On National Culture Fanon Essay Outline


Franz Fanon, who was born in Martinique and educated in France, joined the Algerian National Liberation struggle and became a leader in the struggle against racism and for national liberation.

In his speech to the Congress of Black African Writers in 1959, he shows that to achieve national liberation, revolutionaries must start to recreate the national culture that colonialism has systematically destroyed. The speech is included in his book Wretched of the Earth.

As Fanon describes, colonialism systemically destroys national culture. "Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to over-simplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. This cultural obliteration is made possible by the negation of national reality, by new legal relations introduced by the occupying power, by the banishment of the natives and their customs to outlying districts by colonial society, by expropriation, and by the systematic enslaving of men and women."

This has powerful psychological effects on the people who have been conquered. Dynamism is destroyed. Defence mechanisms are established. "Every effort is made to bring the colonised person to admit the inferiority of his culture which has been transformed into instinctive patterns of behaviour, to recognise the unreality of his 'nation', and, in the last extreme, the confused and imperfect character of his own biological structure." In summary, a powerful form of racism is instilled into the thinking of the victims as well as the oppressors.

The movement for national liberation turns this around. "... the native intellectual used to produce his work to be read exclusively by the oppressor ... now the native writer progressively takes on the habit of addressing his own people. It is only from that moment that we can speak of a national literature. Here there is, at the level of literary creation, the taking up and clarification of themes which are typically nationalist. This may be properly called a literature of combat, in the sense that it calls on the whole people to fight for their existence as a nation.

Fanon describes from his own experience in Algeria how this change was reflected by the storytellers. "From 1952-3 on, the storytellers, who were before that time stereotyped and tedious to listen to, completely overturned their traditional methods of storytelling and the contents of their tales. Their public, which was formerly scattered, became compact. The epic, with its typified categories, reappeared; it became an authentic form of entertainment which took on once more a cultural value. Colonialism made no mistake when from 1955 on it proceeded to arrest these storytellers systematically. The contact of the people with the new movement gives rise to a new rhythm of life and to forgotten muscular tensions, and develops the imagination. Every time the storyteller relates a fresh episode to his public, he presides over a real invocation. The existence of a new type of man is revealed to the public."

Similar changes take place in the handicrats of woodworkers and potters, in music and jazz, in singing, and traditional rites and ceremonies. "We have noted the appearance of the movement in cultural forms and we have seen that this movement and these new forms are linked to the state of maturity of the national consciousness."

This cultural transformation cannot be fulfilled under colonial occupation, but only through national liberation. Fanon believes that national liberation is not necessarily in contradiction to internationalism. "It is national liberation which leads the nation to play its part on the stage of history. It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows. And this two-fold emerging is ultimately the source of all culture."

Fanon's analysis is important for the unity and strength of revolutionary struggle. Effective revolutionary organization requires a full appreciation and support for all the complex aspects of national culture.

In the conclusion of Wretched of the Earth, Fanon calls for the development of a "new man" that is not based on the model of "Man" from Europe and the United States: "Let us decide not to imitate Europe; let us combine our muscles and our brains in a new direction. Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth. Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions ... It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man."

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In this excerpt, Fanon explores the issue of national culture, what he calls “the legitimacy of claims to a nation,” and notes at the outset how intellectuals from various countries have felt the need to defend their national culture from the onslaught of colonial projects to rob people from knowledge of their past, to distort their view of themselves and each other. As Fanon sees it, the impulse to defend, re-discover, and tout their cultural roots is both essential to creating a national culture in the present, but also to the well-being of the individual person.

In the case of Africa (and people of African descent), though, fighting colonial lies has necessarily taken on a continental character rather than a national one (even including African-Americans in the first gathering of the African Cultural Society in 1956), and a Pan-African movement was born. But Fanon sees this cultural movement as limited, first because it is too diffuse to respond to the quite different local struggles occurring simultaneously in Senegal vs. the U.S., for instance.

Fanon then turns to the stages of development in the cultural worker: 1st stage is to show they’ve assimilated the dominant culture. 2nd stage is to resdiscover their heritage. 3rd stage, the fighting stage where they try to awaken the people to struggle. But, Fanon critiques, you show culture through the struggle itself, not through trumpeting culture of the past. In so doing, artists and intellectuals miss the seething present out of which real movement is born and enacted. Cultural struggle without political support and out-in-the-streets struggle is empty. This point contradicts Cabral’s more doctrinaire Marxist position that sees the leader as a cultural-awakener akin to Fanon’s third stage.

In the second half of the essay, Fanon turns to consider the reciprocal position between the actual struggle for freedom and the expression of national culture. Fanon asserts that culture grows as the movement toward struggle grows, as the awakening of a sleeping giant may be evidenced by an increased stirring and a quickening of the heart rate. The pinnacle of this cultural expression is in the struggle for nationhood itself.

Fanon closes by asking us to guard against those who would say that the time for nation claims has long past; he urges us to consider that it would be detrimental to skip the nationhood phase, as the more you become yourself, the more you’re able to open to others.

~ by timrdoc on January 26, 2011.

Posted in (Post)(de)Colonial Theory, Imperialism, Indigenous Rhetoric, Social Movements, Theories of History, WGS 652 - Fems and Postcolonial Theory

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