Sunday, July 25, 2021

Summary: Chapter 4 - On National Culture from The Wretched of the Earth by Fanon

In chapter (4) "On National Culture" published in The Wretched of the Earth , Fanon sets out to define how a national culture can emerge among African nations that were once and, at the time of its release in 1961, still colonized. Rather than relying on an orientalized and fetishized understanding of precolonial history, Fanon argues that a national culture must be built on the material resistance of a people against colonial domination. Fanon narrates the essay referring to what he calls the 'colonized intellectual'. 

The return to precolonial history

For Fanon, colonizers try to write the precolonial history of a colonized people as a "barbarism, degradation and bestiality" in order to justify the supremacy of Western civilization.  To disturb the supremacy of colonial society, writes Fanon, the colonized intellectual feels the need to return to his so-called 'barbarian' culture, to prove his existence and his worth in relation to the West. 

Fanon suggests that colonized intellectuals often fall into the trap of trying to prove the existence of a common African or "black" culture. This points to what Fanon sees as one of the limitations of the Negritude movement . When articulating a continental identity, based on the colonial category of the 'Negro', Fanon argues that “the men who proposed to embody it realized that every culture is above all national”

Instead of a culture, the intellectual emphasizes traditions, customs, and clichés, which romanticize the story in a similar way to the settler's.  The desire to reconsider the nation's precolonial history, even if it results in orientalized clichés, still marks an important turning point according to Fanon, for in rejecting the normalized Eurocentrism of colonial thought, these intellectuals provide a "condemnation radical" of colonialism and its greatest undertaking. : This radical condemnation reaches its full meaning when we consider that the "ultimate aim of colonization", according to Fanon, "was to convince the indigenous people that it would save them from the darkness".  persistent refusal by indigenous peoples to admonish national traditions in the face of colonial rule, according to Fanon, is a demonstration of nationality, but one that clings to a fixed idea of ​​the nation as something from the past, a corpse. :

Fight as a place of national culture

Ultimately, Fanon argues that the colonized intellectual will have to realize that a national culture is not a historical reality waiting to be discovered in a return to precolonial history and tradition, but already exists in today's national reality.  To fight for national liberation is to fight for the terrain where a culture can grow,  since Fanon concludes that a national culture cannot exist under conditions of colonial domination.

A decisive turn in the development of the colonized intellectual is when they stop addressing the oppressor in their work and turn to address their own people, and this often produces what Fanon calls "combat literature", a writing which exhorts the people to wage the struggle against the colonial oppressor.  This change is reflected in all modes of artistic expression among the colonized nation, from literature to ceramics, ceramics and oral storytelling.  Fanon specifically uses the example of Algerian storytellers, changing the content and narration of their traditional stories to reflect the present moment of struggle against French colonial rule.  He also sees the bebop jazz movement in America as a similar turn, whereby black jazz musicians began to disentangle themselves from the image imposed on them by a white southern imagery. : While the common trope of African-American jazz musicians was, according to Fanon, "an old 'black', five whiskeys to his credit, lamenting his misfortune", the bebop was full of an energy and dynamism that resisted and undermined the common racist trope. 

For Fanon, national culture is closely linked to the struggle for the nation itself, the act of living and engaging with the present reality that gives rise to the range of cultural productions, and this can best be summarized in Fanon's idea of ​​replacing the ' concept' by 'muscle'.

Towards an international conscience

Concluding the chapter. Fanon is careful to point out that the construction of a national culture is not an end in itself, but a 'step' towards greater international solidarity. (The Wretched of the Earth, p. 268). The struggle for national culture induces a break with the inferior status that was imposed on the nation by the colonization process, which in turn produces a 'national conscience' and this national conscience, born of the struggle waged by the people, represents the highest form of national culture, according to Fanon. (p. 280) :Through this process, the liberated nation emerges as an equal player on the international stage, where an international conscience can discover and promote a set of universalizing values.