Hegel-Fanon and the Problem of Recognition – Part II
This is the second and end part of this essay. Part I have been already published by Oracle Opinions and can be read here.
Section Three: Fanon and the Illusion of Independence
Thus far, we have seen the ways in which Fanon problematizes the Hegelian dialectic. More specifically, the ways in which the colonized/slave seeks to imitate the colonial/master. Fanon, however, was not only an anti-colonial thinker but also very much involved in the Algerian war for independence. This, in turn, brings into question the extent to which Fanon himself was able to transcend the very same colonial mimicry which he so vehemently opposed. It will be argued below that, whilst Fanon held that the colonized/slave must emerge as a “new man” – his political project was very much informed by the “political imagination” of the colonizer, primarily the nation-state and the mythical image of the “national-self”. In speaking of “political imagination” we refer to what Barnor Hesse explains is: “a situation in which dominant forms of representation and contestability frame and limit the terms in which the meaning of any social or cultural phenomena can be understood”. (Hesse 2011: 155). In her penetrative critique of postcolonialism, Gandhi explains:
“While the logic of power … is fundamentally coercive, its campaign is frequently seductive. We could say that power traverses the imponderable chasm between coercion and seduction through a variety of baffling self-representations. While it may manifest itself in a show and application of force, it is equally likely to appear as the disinterested purveyor of cultural enlightenment and reform. Through this double representation, power offers itself both as a political limit and as a cultural possibility. If power is at once the qualitative gap between those who have it and those who must suffer it, it also designates an imaginative space that can be occupied, a cultural model that might be imitated and replicated (Gandhi 1998: 14)
To what extent, was Fanon able to transcend the “imaginative space” created by the colonizer? For Fanon, there are two ways in which resistance against the colonizer can take place. The first involves a return to a primordial pre-colonial culture and identity whereas the second response emerges out of a post-colonial identity shaped by resistance. Fanon asserts that a pre-colonial “culture” merely signifies a set of “mummified fragments” – customs – it is static and the ambivalence of which becomes a medium through which the native-elites can pursue and legitimize self-colonization. On the other hand, culture, emerging from resistance is an ideal expression of the present and is a “fluctuating movement which they [the masses] are just giving a shape and to which as soon as it has started, will be the signal for everything to be called into question”. In other words, a post-colonial culture is one driven by the creative powers of resistance, rejecting mythical representations and pre-conceived significations. This move, on Fanon’s part, is grounded in a desire to shift from the tyranny of abstract universals and the hubris of ontology towards the concrete, the real: the whipping of the black skin. In Black Skin, White Masks Fanon states:
“Ontology does not allow us to understand the being of the black man, since it ignores lived experience. For not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man. Some people will argue that the situation has a double meaning. Not at all. The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man” (Fanon 1961: 90). However, this brings into question: (1) to what extent can the concrete, the particular be divorced from the ontology – the totality – which informs those particulars? And concomitantly (2) to what extent does the “post-colonial culture” espoused by Fanon allow for a situation in which “everything” is to “be called into question”? Fanon asserts:
“There is no fight for culture which can develop apart from popular struggle. To take an example, all those men and women who are fighting with their bare hands against French colonialism in Algeria are not by any means strangers to the national culture of Algeria. The national Algerian culture is taking on form and content as the battles are being fought out, in prison, under the guillotine and in every French outpost which is captured or destroyed. (Fanon 1961: 42).
In the above passage, Fanon speaks of an “Algerian National Culture” which is in itself a colonial construct. To contextualize this problematic and put it in concrete historical terms; the colonized is “independent” insofar as he seeks to assert “national independence” in a world in which nation-states are the primary markers of identity and political-cultural sovereignty. Yet, the very “we” (the national-self) and entity which he seeks to liberate is in itself a colonial construct, an appellation given to the colonized by the colonial master. In turn, the colonized paradoxically accepts the name given to him and the boundaries of resistance become defined by the boundaries drawn by the colonizer: “it is a moment of celebrating the chains, winding them over one’s head and calling them a crown” (Barghouti 2008: 78).
However, as we have noted in section three, it is only within a system-of-meanings that a “name” can be imputed onto the world and this naming is part of an “intentional constitution of meaning” grounded, inextricably, in an ontological horizon i.e. the world as it appears predicated on a conception of the world as-it-is and in-itself. To impute ‘meaning’ is not to create in the primordial sense, ex nihilo, for the being that is being named already exists, existentially, in the world. The “slave” before being a Slave is a real and concrete being – he is named a slave and thus re-created. That is to say, the African man is discovered and then created. For example, water is a priori, H20 and it exists in-itself and a priori to our comprehension of the world. However, water becomes a drink which can satisfy my thirst only when I interpret the world as it relates to me (when I am thirsty).
The ‘naming’ of the colonized “we” (e.g. Algerians) amounts to a speech-act: “it is in speaking of their world that people, by naming the world, transform it” – what is at stake for the slave is: “the way which [through naming] they achieve significance as human beings” (Freire 1970: 69). For Freire, the act of ‘naming’ is an essential step in the process of liberation: “dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world: “hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming” (Freire 1970: 69). In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire explains that naming, if it is to be emancipatory, must possesses two dimensions: (1) reflect and (2) action. The former is predicated on a critical consciousness which recognizes the ways in which the prevailing “words” (names) transform and shape the world and the ways in which new “words” can change the existing world. If such a word is unauthentic it will be “unable to transform reality”. Without reflection, there can be no action. And without authentic words/names, there can be no “fight to death”. Fanon is left unable to escape the spectre of Hegel for Hegel would claim that any “exteriority” cannot but be interior to the totality of the idea and Fanon’s reductionist approach only seems to add empirical credibility to such a claim. To posit the problem differently, in a manner similar to other postcolonial thinkers, Fanon’s political trajectory (and elusive ontology) is based on a negation (of the colonial “order of things”)with no affirmation (an ontological statement on what is beyond the colonial-order). This negation, represented by resistance, creates a consciousness in which the “we” – the oppressed – is reified and the “we” makes sense only in relation to a pre-existing colonizer-colonized relationship and not the “order of things” which preceded it. The “new man” is, after all, hardly “new” but rather an extension and prolongation of the present. What is left, as Saidiya Hartman puts it, is an “afterlife of slavery” but one which is hardly a paradise.
This “internalization of servitude” creates a situation in which the colonized seeks to both (1) imitate the colonizer and (2) demand recognition from the colonizer i.e. recognition of national independence and sovereignty. And thus, in acquiescing to the “political imagination” of the colonizer, the world name by the Master, the political horizons of the colonized-slave are circumvented. It is pertinent to note that the very concept of the “nation” is inextricable from Hegel’s political philosophy, the very same philosophy which Fanon critiques. In Hegel’s discourse of civilization, the nation serves as an expression of consciousness in an evolutionary process of development amounting to a form of secularized religion in which state-consciousness becomes the ultimate arbiter of temporal affairs replacing the native god. And as such, the very idea of the ‘nation’ and the nation-state emanates from a distinct ontological and epistemological framework.
In conclusion, the political project of Frantz Fanon is a reflection of a reductive “philosophy” – one which fails to transcend the ontological consciousness and “names” of the Master. The implications of this reductionism is not merely theoretical as it bears directly on the question of emancipation and liberation in an age which is far from “post-colonial” and one in which the political horizons of the oppressed, around the world, remain circumvented by the hubristic posture of the global-bourgeois. If we are to think beyond Capitalism, that is to say a world beyond Capitalism, we must return to philosophy in a manner which creates a progressive dialectic relationship between the abstract (questions of ontology and metaphysics) and the concrete (machinations of power and praxis).
 Italics Mine
2 Italics Mine
3 Example adopted from Enrique Dussel.
- Hesse, Barnor (2011) Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Postracial Horizon. The South Atlantic Quarterly 110(1): 155-178
- Davutoglu, Ahmet. “Islamic Paradigm: Tawḥīd and Ontological Differentiation.” Alternative Paradigms: The Impact of Islamic and Western Weltanschauungs on Political Theory. 1st ed. Lanham: U of America, 1994. 261. Print.
- Izutsu, Toshihiko. God and Man in the Qur’an; Semantics of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung. 1st ed. Tokyo: Keio Institute of Cultural and Linguistics Studies, 1964. Print.
- Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2000. Print.
- Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto, 1986. Print.
- Fanon, Frantz, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Constance Farrington. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove, 1965. Print.
- Honenberger, Phillip (2007) ““Le Nègre et Hegel”: Fanon on Hegel, Colonialism, and the Dialectics of Recognition,” Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge: Vol. 5: Iss. 3, Article 15.
- Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, Arnold V. Miller, and J. N. Findlay. Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977. Print.
- Dussel, Enrique D. Philosophy of Liberation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1985. Print.
Ali S. Harfouch was brought up in New Jersey U.S. As of 2008, after having moved to Beirut, Lebanon, a lot of his time has been devoted to writing and lecturing on issues related to political Islamic thought, Western political theory and Middle Eastern politics. He is currently completing an M.A in Political Theory from the American University of Beirut. He is also a speaker for the UK based Muslim Debate Initiative, political analyst on Revolution Observer and contributor to New Civilization.