Escapes and Displacements

Alejandro De Oto, El Colegio De México, CEAA

Part 1 of the author's "'Escapes' and Displacements: Notes on Frantz Fanon's Oppositional Discourse"

In recent years, "Fanon readings" have been recurrent in cultural studies, and specifically in the criticism of colonial discourse. Fanon's work currently gives way to the production of such far-reaching texts that even the most restricted notion of historical context, as a cultural and idiosyncratic category, is displaced and, to a large extent, replaced by notions of cultural mobility, construction and social negotiation of meaning, of community as an almost unlimited space for the intersection of narrations that express a new direction of representation. These texts comply with a difficult pact: reading Fanon beyond the historical period produced by his discourse. Fanon's work is a classic example of the discourse that opposes colonial culture. But, currently, it is also the starting point of postcolonial criticism. The itineraries of this change are complex and relate to different problems and analyses: poststructuralist perspectives on texts; the criticism of disciplinary limits; the emergence of a postimperial culture; and the historical and cultural experiences of millions of individuals that extend beyond any concept of gender, class, and ethnic or national origin.

The pact includes the possibility of disseminating Fanon's claims throughout increasingly broader cultural settings, since one of the pact's major requisites is detachment from the most rigid dimensions of the representations of difference; those that reduce the world to a place of binary opposites. The pact therefore includes the possibility of rhizomic thinking in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari (12) gave to this term, as a means of imagining culture at the crossroads of multiple narrations.

Dualism and opposition

This article proposes a reflection on how, within the sphere of the criticism of colonialism, Fanon's texts, can contribute towards building spaces for the representations of culture and society which are less dependent on positions that rigidly display differences and cultural pronouncements. However, it is necessary to discuss briefly the direction followed by a criticism that could be termed traditional with respect to Fanon's work. In the first place, the radical separation produced by the culture of colonialism has been particularly highlighted in Fanon's criticism. It is frequent to find in his writings the construction of a world full of dualisms, of insurmountable dichotomies as, for instance, that of the colonizer and the colonized. From my perspective, emphasizing the divisory nature of such enunciations implies moving Fanon's interpretations of culture and political action towards a dimension of cultural criticism that places subjects within fixed representations of cultural and political identities which reproduce what could be called a predictable context for social and ideological practices. The readings take place, in my opinion, in the framework of certain conceptual legacies of the theories on dependence and unequal development. From the cultural point of view, such readings are supported by the strengthening of discrepancies that stem from two traditions and cultural projects, among which the "Western" one is hegemonic. Reading Fanon in that direction implies recognizing the oppositional nature of his discourse emphasizing, however, the functions that turn it into a place for the irreducible differentiation of historical subjects, insofar as each represents a determined set of practices defined -- externally -- by the dimension itself of dual concepts.

Based on the solidity of Fanon's taxonomies, such readings are guided by a conception of the text that is restricted to the idea of writing as the looking-glass reflection of a reality that the author tries to describe. Thus, the assertion that the author's actions are "correct" (in this case Frantz Fanon) -- would come from the existence of a colonial situation that is expressly opposed by various social actors within the specific time and space of decolonization, from the point of view of both the discourse and the social, cultural and political practices. Fanon's political and cultural texts would then claim their links to a context that includes three characteristic moments. The first moment places Fanon's work as an indivisible part of the historical context where it is displayed; the second considers it as an act of mimesis with respect to itself, as far as the descriptions of concrete processes are concerned; and the third moment thinks of the author's work as an intervention upon the reality that is being described. These kinds of readings require the emerging representations of Fanon's work to remain unchanged, in non-metaphorical terms. The consequences of these readings are diverse. To begin with, they place Fanon's writing within an idea of context that acts simultaneously as reference and framework. Secondly, they presuppose that this author's claims acquire their meaning or are echoed exclusively in the specific domain of national liberation struggles, and in the field of political texts written by decolonized intellectuals. In the third place, these readings territorialize Fanon's claims in a sense that could be described as restrictive. This kind of territorialization does not imply establishing the bases of a new thought, but rather restricting it to a specific time and space. The Wretched... or Black Skin,... should be read only as examples of national liberation struggles of the decolonization period or, at best, as a theoretical reference to analyze processes characterized by that name. In other words, these texts would be available only for a historical delimitation or a specific territorialization of the meanings they contain. From my standpoint, such a conception expresses an idea of culture traversed by an order that transcends the appeals of the concrete assertions of Fanon's writing. When the order of materials rests upon the idea of corresponding to a particular period, Fanon's escape lines are turned off, and, consequently, his work is reduced to the dimension of being an historical source in the narrowest sense of the 19th-century methodical historiography. This cancels the possibility of imagining that Fanon's texts might have a resonance in other times and geographies, that they could produce an uncertain setting, or that they might be present in the social negotiation of meanings throughout an extensive historicity. The notion of order appears when Fanon's writing refers to a taxonomy that proscribes, from the start, different readings, or at least, different texts.

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