FRANTZ FANON: A Critical Biography by Irene Gendzier

FRANTZ FANON: A Critical Biography

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An attempt to evaluate the political and cultural writings and life of Frantz Fanon, the Antillean psychiatrist who joined the FLN forces during the Algerian war of independence, and whose Wretched of the Earth exercised wide influence over American and European leftists in the '60's. Gendzier backs away from the big questions posed by Fanon's life and work, even in those instances where more than ten years' distance makes a clear verdict more than possible. Fanon's political biography starts in Martinique, where he grew up, and leads through postwar Paris, where he was dose to a group of black writers including negritude spokesmen Aime Cesaire and Leopold Senghor. Fanon later became convinced that the practice of psychiatry could have no meaning in Algeria, where he was then working, and threw in his lot with the independence fighters. Much of the second half of the book is accordingly taken up by the interplay between Fanon's political thought and the Algerian revolution, but there is no real effort to account for what the author recognizes as the disappointing outcome of that struggle. Gendzier is equally noncommittal in her discussions of Fanon's recipes for colonial revolution, which stressed alliance between peasants and city lumpen (but not workers), under the guidance of dissidents from urban reformist political parties. Fanon also assigned great importance to the psychologically purifying effect of violence on the part of colonial victims; he saw such violence as a guarantee, among other things, against neocolonial restoration, an idea which, as the author might have pointed out more emphatically, would be hard to defend today. Denying any significant link between Fanon and Sorel (the earlier theoretician of ""purgative violence"") Gendzier instead makes Fanon into a descendant of Hegel, mediated by Same. The role of Fanon's writings in the intellectual formation of black power groups, among student enrages, and this effect on some guerrilla movements, receives scant comment in a brief final chapter on Fanon's international influence. Well documented but analytically wishy-washy.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1972
Publisher: Pantheon