During his Poynter Fellowship talk on Monday, contributing editor at the London Review of Books Adam Shatz discussed the reception and legacy of 20th century French West Indian philosopher, revolutionary and writer Frantz Fanon.
Shatz’s talk “Frantz Fanon in America” drew roughly 40 student and faculty attendees. Shatz shared his insights on Fanon’s life and works and their lasting influence in America and across the world. Fanon’s works spanned the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory and Marxism, and inspired national liberation movements around the world.
The event was co-sponsored by the Comparative Literature and French departments and the Theory and Media Studies Colloquium.
“In my view, the best way to understand Fanon is to look at … this remarkably peripatetic and daring life,” Shatz said. “This is a man whose life spans three continents, and who is in dialogue with some of the richest intellectual traditions of the time, and is creating something new from them.”
Shatz sketched out Fanon’s “frustrated search for a home,” for somewhere he could both be “free and belong.” When he joined the armed struggle against the French rule in Algeria, Fanon was widely seen in his native land, the French colony of Martinique, as a traitor who both betrayed France and turned his back on his West Indian roots. In Algeria, Fanon “could never quite shake the perception that he was an outsider,” and most Algerians today have never heard of him beyond him taking part in their revolution.
But “in American universities, Fanon is an intellectual celebrity,” Shatz said.
“Franz [had] an American destiny,” he said. “In no other country has his work found so many readers or attracted so much scholarly attention.”
Shatz said that Fanon is “listed on behalf of” an array of “often contradictory … agendas”, such as those of Black Nationalism, cosmopolitanism, Pan-Africanism, defenses and critiques of identity politics and post-colonialism.
Various Americans have shown interest in studying and documenting Fanon’s journey. The American journalist Joseph Alsop attempted to create a film based on Fanon’s life, and James Forman, a prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement, tried to write a biography of Fanon that was never published.
Shatz said that he thinks John Edgar Wideman’s 2008 book “Fanon” is the most “persuasive” description of the revolutionary’s life, as it “engag[es] with the realities of Fanon’s life” while also connecting it to concerns that Wideman has as a black man in America.
Attendees interviewed by the News said they enjoyed the talk.
Madeleine Hutchins ’19 said that she enjoyed hearing about “all the ways that Fanon has been mythologized, and has a life outside of his own writing.” She said that it was interesting to hear about how Fanon’s writings have “been used to support totally divergent ideas.”
Ian Wraga DIV ’20 said that he found the lecture “really wonderful.” He noted that he appreciated Shatz’s insights on the “more nuanced dynamics” of Fanon’s attitude towards homosexuality and his relationships with women as well as how those dynamics affected both his academic work and his involvement with the Algerian Revolution.
The next Poynter Fellowship event “How Do We Fix Work? Jobs, Gender and Power Post #MeToo” will be held in the Luce Hall Auditorium on April 9.
Carrie Zhou | firstname.lastname@example.org