The Wretched of the Earth as Interrogation-Machine

Nation, Religion, and Race in Fanon's Decolonization Manifesto



Taking as our point of departure the final line of Frantz Fanon’s first book, Black Skins, White Masks (1952) – ‘Oh my body, always make me a man who questions!’ – we examine how Fanon’s posthumously published The Wretched of the Earth (1961) may be treated as a kind of ‘interrogation-machine’. Rather than approach this work as either transparently expressing the intentions of its author (‘the text as body’) or as a surface sliding across meanings that can be assembled in any number of ways (‘the text as machine’), we read three key episodes in The Wretched of the Earth as posing questions in ways that exceed those the answers Fanon himself offers a prose poem by Guinea writer Fodéba Keïta, Fanon’s treatment of the radical potential of Islam through his correspondence with Iranian sociologist Ali Shariati, and the responses of his patients to the trauma of torture.  In highlighting these interlocutors (who tend to be neglected by most commentators on Fanon), we conclude that the text functions as a kind of ‘manifesto’ appealing to different audiences (in the tradition of Marx and Engels), both colonized and colonizer, and we consider how Fanon’s call for a ‘new humanism’ speaks to our own crises of virulent state-nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and institutionalized racism.






Feature Article