FRANTZ FANON by David Macey


A Biography
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A biography of the Caribbean-born French psychiatrist-turned-revolutionary whose angry books (Black Skin White Mask, The Wretched of the Earth) and inflammatory speeches furthered the cause of Algerian independence and African nationalism in the 1950s.

What’s more important, the historical facts of a life or the anything-goes deconstructions of surviving texts? Just the facts, says Macey (The Lives of Michel Foucault, 1994, etc.). In his detailed study of this largely-forgotten figure from the war for Algerian independence (Fanon’s books were posthumous bestsellers only in America, and they became somewhat notorious during the American civil rights movement), Macey shows that Fanon’s shrill exultation of violence as a kind of social diuretic, as well as his explosive, frequently incoherent fulminations over racial bigotry, must be understood in terms of his origins. Born in 1925 into a prosperous middle-class family on Martinique that descended from freed slaves, Fanon aspired to what he thought were the civilized refinements of the white minority until he found this minority supporting the bigoted Vichy regime during WWII. But the Left was just as bad: Fanon spent part of the war at a Moroccan training camp for the Resistance, whose French leaders patronized, cheated, and actively despised black Martinicians and African Muslims. Later, as a psychiatrist practicing in a French Algerian mental hospital, Fanon saw African patients consistently misdiagnosed by doctors who refused to understand their culture, leading him to believe that their insanity was a reaction to French fear and loathing. His sympathies for African nationalists led to his banishment from French Algeria. He then became a tireless spokesman, pamphleteer, and rabble-rouser for Algerian independence and African nationalism until he died from cancer in an American hospital.

A respectful, if exhausting, portrait of an influential but marginal proponent of racial rage and third-world nationalism who did not live long enough to see his principles perverted by current regimes. (8 b&w maps)

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-27550-1
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2001


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