Marriott’s Fanon, or Brevity on the Tabula Rasa

Classroom Presentation: Libidinal Economy

Reading: Marriott, David (2011) “Whither Fanon?” Textual Practice 25 (1), 33-69.

“Turning to Fanon’s discussion, we will see how the theme of the psyche and culture come together in the form of a mutual abhorrence that is itself a sign of a traumatic inheritance … “

– David Marriott, Whither Fanon

In “Whither Fanon?” David Marriott asks, whether or not, our time is still a Fanonian time. He starts his paper ceremoniously stating, “The time has come, it seems, to talk of Fanonism as a thought whose time has come and gone, a thought whose significance must accordingly be grasped and seized if the opportunity offered by this thought is not to be missed,” (33). Marriott reads across and against two ways of reading Fanon to suggest that the available ways of reading have missed something fundamental in thinking with Critical Fanonism. Marriott calls one type of Critical Fanonism the “Marxist-Phenomenological” reading of Fanon. This reading accentuates the nationalist humanist aspects of Fanon’s work as well as the existential phenomenological tradition of freedom, authenticity, and bad faith. Grounded in a political and existential Fanon, Marriott writes that this way of reading, “attempts to map the philosophical importance of Fanonism in terms of a phenomenology of experience, giving rise (or birth) to a drama of freedom and alterity, recognition and authenticity,” (35). He finds this tradition in the work of the Ghanian intellectual Ato Sekyi-Otu and the Black existentialist-philosopher Lewis Gordon, respectively. Marriott writes that Sekyi-Otu’s reading of Fanon in his work Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience attempts to resuscitate a radical Fanon in accordance to a dialectical reading which would reclaim Fanon from the “post-modern imagination.” In an attempt to distance Fanon’s thought from a non-dialectical, anti-foundational, psychoanalytic reading, Sekyi-Otu reads Fanon as engaging in an entirely formalizable dialectical humanism which is endlessly self-revising. But, rather than reading the perversity of politics as an actual perversity in the psychoanalytic vein to which Fanon analogously and non-analogously linked as inseparable from the political structure, Sekyi-Otu reduces the perversity of politics to a reductive politics. As Marriott notes, “But the point here is to claim that the language of neurosis … is, in its analogical or metaphoric dependence, never simply secondary to ‘the language of political experience’ whose priority is … never simply decipherable, or readable, without the detour of (racial) figure or the figurability of ‘psychoanalysis’, and in fact this is a key insight of Fanon’s work,” (39). For Fanon, politics and psychology are interlocked in a fundamentally inseparable way. Thus, psychoanalytic psychologizing is not outside of a political dialectic, but is rather submersed, immerse and perversed in and through the entire structure of the political. In regards to Lewis Gordon, Marriott zones in on the existential phenomenological reduction that Gordon imposes onto the work of Fanon. Admitting that Fanon’s work engages in a critical philosophical anthropology that unwrites and reconsiders fundamental philosophical assumptions regarding the existential reality of race, Marriott goes on to read Gordon’s Fanon and the Crisis of European Man as simplifying the complexity of Fanon’s insight to a question of Black existence – black life under the racial encounter. Marriott writes against this stating, “If, as ‘The Lived Experience of the Black’ famously claims, but as Gordon does not see fit to pursue, there can be no ontological resistance to the white world because the black is an ‘overdetermined’ subject, a subject who is essentially derealized (by imago, culture, unconscious and world), then making existence the centre of one’s account is quite a statement, but also a sign that something is being simplified,” (44). That the Black cannot find a way to make itself “Be” (as Lewis Gordon insist) is the core of Fanon’s work, however Marriott suggest, this has to be considered alongside the sociogenic which Fanon reveals to be the center of his psychoanalytic method of understanding the existential conundrum of the Black. This sociogenic reading means that the failure to “Be” of Blackness cannot be reduced to an existential phenomenological encounter with Whiteness, but rather something more paradigmatic is at issue. Marriott writes that it has more to do with a structure that requires the following Fanonian imperative, namely, that one – “Whiten or Perish.” In the last section, Marriott reads David Scott and Achille Mbembe, who in different ways, make arguments for the pastness of Fanon. David Scott basing his prescriptions on the Fanonian idiom of national liberation and the failure of the National Liberation project and the Liberation narrative as such. Mbembe basing his at the heart of the Post-Colony. In both regards, Marriott responds with one of his most provocative remarks regarding the work and thought of Fanon. Rather than reading Fanon as theorizing the psycho-political structure and the revolution which-came and/or which-is-yet-to-come as being based in a teleological or rather, eschatological narrative of redemption, Marriott instead insist that Fanon’s work theorizes a teleology without telos, a decolonization that is a tabula rasa. In this David Marriott focuses on the aspects of Fanon’s work that traverses the gaps between anti-colonial violence and trauma, decolonization and new beginnings, the messianic and the nullity of the messiah. That the clinic plays such a crucial role in this rendering has to do with the way Fanon’s philosophical and psychoanalytic questioning of time and space are always complicated by the revolution’s timely untimeliness. A timely untimeliness which makes a tabula rasa of spatiotemporal arrangement an end result of psychosomatic traumas that if left undealt with signal the birth of a new ecriture riddled with deep seated, psycho-political complications of its own.

At some risk of hyperbole, I may say, it is perhaps the case that no one has read Fanon except (or before) Marriott. Precision is not the word. What I mean is that Marriott reads Fanon, unlike so many other readers of Fanon (i.e. the readings given and critiqued at the beginning pages of Whither Fanon?) as his own thinker and not as a Black puppet-master of other schools of Western philosophy whether it be Existentialism, Psychoanalysis, Psychiatry or Marxism. Even Francois Tosquelles, who is so often forgotten and downplayed in exegetical treatises on the work of Fanon, is not read as coequal to Fanonian theory and praxis. Marriott reads Fanon on Fanon’s terms with Fanon’s own terminology and while, Fanon is working through these schools of thought, one will always misread the explanatory power of Fanon’s theory and practice if one too easily assumes that Fanon had not pushed for invention in both psychoanalytic theory, clinical and revolutionary practice. Fanon revises the founding tenets of a number of theoretical & practical issues. His intention was to “bring invention into existence” and whether or not he succeeded can only be called into question by an analysis of the very form of racial fantasies guiding the Fanonian sociogenic analysis. One must understand, what is being discussed, is a traumatic inheritance.

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