Displacement and Opposition

Alejandro De Oto, El Colegio De México, CEAA

Part 2 of the author's "'Escapes' and Displacements: Notes on Frantz Fanon's Oppositional Discourse"

Thus, thinking about Fanon's texts as forming a network implies a totally different strategy from that which organizes them as an homogeneous unit. It implies considering their associative and multicultural nature, insofar as it becomes a space for the construction of dialogues about the experiences of subordination and emancipation that form part of the contemporary historical and cultural processes.

In this sense, cultural identities are among the privileged domains of The Wretched..., and Black Skin..., to investigate the displacement and association strategy contained in Fanon's oppositional discourse. The refusal to configure an African culture from a racial perspective (The Wretched... 211-212), as it appears in Senghor's essentialist views (See particularly Liberté III. Négritude et...), against the background of a national culture, represented by a metaphor of dynamism and transformation, of mobility and differentiation (225), evokes a twofold action: On the one hand, imagining culture as a field of opening and association and, on the other, as a challenge confronting the taxonomy of colonial discourse. This twofold action constitutes the nucleus of Fanon's postcolonial criticism insofar as it produces a force of escape and displacement. It is equivalent to Césaire's marronage, depicted as a permanent transgression of the notions of colonial order and hierarchy. The term marronage (to be interpreted as marooning, which derives from the idea of the runaway negro slaves of the West Indies and the Guayanas' swamps) and the related verb marroner, were coined by Aimé Césaire, one of the creators of Négritude (another of the most powerful neologisms of postcolonial histories). As James Clifford clearly indicates, what Césaire evokes with the term marronage is not only an escape from order and its impositions, but the experience of transgressing and reconstructing culture (220). Such reconstruction begins by imagining that postcolonial identities are basically an act of resistance symbolically represented by opposition but also, and fundamentally, by displacement. In this sense, the experiences of The Wretched... and Black Skin..., emerge as changes confronting the colonial order, with the reinvention of cultural toponimies through a permanent mobility of the "motive" for constructing an identity. Where the presence of colonial order imposes a representation of subjects limited to certain desiccated attributes (negro, oriental, slave, woman, etc.) Fanon's texts move in the opposite direction and, in passing, produce identities that do not claim difference as a refusal to constitute themselves, but rather as an act of recognition. Consequently, in Fanon's texts, the same as in Césaire's poems, escape is a form of critical displacement with respect to overintegrated and hegemonic conceptions of culture:

Today we are present at the stasis of Europe. Comrades, let us flee from this motionless movement where gradually dialectic is changing into the logic of equilibrium. Let us reconsider the question of mankind. Let us reconsider the question of cerebral reality and the cerebral mass of all humanity, whose connections must be increased, whose channels must be diversified and whose messages must be re-humanized. (The Wretched ... 314)

Escapes, displacements, motionless movements, networks: these are all cultural strategies of The Wretched... to imagine the way out of a world and a book that do not seem restricted to their most immediate references. Escapes, motionless movements, networks represent the tools "offered" by a maroon writing that, although it finds it hard to break its ties with dual categories, recognizes the need to move, even without changing place. Movement is thus a form of non-subjection. The network represents a form of multiplicity where culture and politics are imagined.

Fanon's displacement explores the cultural boundaries of colonialism, and of a construction of culture beyond them. In this sense, his texts are always tension spots that imply, as Homi Bhabha recognizes, the undermining of "our sense of homogenizing effects of cultural symbols and icons, by questioning our sense of the authoriry of cultural synthesis in general" (35). Consequently, movement metaphors bring forth the problem of community and home. In The Wretched... Fanon sketches the drama of dispossession affirming the reason for emancipation that reconstructs the postcolonial community. Black Skin... exerts pressure over the cultural boundaries of the colonized peoples to finally discover that community is possible only after colonial alienation has been overcome. The presence of an historical time and a non-ontological space restore the networks through which Fanon's writing and culture are displayed. Historicity in the displacement is oppositional by definition, insofar as it subverts retrospective images that make us think about societies as places where meanings and cultural practices become permanent (Leed 19). Consequently, home in The Wretched... cannot be a fixed place. It is a home supported by the process of enunciation of culture and colonial criticism. For Fanon, the temporal underlayer of national community enables the establishment of a twofold action of displacement and opposition:

If culture is the expression of national consciousness, I would not hesitate to affirm that in the case with which are dealing it is the national consciousness which is the most elaborate form of culture.

The consciousness of Self is not the closing of a door to communication. Philosophical thought teaches us, on the contrary, that it is its guarantee. National consciousness, which is not nationalism, is the only thing that will give us an international dimension. (The Wretched... 247)

The reinscription of a community beyond colonialism is imagined as stemming from the development of an awareness about the possessions that emancipation generates. Displacement is, therefore, the key to ceasing reproduction of the desire to inscribe community under the terms of colonial order. But such emancipation is expressed as a separation from the regime of truth that the ambivalent colonial discourse produces, and that holds stereotypes as a major strategy. As Homi Bhabha has pointed out: "Fixity, as the sign of cultural/historical/ and racial difference in the discourse of colonialism, is a paradoxical mode of representation: it connotes rigidity and an unchanging order, as well as disorder, degeneracy and daemonic repetition" (66). A passage of The Wretched... reads:

At times this Manicheism goes to its logical conclusion and dehumanizes the native, or so to speak plainly, it turns him into an animal. In fact, the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological terms. He speaks of the yellow manīs reptilian motions, of the stink of the antive quarter, of breeding swarms, of foulness, of spawn, of gesticulations. When the settler seeks to describe the native fully in exact terms he constantly refres to the bestiary. (42)

In the animalization of colonized peoples, one of the most impressive passages of The Wretched..., Fanon interprets the excessive use of these terms in the colonial discourse as a lack of self-confidence to establish a final knowledge of the world that, in spite of colonial discourse's central role and the hierarchization produces (for example by means of taxonomy), endlessly repeats the cause of the difference (See "The Other Question" in The Location of Culture). The logic of displacement appears with greater force in Fanon's attempt to retrace the territory where the colonial inscription takes place. For this reason, neither community nor home are possible when the colonized decides to take the place of the colonizer (39). While one of the principles of the demystification of the colonizers' superiority is already at stake here, the desire finally becomes articulated with one of the elements of the stereotype provided by the colonial discourse: natives are ruled by their feelings and not by rational arguments. Community will only be possible when it is no longer necessary to reinscribe a regime of truth to reproduce the conditions of the colonial discourse; that is, when repetition (from an historical point of view) ceases. Such is the opportunity imagined by Fanon for national culture and it is, in turn, one of the most controversial issues of the reading intended here. The nation, or the variation of national culture can be represented as an attempt to decentralize the idea of nation at stake -- said otherwise, the production of a changing, unsteady national culture -- recognizing it as a space that, as Wilda Western has indicated, admits the addition of "metaphorical figures, more voices, greater plurality" (60). But it is also a space where one can see "the power to bar other alternatives", making the claims of subordinate groups seem illegitimate (61). In this sense, the partial tragedy mentioned by Said may reappear, and the force of the displacement with respect to the actions of the colonial discourse may be lost, with the consequent weakening of the oppositional content of a postcolonial discourse achieved by a regime of truth that has only changed its sign. However, as mentioned earlier in this essay, that is a possibility at stake in the readings of Fanon's texts, and the possibility of displacement is also at stake. Let us now explore this more deeply.

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