The Perplexed Persona of Frantz Fanon's Peau noire, masques blancs

Jane Hiddleston


Fanon's increasing popularity among postcolonial critics, together with his militant revolutionary activity and impact on subsequent anti-racist movements, have led him to be a fascinating subject for more than one biographer. Alice Cherki's Frantz Fanon: un portrait is an intimate testimony to Fanon's life from the point of view of a psychiatrist who worked with him, and was first published by Seuil in 2000, the same year as David Macey's mammoth historical study Frantz Fanon: A Life, published by Granta. These joined David Caute's summary Fanon of 1970 and Albert Memmi's self-consciously playful biographical article, 'La vie impossible de Frantz Fanon' ['The Impossible Life of Frantz Fanon'] of 1971. It is striking, however, how many studies imply a certain mutability in the Fanonian persona, a protean quality indicating that this is an elusive thinker who wore a series of masks.

This article will probe further the mobility and intractability of the Fanon of these various biographies by exploring the various ways in which the thinker stages himself in the frequently autobiographical Peau noire, masques blancs. As a francophone intellectual militating against colonialism, Fanon knows he retains a precarious relation with the colonised more generally and writes from a position that is on some level estranged from that of the masses in whose name he argues. As a result, his text presents a perplexed persona who, alienated both by colonialist racist discourse and by his position as a francophone intellectual in the margins of colonised society, nervously alters the identity of the self he stages. Peau noire has an autobiographical dimension that is usually overlooked, but even more, the autobiographical 'je' is not one that knows itself fully or that remains constant in its identifications with the Antilleans, the 'negres', the colonised or merely the 'men' in whose name he speaks. If Peau noire is on the one hand, then, an assertive and militant critique of colonialism, its narrating persona is a slippery figure unable, or perhaps purposely unwilling, to tie the polemic to a specific identitarian position.


Fanon, Autobiography, Identity

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