The Work of Staying-With


  • Grant Farred Cornell University



Fanon, tarrying, revolution, postcolonial


There is a breathlessness to Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. Fanon leaves us in no doubt that he is an author with a great deal to say about matters, among which racism, colonialism and the effect of both on the black body and psyche are his preeminent concern, that are politically urgent. As they are. Such is Fanon’s urgency that he uses every resource at his disposal – works of literature that turn on the colonial condition, psychoanalysis (from Freud to Lacan with the likes of Mannoni in between), as well as the occasional philosophical invocation (Hegel is a presence if by no means a fleshed-out one; although, it must be said, it is Jean-Paul Sartre who is called to do duty most often). 

Although Fanon suggests that he considered presenting Black Skin, White Masks as a doctoral thesis, one finds it difficult to imagine such a prospect, in no small measure because the project is so stylistically incoherent. Black Skin, White Masks is an admixture of the anecdotal (Fanon has no trouble extracting political or psychoanalytic conclusions from his personal encounters; a tendency which applies as much to his Martinican past as to his experience of living in France; a tendency that extends to making deductions based on his observations in colonized Algeria), the psychoanalytic, the implicitly philosophical and the rhetorical. That is, the rhetorical in the sense that this is how Fanon structures his argument: through the declarative, through declamation. A scientific work Black Skin, White Masks is not.