Brandon Terry | On Fanon and Nietzsche

By Brandon Terry

In the prologue to his Conscripts of Modernity, David Scott charges postcolonial theory broadly with a failure to pursue an “adequate interrogation of the present,” and a concomitant failure to identify “the difference between the questions that animated former presents and those that animate our own.”[1] The approach he defends is one that approaches the animating hopes, projects, and concepts of the past in order to reconstruct “the way those hopes reflect a certain understanding of the problem to be overcome…the way the sources of discontent or the obstacles to satisfaction are conceived and defined.”[2] In a brief invocation of Frantz Fanon’s classic The Wretched of the Earth, Scott expresses a deep concern that, even as authors have critiqued and diverged from Fanon’s particular answers to the problem of colonialism, they have nonetheless taken aboard his “image” of colonialism and the conceptual preoccupations it elicits.

In my contribution to “Nietzsche 13/13: Fanon,” I want to pursue Scott’s provocations through two interpretive angles. The first approach aims to underscore the problem Scott identifies by unpacking three crucial Nietzschean themes that are central to Fanonist conceptions of the “problem-space” of colonialism and which pose significant problems for those who would turn to Fanon as a foundational source for Afro-Modern political philosophy in the present. These themes may be broadly characterized as, (1) The Place of Repression and Psychopathology in a Hermeneutics of Suspicion, (2) Ressentiment and the Critique of Black Political Life, and (3) the positing of a “Great Politics” of struggle between Europe and the Third World.

Secondly, I hope to illuminate these themes through a consideration of the legacy of Fanonism from a different site of engagement than postcolonial theory: African American politics and thought. When the first English translations of Fanon’s work were released in the United States, he became arguably the most important intellectual touchstone for the emergent generation of radicals, militants, and revolutionaries coalescing under the sign of “Black Power.” Prominent African American intellectuals and activists turned exuberantly to Fanon, adapting his picture of colonialism to Afro-American conditions, appropriating his emphasis on sex and psychopathology in the theorization of racial domination, and wrestling with his judgments on revolution, Third World solidarity, and nationalist politics. The controversial writer, and Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party, Eldridge Cleaver referred to Wretched as “The Black Bible,” and figures from Stokely Carmichael to Kenneth Clark to Martin Luther King found themselves invoking and arguing with Fanon in print. In a development that would likely stun these figures, however, the profound influence that Fanon had on the Black Power generation has faded far into the background of Fanon scholarship and criticism. I want to revisit this moment, not only because its influence still surreptitiously affects theorizations of urban social problems, black cultural formations, and our understandings of the history of black political practice and thought, but also because I think it helps bring out the more concrete, and perhaps more troubling implications of an uncritical Fanonism in the present.

Suggested Readings:

Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Fanon, Black Skin/White Masks, especially chapters 2, 3, 5, 6, and conclusion

Robert Gooding-Williams, Look, A Negro!, chapter 9

David Scott, Conscripts of Modernity, prologue

Eldridge Cleaver, “The Land Question and Black Liberation” in Post-Prison Writings and Speeches, pp. 80-88 and “On Lumpen Ideology,” The Black Scholar, Vol. 4, No. 3 (November-December 1972), pp. 2-10.

Martin Luther King, “Black Power” in Where Do We Go From Here

Stokely Carmichael, “Dialectics of Liberation” and “A New World to Build” in Stokely Speaks

Hugo Drochon, Nietzsche’s Great Politics







[1] David Scott, Conscripts of Modernity, p. 3

[2] Scott 5-6