Paper Abstract: Understanding the Role of Violence in Frantz Fanon’s Work

Here is the abstract for my final paper. My intention is to offer a reading of Fanon’s concept of violence that shows that it is intelligible. Likewise, I want to undermine the simplistic, dismissive critiques of Fanon’s concept of violence all the while considering the more thoughtful or serious critiques. His critique of colonization is fundamental to his program of decolonial/revolutionary violence and I would like to show how this relates to other critiques of oppressive systems and revolutionary programs-particularly Mikhail Bakunin’s-but I’m not sure how much space/time the first part will take up.

Colonial Violence, Revolutionary Violence:
Understanding the Role of Violence in Frantz Fanon’s Work
In “Algeria Face to Face with the French Torturers” (1957), Frantz Fanon asserts that the Algerian revolution will liberate the colonized people; by destroying the colonial order, the Algerians can replace it with a new just social order. In particular, Fanon focuses his energy on highlighting that the use of torture is not an anomaly to the colonial order, but is fundamental in maintaining that relationship: “Colonialism cannot be understood without the possibility of torturing, of violation, or of massacring” (Toward the African Revolution, 66). Some French intellectuals assert that if the use of torture ceased, then Algeria would not be ‘lost’; however, this rests on a misunderstanding of the colonial relationship. Torture is implicit in the colonial logic because the colonizers who torture are not in contradiction with the “values” of their group and the system they are defending and, in fact, torture is a necessary facet of colonization. The Algerians would not stop resisting the French if they stopped using torture because French colonization is torture.
It is with this understanding of the violence inherent in colonial situations or in the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized that Fanon’s claim about the fundamental role of violence in all decolonial struggles can be properly understood. The intention of my paper is to trace Fanon’s argument from his illumination of the violence that is fundamental to colonization, yet seems to be ‘hidden’ or rather legitimated, to his argument that violence is fundamental in decolonial struggles. It is only in this light that his revolutionary violence can be fully understood. Although Frantz Fanon writes specifically about violence inherent in the colonial order and decolonial methods of resistance, I argue that his analysis can be used to illuminate violence inherent in our own social order and perhaps, we can generalize Fanon’s program of resistance (or revolutionary violence) to destroy other forms of oppression.

To summarize the paper quickly, I want to look at what Fanon intends by his employment of the term violence. I think he is doing at least two things: (1) designating the physical struggle necessary to remove the colonizer, (2) outlining a sort of meta-physical violence (I’m not sure ‘meta-physical’ or ‘meta-violence’ is the term I want to use; this is something I need to flesh out). Physical violence is self-explanatory, but the second has at least three components: (a) the first is about the structure of the social order is violent because it does not include the colonized, (b) and then, any effort to be recognized, or ‘break into’ the ethical, social, and political order is an act of violence, which then gives way to (c) the transformation of people through action, through this violent process. Torture is the crucial example of both the forms of violence he talks about; it is physical, but also meta-physical and has debilitating consequences for both sides. Therefore, we need to overcome this situation via revolutionary action.

Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
—A Dying Colonialism
—Toward the African Revolution
—The Wretched of the Earth
Ward Churchill, Acts of Rebellion
—Pacifism as Pathology
Lewis R. Gordon, Fanon and the Crisis of European Man
Emmanuel Hansen, Fanon: Social and Political Thought
Hoppe and Nicholls, Fanon and the Decolonization of Philosophy
B. Marie Perinbam, Holy Violence
Gerald E. Tucker, Machiavelli and Fanon
And more…

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6 Responses to Paper Abstract: Understanding the Role of Violence in Frantz Fanon’s Work

  1. danielallenwood says:

    This looks great! In case you haven’t come across it, Marnia Lazreg has a great chapter on Sartre’s and Fanon’s sense of cathartic violence at the end of Torture and the Twilight of Empire. She’s an Algerian historical sociologist and that book in particular is very insightful.



    • michaelwardii says:

      I am unfamiliar with Lazreg’s book, but I am seeking it out, now. I’ve been familiarizing my self with the secondary literature on Fanon, but an area that I’d like to strengthen my knowledge is in the history of the struggle. I plan on reading Alistar Horne’s A Savage War of Peace soon, so I appreciate the/any suggestion(s).

  2. danielallenwood says:

    Hey Mick. Horne’s work was really helpful for me to get a feel for the historical background. I attach an old bibliography here with texts that I found especially helpful. I hope it’s helpful. Take care

    Amrane-Minne, D. D. (1994) Des Femmes dans la guerre d’Algérie: Entretiens
    ,Paris: Editions Dis. Ibn Khaldoun, Karthala
    Çelik, Z. (1997) Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations: Algiers under FrenchRule
    Berkeley CA: University of California Press
    Jackson, H. F. (1977) The FLN in Algeria: Party Development in a RevolutionarySociety
    Westport, CT: Greenwood Press
    Khanna, R. (2008) Algeria Cuts: Women and Representation, 1830 to the Present
    Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press
    Knauss, P. R. (1987) The Persistence of Patriarchy: Class, Gender, and Ideology inTwentieth Century Algeria
    New York, NY: Praeger
    Lazreg, M. (1994) The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question
    NewYork, NY: Routledge
    Lazreg, M. (2008) Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad
    Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
    Le Sueur, J. D. (2003) “Decolonizing ‘French Universalism’: Reconsideringthe impact of the Algerian War on French intellectuals” in The DecolonizationReader
    J. D. Le Sueur (Ed.) New York, NY: Routledge
    Porter, D. (2011) Eyes to the South: French Anarchists and Algeria
    Oakland, CA:AK Press

  3. grockhil says:

    This is another great topic. It could be helpful to try to clarify, as much as possible, the key terms that you are using (like torture and violence). There is, of course, some variation in Fanon’s use of these words, and you will need to figure out what do with that (provide working definitions, or diligently track the various textual reformulations, or…).
    I was a bit surprised not to see the psychic component of violence taken into account. Do you think that this could potentially enrich your project? In my opinion, Fanon’s socio-political version of psychoanalysis constitutes a fundamental contribution to a situated and material analysis of psychic life (which as far reaching consequences for his theorization of revolutions).

    • michaelwardii says:

      The psychic component of violence is definitely a crucial part of Fanon and I plan on having that interwoven with the rest of the paper. I think my explanation of this aspect will come out when exploring the role of colonial violence in constituting people into colonized beings/’natives’. Likewise, the decolonial/revolutionary efforts alleviate or transform the colonized into persons; this transformative power of action allows the colonized to kill their former’selves’, kill the colonizer (metaphorically and literally (if necessary)), and to create a new person, a new humanity.
      I know I’ll have to pull out how he uses the term ‘violence’ in its various formulations. I have some idea how to do that-by attempting to distinguish between force, coerce-but I’m not sure how to do that with torture. As I read more about torture the more complicated the issue gets and I’m not sure how to do that productively for this paper. The book Dan recommended (thank you Dan!) Torture and the Twilight of Empire has a good definition of torture that I think matches up with what Fanon intends.
      I like the way you’ve developed your idea of revolution as class has unfolded; its complex and has moving parts that seem to shift depending on the landscape. I’d like to talk to you more about this in relationship to terrorism specifically, but more generally do you have any advice or guidelines when attempting to develop definitions for concepts like torture and violence?

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