Emily Apter | Fanon & Nietzsche: Notes and readings for Nietzsche 8/13

By Emily Apter

In his post for this week’s 13/13 Bernard Harcourt exhorts us to essentially “forget Nietzsche” (using Nietzsche contra Nietzsche, as only Nietzsche might commission his own, nihilistic self-forgetting); to provincialize Nietzsche in line with Dipesh Chakrabarthy’s injunction to provincialize Europe; and to think the times – the strange tragedy of our raced actuality, the violent untimeliness of the dawn of a new Confederacy shored up by openly racist policy – with and through the medium of a singularly Fanonian theory and praxis of ressentiment, flush with Fanon’s ambivalent, self-critical dialectics of blackness (“négritude”).  This last point comes to the fore in the chapter of Black Skin, White Masks on “The Negro and Psychopathology” where Fanon approvingly cites Gabriel d’Arboussier’s  denunciation of Sartre’s existentialization of generic black suffering, which d’Arboussier calls out as the “dangerous mystificatory aspect” of “theories of negritude.” “The objection is valid,” writes Fanon, “it applies to me as well… Against all the arguments I have just cited, I come back to one fact [“une évidence]:  Wherever he goes, the Negro remains a Negro.” [où qu’il aille, un nègre demeure un nègre].  As recent work on Fanon’s library confirms (with reference to passages that Fanon underlined in his copy of Charles Andler’s Nietzsche, sa vie et sa pensée.  Le pessimisme esthétique de Nietzsche: sa philosophie à l’époque wagnérienne [1921]), Fanon appears to have been drawn to the transvaluation of suffering, itself fused with Nietzschean terms of normative right, specifically, the right to civilization and to life.

This situated Fanon –  beyond the time of Euro-philosophy’s unconditional priority yet within the perdurable, generic time-signature of the so-called “evidence of blackness” or more specifically, a Fanonian/Nietzschean raced psychopolitics (inflected by  Black Lives Matter and the advent of a presidential biopolitics steeped in white suprematicism) – helps frame and bring into focus emergent languages of ethicopolitical militance and vigilance.  These languages have produced marked terms of anti and decolonial struggle, drafted for an early twenty-first century age of assaults on civil liberties, black citizens’ rights (including but obviously not limited to voting rights), and economies of existence that refuse to reduce racial difference to “bare life.”  Particular attention in my brief remarks will be devoted to three psychopolitical constructs that could be said to sublate aspects of Nietzschean ressentiment and/or Fanonian “reactivity”) at the contemporary pass:  Alexander G. Weheliye’s notion of  “habeas viscus,” (encompassing the political viscosities of black flesh, the sociogenic imprints on the hieroglyphs of the flesh, “pornotroping” as depravation, racialized assemblages); Achille Mbembe’s post-Schmittian take on the “politics of enmity” [“politiques de l’inimitiés”], retournement, and juridical humanity (that reworks, through a Fanonian psychiatrized lens, the relation between violence and colonial force of law in the context of racist structures of securitization and anti-migration); and the institutionally proliferating and highly problematic term “microaggression,” whose performative effects vary wildly depending on illocutionary context and the subject-positioning of speakers and addressees.  A central concern undergirding this discussion: how might we think with Fanon to rethink the micropolitics of racist psychopolitics, especially at the present time of militarized policing and the rhetoric of the new Confederacy?


  • Fanon, Introduction and Chap. 6, Black Skin, White Masks
  •  Jean Khalfa, “La bibliothèque de Frantz Fanon,” in Frantz Fanon, Ecrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté (La Découverte, 2015).
  • Achille Mbembe, “La pharmacie de Fanon,” in Politiques de l’inimité (La Découverte, 2016).
  • Alexander G. Weheliye, Intro, + chaps 1 and 6, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Duke UP, 2014).