Frantz Fanon, postcolonialism and the ethics of difference
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Frantz Fanon, postcolonialism and the ethics of difference

Azzedine Haddour

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Frantz Fanon, postcolonialism and the ethics of difference

Azzedine Haddour

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Fanon, postcolonialism and the ethics of difference underscores the ethical dimension of Fanon's work by focusing on the interplay of language, gender and colonial politics, by discussing the implication of the medical and psychiatric establishment in the institution of colonialism and by assessing the importance of existential phenomenology in Fanon's project of decolonisation.

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The significance of Sartre in Fanon


The influence of Being and Nothingness, Anti-Semite and Jew and Black Orpheus is perceptible in the work of Fanon, and the ethical dimension of existential phenomenology is fundamental to his anti-colonial project. In Existentialism Is a Humanism, Sartre writes: ‘my intimate discovery of myself is at the same time the revelation of the other as a freedom that confronts my own and that cannot think or will without doing so either for or against me. We are thus immediately thrust into a world that we may call “intersubjectivity”. It is in this world that man decides what he is and others are.’1 Sartre is adamant that we discover the dimension of our existence in the outside world, in the midst of the crowd, as we interact with others. In conversation with Sartre's Being and Nothingness, Anti-Semite and Jew and Black Orpheus, Fanon ascertains in Black Skin, White Masks that Negroes do not discover themselves in the midst of the crowd and bemoans that racism corrupts intersubjective relation between black and white. This chapter follows two developments. First, it examines Sartre's existential phenomenology and his views on negritude. Second, it goes on to engage with Fanon's critique of Sartre's pronouncement on negritude as the most revolutionary poetry in the twentieth century. The aim of this chapter is to underscore the significance of Sartre in Fanon's work, providing a context in which to interpret the latter's psychoanalysis, universal humanism and political praxis. My task is to establish that his humanism and politics are predicated on Sartreanism. In Black Skin, White Masks, his engagement is purely psychoanalytical, seeking to restore the intersubjective relation between black and white, and attempting to de-alienate the notion of Being-for-Others in Sartre. This engagement later becomes more politicized, as I will argue in the concluding pages of the book. The brand of nationalism he proposes in The Wretched of the Earth is not at variance with his humanism: it is internationalist and premised on an ethics of Being-for-Others which is respectful of differences.

The site of difference

‘It is not in some hiding-place,’ Sartre writes, ‘that we shall discover ourselves; it is on the road, in the town, in the midst of the crowd, a thing among things, a man amongst men’.2 Here, Sartre is closer to Baudelaire than Proust, in that he strives to rid existentialism of Proustian infatuation with psychoanalysis. According to Sartre, we discover ourselves not through introspection but by looking outside: ‘everything is finally outside,’ he asserts, ‘everything, even including ourselves. Outside, in the world, among others.’3 The self does not inhabit consciousness; the latter can be neither reduced to an inner process of cogitation nor confused with a nebulous substance called the psyche. Consciousness is a nothingness; being is experienced on the outside. The self is constructed in its interaction with others, in the outside world, or to put it in Heideggerian terms, as being-in-the-world.
Sartre situates the consciousness of self at the nexus of a relation of reciprocity between one ‘seeing-the-Other’ and that ‘being-seen-by-another’.4 Through the look, there is an upsurge of being, or as he puts it, an ‘irruption of the self’ – ‘I see myself because somebody sees me’.5 One becomes conscious of oneself by becoming conscious of others. Objectness is one of the characteristics of this Being-for-Others.6 The look is crucial in establishing intersubjective relations – relations which are hostile and conflictual.7 Sartre conceives of these relations in terms of a master/slave Hegelian dialectic which opposes the master of the gaze to an objectified Other.8 In this chapter, I will elaborate on the workings of this dialectical operation in Anti-Semite and Jew and Black Orpheus with a view to establishing an interpretive framework for Fanon's Black Skin, White Mask. How does Sartre apprehend the being-of-the-colonized in a schema where he appropriates the trope of the slave to hypostatize the alienation of the ‘being-seen’ at the end of the Other's objectifying look? As they offer themselves to the Other's appraisal, both the Jew and Negro experience their Being-for-Others as a source of anguish and alienation. Could they return the look and discover themselves in the crowd, by interacting with other people as men in the midst of other men? Could they ever overcome the determinants of facticity without falling into the pitfalls of inauthenticity? Is their consciousness to be apprehended just from the outside? It is instructive to inscribe Black Orpheus as well as Anti-Semite and Jew in the philosophical discourse of Being and Nothingness, two correlative works which elaborate a phenomenology of perception, race and embodied selves. These works were cornerstones for the negritude movement and had an impact on Fanon. It is important to provide a cursory critical review of these two texts before turning to Fanon's take on them and his engagement with Sartrean existential phenomenology.
In Anti-Semite and Jew, Sartre conceives of Jewishness as an ‘identity of situation’ constructed through the objectifying gaze of the anti-Semite.9 In the midst of a society which takes the Jew as a Jew, Sartre writes:
the root of Jewish disquietude is the necessity imposed upon the Jew of subjecting himself to endless self-examination and finally of assuming a phantom personality, at once strange and familiar, that haunts him and which is nothing but himself – himself as others see him. You may say that this is the lot of all, that each of us has a character familiar to those close to us which we ourselves do not see. No doubt: this is the expression of our fundamental relation to the Other. But the Jew has a personality like the rest of us, and on the top of that he is Jewish. It amounts in a sense to a doubling of the fundamental relationship with the Other. The Jew is over-determined.10
Anti-Semitism, argues Sartre, poisons the life of Jews, overdetermining their conduct from the inside so as not to conform to its stereotypical views.11 Overdetermination is the consciousness of oppression and alienation; it is the opposite of ideology which, as a stratagem, gives rise to false-consciousness by hiding the objective conditions of its subjects as oppressed subjects. According to Sartre, Jews are not subjects of an ideology insidiously working to exploit them, but objects of anti-Semitism that patently alienates them from themselves and from others. They are made to perceive themselves through the prism of anti-Semitic discourse as outsiders. In Sartre's phraseology:
The Jew, because he knows he is under observation, takes the initiative and attempts to look at himself through the eyes of others. This objectivity toward himself is still another ruse of inauthenticity: while he contemplates himself with the ‘detachment’ of another, he feels himself in effect detached from himself; he becomes another person, a pure witness.12
One of the most contentious and problematic aspects of Anti-Semite and Jew (arousing the acrimony of its Jewish readers) is the jargon of authentici...

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Citation styles for Frantz Fanon, postcolonialism and the ethics of difference
APA 6 Citation
Haddour, A. (2019). Frantz Fanon, postcolonialism and the ethics of difference (1st ed.). Manchester University Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2019)
Chicago Citation
Haddour, Azzedine. (2019) 2019. Frantz Fanon, Postcolonialism and the Ethics of Difference. 1st ed. Manchester University Press.
Harvard Citation
Haddour, A. (2019) Frantz Fanon, postcolonialism and the ethics of difference. 1st edn. Manchester University Press. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Haddour, Azzedine. Frantz Fanon, Postcolonialism and the Ethics of Difference. 1st ed. Manchester University Press, 2019. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.