situation in 1961, that the American Embassy in Tunis did offer help, and that a CIA agent was present to carry out details. But to say this only serves to raise more questions about the interest of the CIA in Fanon. . . . Dr. David Haywood, the doctor in direct charge of Fanon's case. . . is quoted as remembering "the daily, downright brotherly visits of Fanon's CIA case officer, who also had the task of bringing to the hospital Fanon's wife and six-year-old son. Except for doctors and nurses, his wife, his son, and his case officer were, in fact, Fanon's sole companions while his life ebbed away" . . ..
While Fanon's relationship with Ollie Iselin is troubling, I would rather remember a more positive side of the brother. Four weeks prior to his death, Fanon wrote to a friend, Roger Tayeb:
Fanon's body was brought back to Tunisia on the request of the FLN [Front de Liberation Nationale] and buried some miles inside Algerian territory, not far from Ghardimaou. Sources close to Fanon maintain that the present Algerian government refuses to move the body because the area in which it is buried is still dangerous due to the presence of mines. For this reason it also continues to prohibit access to it. The body was accompanied back to Tunis by the CIA case officer, Ollie Iselin, who participated in the funeral ceremonies and had his photograph taken by a "Jeune Afrique" photographer, along with the others present.
We are nothing on earth if we are not in the first place the slave of a cause, the cause of the peoples, the cause of justice and liberty. I want you to know that even when the doctors had given me up, in the gathering dusk I was still thinking of the . . . peoples of the third World, and when I have persevered, it was for their sake.
Therefore, we see that Frantz Fanon had his own contradictions, his own foibles and issues, and his own strengths and weaknesses like each and everyone of us.
The two primary sources for my piece were:
1) Irene L. Gendzier, "Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study." New York: Pantheon, 1973 and
2) Renate Zahar, "Frantz Fanon: Colonialism and Alienation." New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974.
Works by Frantz Fanon
Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove, 1967. Reprint of Peau noire, masques blancs. Paris, 1952.
Studies in a Dying Colonialism, or A Dying Colonialism. New York, 1965. Reprint of L'an cinq de la revolution algerienne. Paris, 1959.
The Wretched of the Earth. New York, 1965. Reprint of Les damnes de la terre. Paris, 1961.
Toward the African Revolution. New York, 1967. Reprint of Pour la revolution africaine. Paris, 1964.
Abel, Lionel. "Seven Heroes of the New Left." The New York Times Magazine 5 may 1968.
Bhabha, Homi. "Interrogating Identity: Frantz Fanon and the Postcolonial Prerogative." The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994. 40-66.
De Beauvoir, Simone. Force of Circumstance. New York: Putnam, 1964.
Bergner, Gwen. "Who Is That Masked Woman? or, The Role of Gender in Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks. PMLA 110.1 (January 1995): 75-88.
Caute, David. Frantz Fanon. New York: The Viking Press, 1970.
Fuss, Diana. "Interior Colonies: Frantz Fanon and the Politics of Identification." Diacritics (Summer-Fall 1994): 20-42.
Gates, Henry Louis. "Critical Fanonism. " Critical Inquiry 17 (1992): 457-470.
Geismar, Peter. Fanon. New York: The Dial Press, 1971.
Gendzier, Irene L. Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study. New York: Pantheon Books-Random House, 1973.
Gordon, Lewis R. Fanon and the Crisis of European Man. New York: Routledge, 1995.
"Homage to Frantz Fanon." Presence Africaine 12 (1962): 130-152. Ten writers, politicians and scholars contributed to this special section, including Aime CÚsaire and Nkrumah.
Memmi, Albert. "The Impossible Life of Frantz Fanon. " Massachusetts Review (Winter 1973): 9-39.
Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books-Random House, 1993.
Seigel, J. E. "On Frantz Fanon. " American Scholar (Winter 1968): 84-96.
"Remembering Fanon." New Formations 1 (Spring 1987): 118-135. Homi Bhabha, Stephan Feuchtwang and Barbara Harlow contributed to a special section remembering Fanon on the 25th anniversary of his death.
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