Frantz Fanon
Frantz Fanon
Born 1925

Fort-de-France, Martinique

Relevant Work "On National Culture"


(NATC, 2nd ed.)

Biography Edit

  • Born in 1925 on the island of Martinique (then a French colony) to a middle-class black family
  • Grew up among the descendants of African slaves that had worked the island's sugar plantations
  • Despite being a decorated war hero, his intelligence, high level of education, and mastery of the French language, he came to realized that he was regarded as "Other" and not as a human being.
  • His first book, Peau noire, masques blancs (Black Skin, White Masks), published in 1952, describes the various stages of accommodation and alienation that characterizes black life in white societies, as well as detailed his own struggle to understand the white world and address it on its own rationalist terms. However, they viewed his stance as antirational and primitivist, which Fanon realized only verified their own stereotypical attitudes toward blacks. Thus, he began to explore the cultural achievements of African civilization (NATW 1438).
  • Appointed head of the psychiatric department of the Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria in 1953.
  • Resigned his medical position after a few years because he was sympathetic to the revolution cause in Algeria, a French colony of North Africa. He became the editor of the National Liberation Front (the Algerians) newspaper.
  • Died from leukemia at the age of thirty-six
  • Most of his writings concentrated on the Algerian revolution. Other essays were posthumously collected and published. The Wretched of the Earth was the culmination of his work, published weeks before his death.

"On National Culture" from The Wretched of the Earth Edit

Background and Historical Context Edit

This work solidified him as a revolutionary thinker of the twentieth century. With the Algerian Revolution in the backdrop, this work focused on nationalism, exploring the role played by culture in the development of viable postcolonial identities for emergent African nations (NATW 1439). Overall, perhaps the most important of Fanon's political thought was his "insight into the complex interaction in the colonies between class and race. Though he was intensely aware of the centrality of racism to European colonies, Fanon as a Marxist argued that social, economic, and political oppression in the third world was equally a matter of class. He makes this point most forcefully in his influential argument in The Wretched of the Earth that postcolonial African nations court disaster if they simply replace their white colonial bourgeois leaders with black African post-colonial bourgeoisie, while leaving the basic class structure of the societies in place" (NATC 1438).

Key Words and Terms Edit

Dynamism - 1 a :  a theory that all phenomena (as matter or motion) can be explained as manifestations of force — compare mechanism : dynamics 2 a dynamic or expansionist quality

Lumpenproletriariat - Frantz Fanon used this term for the "Coalition of peasants and social outcast" (1438), who he felt would have to be the "Crux of the revolution," in Africa and other colonial regions.

Nationalism - An ideology that holds up the significance of a geographical and sometimes demographic region (a nation) seeking independence for its culture or ethnicity that holds that group together

Oral tradition - Stories, epics, and songs of the people.

A posteriori - relating to what can be known by observation rather than through an understanding of how certain things work (“A Posteriori”).

Sartrean existentialism (1439) - A Humanism, to be human is characterized by an existence that precedes its essence. As such, existence is problematic, and it is towards the development of a full existentialist theory of what it is to be human that Sartre's work logically evolves (“Jean Paul Sartre: Existentialism”).

Negritude - the quality or fact of being of black African origin. The affirmation or consciousness of the value of black or African culture, heritage, and identity.

Literature of Combat - a type of literature formed out of the taking up and clarification of nationalist themes; it calls on the whole people of to fight for their existence as a nation; it assumes responsibility and is the will to liberty expressed in terms of time and space (1443).

Key Quotations Edit

"Every effort is made to bring the colonized person to admit the inferiority of his culture which has been transformed into instinctive patterns of behavior, to recognize the unreality of his 'nation,' and, in the last extreme. the confused and imperfect character of his own biological structure" (NATW 1440)

"Within the framework of colonial domination there is not and there will never be such phenomena as new cultural departures or changes in the national culture" (NATW 1440) “The negation of the native’s culture, the contempt for any manifestation of culture whether active or emotional, and the placing outside the pale of all specialized branches of organization contribute to breed aggressive patterns of conduct in the native. But these patterns of conduct are of the reflexive type; they are poorly differentiated, anarchic, and ineffective. Colonial exploitation, poverty, and endemic famine drive the native more and more to open, organized revolt” (NATW 1441).

"While at the beginning the notice intellectual used to produce his work to be read exclusively by the oppressor, whether with the intention of charming him or of denouncing him through ethic or subjectivist means, now the notice writer progressively takes on the habit of addressing his own people" (NATW 1442).

“This new vigor in this sector of cultural life very often passes unseen; and yet its contribution to the national effort is of capital importance. By carving figures and faces which are full of life, and by taking as his theme a group fixed on the same pedestal, the artist invites participation in an organized movement” (NATW 1443).

“The fact is that in their eyes jazz should only be the despairing, broken-down nostalgia of an old Negro who is trapped between five glasses of whiskey, the curse of his race, and the racial hatred of the white man. As soon as the Negro comes to an understanding of himself, and understands the rest of the world differently, when he gives birth to hope and forces back the racist universe, it is clear that his trumpet sounds more clearly and his voice less hoarsely” (NATW 1443-1444).

"A frequent mistake, and one which is moreover hardly justifiable, is to try to find cultural expressions for and to give new values to native cultural within the framework of colonial domination" (NATC 1444). "For culture is the first expression of a nation, the expression of its preferences, of its taboos and of its patterns. A national culture is the sum total of all these appraisals; it is the result of internal and external tensions exerted over society as a whole and also at every level of that society" (1444).

"A non-existent culture can hardly be expected to have bearing on reality, or to influence reality. The first necessity is the re-establishment of a nation in order to give life to national culture in the strictly biological sense of the phrase" (1445).

"A nation which is born of the people's concerted action and which embodies the real aspirations of the people while changing the state cannot exist save in the expression of exceptionally rich forms of culture" (1445).

"If culture is the expression of national consciousness, I will not hesitate to affirm that in the case with which we are dealing it is the national consciousness which is most elaborate form of culture" (1446). “National consciousness, which is not nationalism, is the only thing that will give us an international dimension. This problem of national consciousness and of national culture takes on in Africa a special dimension. The birth of national consciousness in Africa has strictly contemporaneous connection with the African consciousness” (1446).

Discussion Edit

Marxism Edit

Fanon's thinking as a Marxist is evident throughout The Wretched of the Earth as he explains that in order for African nations to succeed after colonialism they cannot merely replace the ruling class with its own black African leaders. It is explained that culture itself must also evolve in a postcolonial African nation because "culture is not put into cold storage during the conflict" (1445). Fanon is noting that the culture of a colonially oppressed nation is influenced by the oppressors and the culture itself cannot be saved and then taken out to function and exist as it did before colonialism. There must be the rectification of nationalism so that a nation's culture is able to recover and evolve from something that is oppressed into something more that represents the people of the nation who have a history before colonialism, who were once but are are no longer under oppression, and who have a future as people of a nation that is ruling itself.

Cultural Expression Edit

Fanon claims that expressions of culture such as art, music, and dance can bear witness to tensions and movements of rebellions that are simmering within the nation (1444). Although rather vaguely and poetically, Fanon argues that these "unusual forms of expression...are imbued with a power which is no longer that of invocation but rather of the assembling of the people, a summoning together for a precise purpose" (1444). Through these observations, the author links cultural expressions with the maturity of national consciousness. It is the fight for existence as a nation that creates the environment necessary for the rebirth and growth of a people's culture. As long as a people exist in a state of uncontested colonization, their culture will dwindle and eventually become swallowed up by the dominating cultural presence.

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

Fanon is said to have expanded the concept of humanity by crafting the moral core of decolonization theory that focused on individual human dignity among the oppressed population. His work was an inspiration to the black power movement in the U.S. during the 1960s. Also, Fanon's work was particularly important to a number of radical African novelists and it continues to offer a central framework within which to interpret their work (1439).

Related Works Edit

  • Foucault, Michel. Capital Volume 1, 1867. Edited by Friedrich Engels and translated by Samuel Moore. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Peter Simon, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010, pp. 1502-1521.
  • Haraway, Donna. Capital Volume 1, 1867. Edited by Friedrich Engels and translated by Samuel Moore. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Peter Simon, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010, pp. 2190 - 2194 A Manifesto for Cyborgs
  • Marx, Karl. Capital Volume 1, 1867. Edited by Friedrich Engels and translated by Samuel Moore. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Peter Simon, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010, pp. 663-674.
  • Edward W. Said. Capital Volume 1, 1867. Edited by Friedrich Engels and translated by Samuel Moore. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Peter Simon, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010, pp1861- 88 Orientalism
  • Aristotle. Poetics. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Peter Simon, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010: 88.
  • De Pizan, Christine. "Christine's Reaction to Jean de Montreuil's Treatise on the Roman de la Rose." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Peter Simon, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010: 203.
  • Lacan, Jacques-Marie. "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytical Experience." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Peter Simon, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010: 1163.
  • Gendzier, Irene. Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study (1973). 
  • Zahar, Renate. Frantz Fanon: Colonialism and Alienation (1969; trans. 1974).
  • Gordon, Lewis. Frantz Fanon and the Crisis of European Man (1995). 
  • Sekyi-Otu, Ato. Fanon's Dialectic of Experience (1996). 

References Edit

Leitch, Vincent B., editor. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Co., 2010.

“Jean Paul Sartre: Existentialism.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

“A Posteriori.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2016,