FRANTZ FANON: A Biography

David Macey, Author . Picador $40 (656p) ISBN 978-0-312-27550-1

Macey (Lacan in Context), British translator, biographer and critic, is one of the foremost English-language chroniclers of the distinctive postwar French hybrids of psychological, political and historical thought. His Lives of Michel Foucault is so far the definitive biographical study of the prodigious thinker, and this biography of a fervent anti-colonialist revolutionary may be even more important for the role it could play in bringing Fanon's writings out of the American academy and back into common discussion. Fanon (1925–1961) was a native of Martinique, more than 10 years the junior of the radical "negritude" poet (and current mayor of Fort-de-France) Aimé Césaire, who was one of his high school teachers. By the time Fanon's brilliant, blistering diatribe Black Skin, White Masks appeared from a Paris publisher in 1952, Fanon was a psychiatrist; he had been part of a Moroccan-based resistance unit during the war, and had found the white left irredeemably bigoted. (Fanon described the book as a study in "language and aggressivity.") Fanon's colossal shifts of registers (political, medical, poetic, sociological) in the book's phenomenology of racism are well explicated by Macey, who gives nuanced accounts of the African nationalist essays and books that followed (primarily concerning Algeria, where Fanon practiced), and complicates Fanon's advocacy of violence-as-catharsis—one of the facets of his work that attracted the radical American left of the '60s. Macey does a terrific job throughout reconstructing the contexts in which Fanon conceived and wrote his works, and the terms with which one might best approach them. The book will be invaluable to scholars, but those looking for an entrée into postwar Francophone literature and its political militancy will find this book an excellent guide to notoriously thorny works, and to their author, who died of cancer soon after his illness was discovered. (June 17)

Reviewed on: 06/11/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 656 pages - 978-0-312-30042-5
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