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Interior Colonies: Frantz Fanon and the Politics of Identification

Author(s): Diana Fuss

Source: Diacritics, Vol. 24, No. 2/3, Critical Crossings (Summer - Autumn, 1994), pp. 19-42
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/465162
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I begin this discussion of identificationwith two claims: first, that identificationhas a

history-a colonialhistory;andsecond,thatthiscolonial historyposes seriouschallenges
for contemporaryrecuperationsof a politics of identification.I do not meanto imply that
identification,a concept thatreceives its fullest elaborationin the discourseof psycho-
analysis, cannotbe successfully mobilized for a radicalpolitics. I mean only to suggest
thatif we areto begin to understandbothits politicalusages andits conceptuallimitations,
thenotionof identificationmustbe placedsquarelywithinits otherhistoricalgenealogies,
including colonial imperialism. To assist me in this reading,I turnto one of the most
importanttwentieth-centurywritersworking at the intersectionof anti-imperialpolitics
and psychoanalytic theory, the practicing psychiatristand revolutionaryphilosopher
FrantzFanon. Psychoanalysis'sinterestin the problemof identificationprovidesFanon
with a vocabularyandan intellectualframeworkin which to diagnoseandto treatnot only
the psychological disordersproducedin individualsby the violence of colonial domina-
tion but also the neurotic structureof colonialism itself. At the same time, Fanon's
investigationof the dynamicsof psychological alteritywithin the historicalandpolitical
frameof colonialismsuggeststhatidentificationis neithera historicallyuniversalconcept
nor a politically innocentone. A by-productof modernity,the psychoanalytictheoryof
identificationtakes shape within the largerculturalcontext of colonial expansion and

Imperial Subjects

Contemporarytheoriesof racialalterityanddifferenceowe muchto therethinkingof self-

other relations that Fanon elaboratesin his anticolonialisttreatise,Black Skin, White
Masks (1952). Most prominently,Edward Said's enormously influential theory of
orientalism,which posits the Muslim "Orient"as a phobic projectionof a distinctly
Westernimaginary,echoes elementsof Fanon'sown theoryof colonialpsychopathology
in which theblackmanis subjugatedto thewhite manthrougha processof racialothering:
"fornot only mustthe black manbe black;he mustbe black in relationto the white man"
[Fanon,Black 110]. Assigned the roleof embodyingracialdifferencewithina colonialist
metaphoricsof representation,the black man becomes for the white man the repository
of his repressedfantasies, "the mainstayof his preoccupationsand his desires"[170].
Undercolonialism,Fanoncontends,"therealOtherfor thewhite manis andwill continue
to be theblackman"[161].1Yet significantlycomplicatingthisnotionof "Blackas Other"

I would like to thankJudith Butler, Eduardo Cadava, Eric Santner,and especially Carole-Anne
Tylerfor their commentson an earlier draft of this essay.
1. Later in this chapterI discuss morefully Fanon 'sproblematicuse of the masculineas both
thepoint of departureand thefinal referentfor a new theoryof the subject. Suffice it to say here

20 diacritics 24.2-3: 20-42


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is a ratherdifferent reading of alterity in Fanon's work with potentially even greater
importfor ananticolonialistpolitics. Inthissecondtheoryof white-blackrelations,Fanon
implicitly disputes his own initial formulationof racial alterity and asks whether, in
colonial regimes of representation,even othernessmay be appropriatedexclusively by
white subjects. Fanon considers the possibility thatcolonialism may inflict its greatest
psychical violence precisely by attemptingto exclude blacks from the very self-other
dynamic that makes subjectivity possible. This alternative theory of (non)alterity
elaboratedin Black Skin, WhiteMasks does not so much call into question the first as
uncoveranother,deeper, more insidious level of orientalism.
Fanonproposesthatin the system of power-knowledgethatupholdscolonialism, it
is the white man who lays claim to the category of the Other, the white man who
monopolizesothernessto securean illusion of unfetteredaccess to subjectivity. Deploy-
ing the conventionalpsychoanalyticgrammarof "the other"and "the Other"to distin-
guish between imaginaryand symbolic difference, or between primaryand secondary
identification,2Fanon implies that the black man under colonial rule finds himself
relegatedto a position other than the Other. Colonialismworks in partby policing the
boundariesof culturalintelligibility,legislatingandregulatingwhich identitiesattainfull
cultural signification and which do not. For the black man, the implications of his
exclusion from the culturalfield of symbolizationare immediate and devastating. If
psychoanalysisis rightto claim that"Iis an Other"[Lacan23], thenothernessconstitutes
the very entry into subjectivity;subjectivity names the detour throughthe Other that
providesaccess to a fictive sense of self. Space operatesas one of the chief signifiersof
racialdifferencehere: undercolonial rule,freedomof movement (psychical and social)
becomes a white prerogative. Forced to occupy, in a white racial phantasm,the static
ontologicalspace of the timeless "primitive,"theblackmanis disenfranchisedof his very
subjectivity. Denied entryinto the alteritythatunderwritessubjectivity,the black man,
Fanon implies, is sealed instead into a "crushingobjecthood."Black may be a protean
imaginaryotherfor white, butfor itself it is a stationary"object";objecthood,substituting
for truealterity,blocks the migrationthroughthe Othernecessaryfor subjectivityto take
place. Throughthe violence of racialinterpellation-"'Dirty nigger!' Orsimply, 'Look,
a Negro!"'-Fanon finds himself becoming neitheran "I"nor a "not-I"but simply "an
object in the midst of otherobjects": "the movements,the attitudes,the glances of the
otherfixed me there, in the sense in which a chemical solution is fixed by a dye" [Black
109]. Strickenand immobilizedby a white child's phobically chargedcry, "Mama,see
the Negro! I'm frightened!,"Fanon's very body strains, fragments, and finally bursts
apart:"I took myself off from my own presence,far indeed, and made myself an object.
Whatelse could it be for me but an amputation,an excision, a hemorrhagethatspattered
my whole body with black blood?" [112]. "Fixed" by the violence of the racist
interpellationin an imaginaryrelation of fracturedspecularity, the black man, Fanon

that Fanon's powerful anticolonial polemics remain completely caught up in the masculinist
presuppositionsof the discourse they seek to displace.
2. In Lacanian terms,these two conceptscan be distinguishedin at least three ways: first, the
other (small o) denotes a specular relation to an Imaginaryrival, while the Other (capital O)
designates a linguistic relation to a Symbolic interlocutor;second, the other depends upon a
narcissistic relation, while the Other marks the locus of intersubjectivity;and third, the other is
produced as an effect of primary identificationin which the subject recognizes itself in its own
image, while the Other is constructedas an effect of secondary identificationin which the subject
shifts its point of address to another speaking subject. For a much fuller discussion of the
psychoanalyticdefinitionofalterity, see Boons-Grafe. For a deconstructionof thepsychoanalytic
distinctionbetweenprimaryand secondary identification,and its normativeapplications,see my
"Freud'sFallen Women."

diacritics / summer-fall 1994 21

concludes, is "foreverin combat with his own image" [194]. The black man (contra
Lacan)begins and ends violently fragmented.
For the white man, the considerableculturalcapitalamassedby the colonizationof
subjectivityamountsto nothingless thanthe abrogationof universality.While the "black
manmustbe blackin relationto thewhite man,"the conversedoes not hold true;thewhite
mancan be white withoutany relationto the blackmanbecausethe sign "white"exempts
itself from a dialecticallogic of negativity. ConsiderFanon's formulafor "whiteness":


Ego differentfrom the Other [215]

Claimingfor itself theexaltedpositionof transcendentalsignifier,"white"is nevera "not-

black."As a self-identical,self-reproducingterm,white drawsits ideologicalpowerfrom
its proclaimedtransparency,from its self-elevation over the very category of "race."3
"White"operatesas its own Other,freedfrom any dependencyuponthe sign "Black"for
its symbolicconstitution.Incontrast,"Black"functions,withina racistdiscourse,always
diacritically,as the negative termin a Hegelian dialectic continuouslyincorporatedand
negated. Fanonarticulatesthe process precisely: "TheNegro is comparison"[211].
The broad outlines of Fanon's theory of otherness are borrowedfrom Jean-Paul
Sartre,whose use of the HegeliandialecticinBeing andNothingnessprovidesFanonwith
a useful paradigmfor theorizing psychological alterity in specifically historical and
political terms. Sartre'sthesis thatit is the Otherwho foundsone's being, the Otherwho
holds for the Self the "truth"of identity, becomes the theoreticalbasis for Fanon's
repeatedcalls in BlackSkin, WhiteMasksfor an ethics of mutualidentification,"aworld
of reciprocalrecognitions"[218].4 Recently, the category of the Other has achieved
considerableprominencein criticaldiscussions of identity,offering a ready and useful
shorthandfor signaling the productionof culturaldifference. Yet often in readingthis
work I am struckby the inadequacyof the termto do everythingwe ask of it. To invoke
"theOther"as anontologicalorexistentialistcategoryparadoxicallyriskselidingthevery
range and play of cultural differences that the designation is intended to represent.
Reliance upon the Otheras a categoricalimperativeoften works to flattenratherthanto
accentuatedifference.5Moreover,the signifier "Other,"in its applicationsif not always
its theorizations,tends to disguise how theremay be otherOthers-subjects who do not
quite fit into the rigidboundarydefinitionsof (dis)similitude,or who indeed may be left
out of the Self/Otherbinaryaltogether.Fanonsees the Otherfor what it is: an ideological

3. In "Race under Representation,"David Lloyd emphasizes the explicitly metaphoric

pretenses of a whitemythology: "thisSubjectbecomesrepresentativein consequenceof beingable
to take anyone'splace, of occupyinganyplace, of a pure exchangeability"[70]. Deconstructing
the category white therefore involves making visible its founding metaphoricsand ideology of
invisibility. For more on the culturallyconstructedcategory of whiteness,see Morrison;Dyer;
Gaines; Abel; and Mercer, "BlackHair. "
4. See Sartre,Being. Fanon takeshis theoryof "recognition"from the section on "Lordship
andBondage " in Hegel's The Phenomenologyof Mind[228-40]. Thesubjectof Fanon's interest
in Hegel and Sartre has received extended treatmentelsewhere. See, for example, Gendzier;
McCulloch. To avoid terminologicalconfusion, let me note that the "Other"for Sartre refers to
a specular, dyadic order similar to Lacan's idea of the Imaginary. Sartre's "Other" thus
correspondsroughlyto Lacan's "other,"the other of the mirrorstage.
5. Eve Sedgwickhas recentlymade a very similarpoint about the colloquial use of the term
"Other": "thetropeof the Other... mustalmost a priori fail to do justice to the complexactivity,
creativity,and engagementof those whom it figures simply as relegated objects" [147].

constructdesignedto upholdandto consolidateimperialistdefinitionsof selfhood. Thus,
in Fanon's estimation, Sartre's theory of alterityfails on two counts. First, it fails to
registerhow, in colonial history,not all othersarethe same: "thoughSartre'sspeculations
on the existence of The Othermay be correct,"Fanonargues,"theirapplicationto a black
consciousnessprovesfallacious. Thatis becausethe white man is not only The Otherbut
also the master"[138]. Second, Sartre'sdeploymentof a Self/Otherdialecticsfails to see
how the Otherwho is masteris firmly located in an economy of the Same. In a colonial
dialectics,basedon a radicalasymmetryof power,symbolic alterityoperatesprecisely as
a privilege of the Self-Same.6
The problem originateswith the Hegelian dialectic, which, as Robert Young has
recently observed, is modeled upon Enlightenmenthistory. As a form of knowledge
baseduponincorporation,Hegel's philosophicaltheoryof self-otherrelations"simulates
the project of nineteenth-centuryimperialism . . . mimics at a conceptual level the
geographicalandeconomic absorptionof the non-Europeanworld by the West" [Young
3]. Both the existentialist and the psychoanalyticnotions of otherness, which Fanon
inheritsfromSartreandFreudrespectively,operateon the Hegelianprincipleof negation
and incorporation. The colonial-imperialregisterof self-other relationsis particularly
strikingin Freud'swork, where the psychoanalyticformulationof identificationcan be
seen to locate at the very level of the unconsciousthe imperialistact of assimilationthat
drivesEurope'svoraciouscolonialist appetite. Identification,in otherwords, is itself an
imperial process, a form of violent appropriationin which the Other is deposed and
assimilatedinto the lordlydomainof Self. Througha psychical process of colonization,
the imperialsubjectbuilds an Empireof the Same and installs at its center a tyrannical
dictator,"His Majestythe Ego."
Whathappenswhen imperialsubjectsbecome ImperialSubjects?When Otherness,
and thus subjectivity,is claimed as a prerogativeof the colonizer alone? For Fanon,the
answeris clear: when subjectivitybecomes the exclusive propertyof "the master,"the
colonizer can claim a sovereign right to personhoodby purchasinginteriorityover and
against the representationof the colonial other as pure exteriority. This is the elusive
meaning of Fanon's enigmatic phrase "the Umwelt of Martinique"[37], one of many
referencesinBlackSkin,WhiteMasksto Lacan's1949 paperon themirrorstage, in which
the function of the mirroris said "to establish a relationbetween the organism and its
reality ... between the Innenweltand the Umwelt"[Lacan4]. But if Martiniqueis the
Umwelt to Europe's Innenwelt, if the colonized is no more than a narcissistic self-
reflectionof the colonizer, then the latter'sexclusive claim to "humanness"is seriously
compromised,put intojeopardyby the very narcissismthatparadoxicallyconstructsthe
nonhumanin the Imperial Subject's own image. Moreover, by imposing upon the
colonial other the burdenof identification(the command to become a mimic Anglo-
European),the ImperialSubject inadvertentlyplaces himself in the perilous position of
object-object of the Other's aggressive, hostile, and rivalrousacts of incorporation.
It thereforebecomes necessary for the colonizer to subject the colonial other to a
doublecommand:be like me, don't be like me; be mimeticallyidentical,be totally other.
The colonial other is situated somewhere between difference and similitude, at the
vanishingpointof subjectivity. Of course,the samedialecticof differenceandsimilitude

6. I should clarify here that Fanon's profound discomfort with Sartre's endorsementof
negritudein Orph6enoir is provokednot by Sartre's use of the dialecticper se but by the specific
place that negritude is made to occupy within it. Sartre's dialectic of thesis (white racism),
antithesis(negritude),and synthesis (humanism)assigns "black"to the role of negation in what
is essentially,for Fanon, a dialectics of racial assimilationism.See Sartre,Orpheenoir. Theworks
ofAime Cesaire,LeopoldSenghor,andLeon Damas,featured in the negritudeanthologyprefaced
by Orph6enoir,provideFanon withan alternativephilosophical andpoliticalposition from which
to critiqueSartre's controversialintroduction.

diacritics / summer-fall 1994 23

constitutesthe ImperialSubjectas well. Any racialidentityis organizedthrougha play
of identificationanddisidentification:"TheNegro is not. Any morethanthe white man"
[Black 231]. But "white"defines itself through a powerful and illusory fantasy of
escaping the exclusionary practices of psychical identity formation. The colonizer
projectswhat we might call identification's"alienationeffect" onto the colonized, who
is enjoinedto identifyandto disidentifysimultaneouslywith thesameobject,to assimilate
butnot to incorporate,to approximatebut not to displace. Further,in attemptingto claim
alterityentirely as its own, the ImperialSubjectimposes upon all others,as a condition
of their subjugation,an injunctionto mime alterity. The colonized are constrainedto
impersonatethe image the colonizer offers them of themselves;they are commandedto
imitatethe colonizer's version of their essential difference. What,then, is the political
utility of mimesis for the colonized, when mimesis operatesas one of the very termsof
theirculturaland political dispossession undercolonial imperialism?
In recentfeministtheory,mimesis is most frequentlyunderstoodin oppositionto the
categoryof masquerade:"mimicry"(the deliberateandplayfulperformanceof a role) is
offered as a counterand a correctiveto "masquerade"(the unconsciousassumptionof a
role).7 The criticaldifferencebetween masqueradeand mimicry-between a nonironic
imitationof a role anda parodichyperbolizationof thatrole-depends on the degreeand
readabilityof its excess. In this reading,mimicryresists andsubvertsdominantsystems
of representationby intentionallyironizingthem. Postcolonialdiscoursetheoryunder-
standsmimicry in strikinglycontraryterms, not as a tactic of dissent but as a condition
of domination. In the words of Homi Bhabha,"mimicryemerges as one of the most
elusive and effective strategiesof colonial power and knowledge."Bhabha'stheory of
colonial mimicry, developed througha series of importantreadingson Fanon's work,
remindsus thatit is precisely throughthe figures of "trompel'oeil, irony,mimicry,and
repetition"thatthe discourseof colonial imperialismexercises its authority["Mimicry"
126].8 In this second reading,mimicry subtendsratherthan disturbsdominantsystems
of representation;it operatesas an emphatic instrumentof political regulation,social
discipline, and psychologicaldepersonalization.
Yet despite their apparentincompatibility,these two notions of mimesis cross,
interact,andconvergein ways thatmake it increasinglydifficultto discriminatebetween
a mimicryof subversionanda mimicryof subjugation,or at leastto knowwith anydegree
of certaintytheirpossible political effects. Bhabhamakes it clear thatthe ever-present
possibilityof slippage-from mimicryinto mockery,fromperformativityinto parody-
immediately discreditscolonialism's authorizedversions of othernessand profoundly
underminesthe colonizer's elusive self-image to the point where "thegreat traditionof
European humanism seems capable only of ironizing itself' ["Mimicry"128]. As
narcissistic authorityevolves into paranoiac fear ["Sly Civility" 78], the rents and
divisions within colonialistnarrativesof dominationbecome morevisible. Not even the
colonialproductionof thedividedother-black skin,white masks-leaves thecolonizer's
authoritycompletely intact: "in occupying two places at once ... the depersonalized,
dislocatedcolonial subjectcan become an incalculableobject, quiteliterally,difficultto

7. This theoryof subversivemimicryfinds its most extended treatmentin the work of Luce
Irigaray. See Irigaray's This Sex Which Is Not One. Carole-AnneTyler'sFemaleImpersonators
offers a careful and thorough critique of the problems with Irigaray's mimicry/masquerade
distinctionas it falters on the twingrounds of intentionand reception.
8. Bhabha,whoseworkcenterson investigatingtheplace offantasyanddesire in theexercise
of colonial power, is one of the first cultural theorists to think through the ambivalences of
identificationin termsof its inscriptionin colonial history.Bhabha's mostinfluentialessays all take
Fanon as theirtheoreticalpointof departure.In additionto "OfMimicryandMan,"see also "The
OtherQuestion," "SlyCivility," "SignsTakenfor Wonders,""RememberingFanon, "Interro-
gating Identity," and "'Race,' Timeand the Revision of Modernity."

place. The demandof authoritycannotunify its messages norsimply identifyits subjects"
["Remembering" xxii]. Bhabha'spoint,simplyput,is thattheproductionof mimic others
can proveto be disruptivein ways colonial discoursedoes not intendandcannotpossibly
If the mimicry of subjugationcan provide unexpectedopportunitiesfor resistance
anddisruption,the mimicryof subversioncan find itself reinforcingconventionalpower
relationsratherthanerodingthem. This is the conclusion of several recentstudies on a
formof racialcross-identificationthatFanondoes notdiscuss inBlackSkin,WhiteMasks,
namely the subject position of white skin, black masks, or whites in black face.9 In a
readingof racialfetishismandthe homoeroticimaginary,KobenaMercerasks: "whatis
going on when whites assimilateand introjectthe degradedanddevalorizedsignifiers of
racialothernessinto the culturalconstructionof theirown identity?If imitationimplies
identification,in thepsychoanalyticsense of theword,thenwhatis it aboutwhitenessthat
makesthe white subjectwantto be black?"["Skin"21]. KajaSilverman,in her analysis
of Lawrenceof Arabia,providesa possible answerwith hertheoryof the doublemimesis.
While, on the one hand,T. E. Lawrence's adoptionof Arab dress and custom promoted
an unorthodoxhomoeroticidentificationwith Arabnationals,on the otherhand,the very
same culturalimpersonationmaskeda will-to-power,a desire to outdothe Arabsin their
"Arabness,"an ambitionto become moretrulyotherthanthe Other[17-20]. Gail Ching-
LiangLow expresses a similarconcernwhen she speculateson whether,for the colonial
subject,"theprimaryattractionof thecross-culturaldressis thepromiseof 'transgressive'
pleasure without the penalties of actual change" [93]. Keeping in mind the power
relationsinvolved, theremay be little if anythingsubversivein cross-culturalimperson-
ations that work in the service of colonial imperialism. When we take into account
multiple axes of difference that cross-cut, interferewith, and mutuallyconstitute each
other,the dreamof a playfulmimesis cannotbe so easily or immediatelyrecuperatedfor
a progressivepolitics. Given the various and continuallychanging culturalcoordinates
thatlocate identityat the site of bothfantasyandpower,one would have to acknowledge,
at the very least, that the same mimetic act can be disruptiveand reversionaryat once.
Folded into one another,these two notions of mimicrytogethersuggest thatcontext
is decisive in registeringthe full rangeof political meaningsone might attributeto even
a single identification.Thedeceptivelysimpledetailsof who is imitatingwhom andunder
what conditions stand as the most insistent, intricate,and indispensablequestions for a
politics of mimesis. The projectof evaluatingthe political effects of mimesis encounters
furthercomplicationswhen we consider the ways in which "imitationrepeatedlyveers
over into identification"[Silverman 19]. Psychoanalytictheories of identificationall
seem to agree that "everyimitation... is also an incorporation"[Lacoue-Labartheand
Nancy, "Unconscious"208]. In the next section I would like to examine at least one
instancein Fanon's work where this premise does not appearto hold true,one scene of
mimesis that draws its power from a certain refusal of identification. Tentatively
unfasteningimpersonationfrom identification,I propose to demonstratehow mimesis
might actuallybe deployedto countera prescribedidentification. When situatedwithin
the context of colonial politics, the psychoanalytic assumption that every conscious
imitationconceals anunconsciousidentificationneedsto be carefullyquestioned,readfor
the signs of its own colonizing impulses.

9. One instancewhereFanon does talkabout thisphenomenonis in a brieffootnotewherehe

lists a series of cultural impersonationsin which white "admiration"for black culture masks a
hiddenidentification: "white'hot-jazz'orchestras,whitebluesand spiritualsingers,whiteauthors
writingnovels in which the Negro proclaims his grievances, whites in blackface" Black 177].

diacritics / summer-fall 1994 25


The wearing of the veil throughoutthe period of the French occupation of Algeria
provides Fanonwith one of his most importantexamples of the role of mimesis in the
psychopathologyof colonial relations. In the opening essay of A Dying Colonialism,
entitled "Algeria Unveiled," Fanon examines the mutable and contradictorycultural
meaningsattributedto Arabwomen's dress,whathe suggestivelydenotesas "thehistoric
dynamismof the veil" [Dying 63]. For the Europeanoccupiers,the veil functionsas an
exotic signifier, invested with all the propertiesof a sexual fetish. Faced with a veiled
Algerianwoman, Fanonwrites, the Europeanis consumedwith a desire to see, a desire
that,in colonialism's highly sexualizedeconomy of looking, also operatesas an urge for
violent possession:

Every new Algerian woman unveiled announced to the occupier an Algerian

society whose systems of defense were in the process of dislocation, open and
breached. Every veil that fell, every body that became liberated from the
traditional embrace of the haik, every face that offered itself to the bold and
impatient glance of the occupier, was a negative expression of the fact that
Algeria was beginning to deny herself and was accepting the rape of the
colonizer. [42]

The colonialist desire to unveil the Algerian woman is given special urgency by the
capabilityof the veil to block the look of the Otherwhile permittingthe woman herself
to assume the privilege of the ImperialSubject-to see withoutbeing seen [44]. Fanon
reads the French colonial political programof "unveiling"as an attemptto strip all
Algerians of their national, cultural, and religious identity by reducing the Algerian
woman to a sexual representationmore readilyassimilatedto white Europeanideals of
womanhood. In direct opposition to the signification of the veil for the French
colonialists, the veil comes to function for the colonized as a visible sign of Algerian
nationalist identity and a symbol of resistance to imperial penetrationand colonial
domination. Each attempt to Europeanize the Algerian woman is countered by a
reinvestmentof the veil with national import. Even more importantlyfor Fanon, the
wearingof theveil operatesas one of themostvisible anddramaticindicesto thehistorical
emergence of women's political agency: "the Algerian women who had long since
droppedtheveil once againdonnedthehaik,thusaffirmingthatit was nottruethatwoman
liberatedherself at the invitationof Franceand of Generalde Gaulle"[62].
Yet as MervatHatemremindsus, revolutionarycalls for the reassumptionof the veil
may have quite othermotivationsduringtimes of severe economic hardshipbroughton
by the colonial wars: the veil, and the exclusion of women fromthe public spherethatit
signifies, upholdsa traditionalsexualdivisionof laborandpreservesfor men increasingly
scarcejobs in the workplace [31].10 Within a single discourse the veil can thus signify

10. In the same volume,in an essay entitled "Authenticityand Gender:ThePresentationof

Culture,"Julie M. Peteet speaksof the "remarkable flexibility" of a symbollike the veil, whoseuse
can be "both calculated and creative": "the same veil thatsymbolizeda militant,female activism
now is used to circumscribewomen'spresence in the workplaceand confine them to the home"
[52]. BothHatemandPeteet interrogatewomen'ssemioticrole as bearersof culture. Hatemnotes
that "whilemenwere expectedto interactwiththeirchangingenvironment,womenwere relegated
to the task of being the conservatorsof the traditionalculture"[43]. Peteet points out that this is
true whether women symbolize progress or tradition; either way, they are still considered
repositoriesof "authenticculture"[60]. See also Minces. For more on thefigure of the veil, see
Mernissi;Alloula. LamaAbu Odeh, discussing the veil in a contemporarycontext,observes that
many Muslim women typically wear Westernclothes under their veils, further complicatingthe
questionof sartorial impersonationand culturalresignification.

doubly, as a mode of defying colonialism and as a means of ensuring patriarchal
privilege." Conversely,theveil can carrya similarmeaningacrossseemingly antithetical
discourses: in the discourse of colonial imperialismand in the discourse of national
resistance,the veiled Algerian woman standsin metonymicallyfor the nation. In both
instances,the woman's body is the contestedideologicalbattleground,overburdenedand
saturatedwith meaning. It is the woman who circulatesas a fetish-both the site of a
receding, endangerednationalidentity and the guarantorof its continuedvisibility. In
Fanon's "AlgeriaUnveiled,"the wearerof the veil becomes a veil, the inscrutableface
of a nation struggling to maintain its cultural inviolability. A fetishistic logic of
displacementoperatesin Fanon's own text, as the veiled Algerianwoman comes to bear
the burdenof representingnationalidentityin the absence of nation.
Fanonextends this logic of fetishizationto includethe unveiledAlgerianwoman as
well. His argumentrestson a paradoxof unveiling: if some Algerianwomen duringthe
war have begun to dress in European clothes, this act of cultural cross-dressing is
testimony not to the success of the relentless European attempts at psychological
conversion and deculturationbut to their failure; these women, enlisted by the FLN,
unveil themselves only in orderto betterdisguise themselves. "Passing"as European,
Algerian women can move freely throughthe Europeanquartersof the city, carrying
concealedguns, grenades,ammunition,money, papers,andeven explosives. ForFanon,
this kindof nationalpassing in the service of revolutionaryactivity is never a questionof

Itmustbe bornein mindthatthecommittedAlgerianwomanlearnsbothher role

as "a woman alone in the street" and her revolutionarymission instinctively.
TheAlgerianwomanis not a secret agent. It is withoutapprenticeship,without
briefing,withoutfuss,thatshe goes out into thestreetwiththreegrenades in her
handbag or the activity report of an area in her bodice. She does not have a
sensation ofplaying a role she has read about ever so manytimes in novels, or
seen in motionpictures. Thereis not thatcoefficientofplay, of imitation,almost
alwayspresentin thisformof action whenwe are dealingwitha Westernwoman.
Whatwe have here is not the bringing to light of a character knownand
frequenteda thousandtimesin imaginationor in stories. It is an authenticbirth
in apure state, withoutpreliminaryinstruction.Thereis no characterto imitate.
On the contrary, there is an intense dramatization,a continuitybetween the
womanand the revolutionary. [Dying 50]

Fanon's insistence upon the nonmimeticcharacterof the Algerian woman's national

cross-dressingposes a numberof questionsfor a politics of mimesis. Whatdoes it mean
to say that this woman "learns"her role "instinctively,"without apprenticeshipand
withoutexample? Canone imitatewithoutanobjector a modelto impersonate?Canthere
be impersonationwithout imitation,or role-playingwithouta role to play? In one sense,
yes. Theories of the masqueraderemindus thatthereis no model behind the imitation,
no genuine femininity beneath the performance,no original before the copy.'2 But

11. For a moreextendedtreatmentof thistheme,see JeffreyLouisDecker's"Terrorism

(Un)veiled: andtheWomen ofAlgiers."JohnMowittinvestigatesFanon
investmentin thecategoryof nationin "AlgerianNation:Fanon'sFetish." For an interesting
readingof the etymologicallink betweenfetish and masquerade,see CharlesBernheimer's
andDecadence:Salomes SeveredHeads."
12. SeeJoanRiviere's"Womanliness "StephenHeath's"JoanRiviereand
as a Masquerade,
the Masquerade,"and MaryAnn Doane's two essays "Filmand the Masquerade:Theorisingthe
FemaleSpectator" FurtherThoughts
Reconsidered: ontheFemaleSpectator,"
bothin FemmesFatales.

diacritics / summer-fall 1994 27

Fanon's insistencethatthe Algerianwoman's Europeanimpersonationis "anauthentic
birthin a pure state"presumes not that femininity is itself a culturalproductionof the
masqueradebutthatmasqueradeis a naturalfunctionof femininity. It assumesthatif the
Algerian woman in her performanceas "European"expertly dissimulates,she does so
naturally,without "that coefficient of play, of imitation"that characterizesWestern
women. Fanon's retrievalof an essentialistdiscourse of black femininityto explainthe
paradoxof the unveiled Algerianwoman's nonmimeticimitationappearsmotivatedby
a desire to refuse any possibility of culturalcontaminationbetween the imitatorandher
subject,the colonized andthe colonizer,theAlgerianandthe European.But is it possible
to separate so completely the imitation from what it imitates? Is it possible for the
mimicking subject to inhabit fully a performativerole while still remaining largely
outside it? Where,in otherwords, in a politics of imitationcan one locate the politics?
Following the mimicry/masqueradedistinction,we might be temptedto conclude
that the revolutionary agent that Fanon describes, the Algerian woman "radically
transformedinto a Europeanwoman, poised and unconstrained,whom no one would
suspect"[57], engages in a form of mimicrybut not masquerade.Her "transformation"
involves the deliberatetaking up of a cultural role for political ends ratherthan the
unconscious"bringingto light of a characterknown and frequenteda thousandtimes in
imaginationorin stories."However,thesuccess of this particularmimeticactdependsnot
uponexcess butequivalency,not uponmimicry'sdistancefrommasqueradebutuponits
approximationto it. "Algeria Unveiled" dramatizes a form of mimesis that takes
masqueradeas its object; the political strategy described is more like that of miming
masquerade. To avoid inspectionby the Frenchsoldiers, the unveiledAlgerianwoman,
by impersonatingthe sartorialmasqueradeof white Europeanfemininity,submitsherself
to anotherkind of examination: "The soldiers, the Frenchpatrols,smile to her as she
passes, complimentson her looks are heardhere and there, but no one suspects thather
suitcases contain the automatic pistol which will presently mow down four or five
membersof one of the patrols"[58]. To do its work, this form of tacticalmimesis must
be perceivedby its colonialisttargetas femininemasquerade(whereboth"feminine"and
"masquerade"signify "European"),and the masquerade,in turn,as evidence of another
Algerianwoman"saved,"anothervictoryof Europeanization,anotherpiece of "theflesh
of Algeria laid bare"[42].
It mightbe moreaccurateto say, then,thatimitationis very muchat issue in Fanon's
example of the Algerian woman unveiled, but that not all forms of imitation are
identifications. The importanceof Fanon's reading of this particularscene can be
registeredelsewhere,in its attemptto installa wedge betweenidentificationandimitation,
in its suggestionthatnotevery imitativeactharborsa secretor unconsciousidentification.
Indeed,to readuncriticallytheAlgerianwoman'sdramatizationas anactof identification
riskstrivializingthe role politicalnecessityplays in this performanceandminimizingthe
traumaof the historicalevent thatoccasions it. Fanonimplies thatsome imitationsmay
only disguise themselves as identifications. But, it could be objected,in so doing might
the act of mimesis actuallyproducethe very identificationit seeks to disavow? Identi-
fication, after all, is an unconscious operationthat repeatedlyresists our attemptsto
govern and to control it. Did the opportunityto dress in Europeanclothes permitsome
Algerianwomen to engage in cross-national,cross-racial,cross-class,andcross-cultural
identificationswith white bourgeoisEuropeanwomen? Perhaps. (Althoughthereis no
simple way of knowing anythingaboutthe fantasies, desires, and identificationsof the
women in the FLN from Fanon's admittedlyopaque texts: elsewhere Fanonclaims to
"knownothing"aboutthe womanof color [Black179-80]). Butthe pointto be registered
is thatwhile imitationmay eitherinstituteor gratifyan unconsciousidentification,it can
anddoes frequentlyexceed the logic of thatidentification.Putanotherway, identification
with the Otheris neithera necessarypreconditionnoran inevitableoutcomeof imitation.

For Fanon it is politically imperativeto insist upon an instrumentaldifferencebetween
imitationandidentification,becauseit is preciselypolitics thatemerges in the dislocated
space between them.'3
It is because the French colonialists did not understandthe difference between
identificationand imitationthattheirown deploymentof a politics of mimesis failed as
spectacularlyas the Algerians'succeeded. In TheWretchedof theEarthFanondiscusses
the colonialist practiceof intering leading Algerian male intellectualsand submitting
themto prolongedsessions of brainwashing,a strategydesigned"toattackfromthe inside
those elements which constitutenationalconsciousness" [Wretched286]. The details
Fanonprovidesof the"pathologyof torture"show how thisparticularformof psychologi-
cal abuse aspires to nothing less than the forcible realignment of identifications achieved
througha programof strictlymonitoredimitations: duringthe psychological "conver-
sion" process, the intellectualis orderedto "play the part"of collaborator;his waking
hours are spent in continuous intellectual disputation, arguing the merits of French
colonization and the evils of Algeriannationalism;he is never left alone, for solitude is
considereda rebelliousact;andhe must do all his thinkingaloud, since silence is strictly
forbidden[286-87]. Ultimately,the native intellectual'slife dependsuponhis abilityto
imitatethe Otherperfectly,withouta traceof parody;it depends,in short,uponhis ability
to mime without the perception of mimicry. Once again, mimicry must pass as
masqueradeif the subjectwho performsthe impersonationis to survive to tell the tale.
This type of tortureis perhapsonly the most extremeform of what Bhabhahas described
as theprimarymode of subjectificationundercolonial domination:"agrotesquemimicry
or 'doubling' that threatensto split the soul" ["Other"27]. Yet this violent attemptto
producean identification(what psychoanalysiscalls an "identificationwith the aggres-
sor")fails "tosplitthe soul,"andit fails becauseimitationalone is notsufficientto produce
an identification. Those internedsubjectsreleasedafter"successful completion"of the
conversionprogram,Fanontells us, all returnedto theircommunitiesand took up, once
again, their respective roles in Algeria's strugglefor nationalliberation.
This is not to say, however, that the male revolutionariesFanon describes in The
Wretchedof the Earth, forced to imitatethe ideology, speech, and mannerismsof their
Europeancaptors,were not left unscarredby the process. Indeed,as early as Black Skin,
WhiteMasks, Fanonis concernedwith the profoundlydebilitatingpsychological effects
of colonial mimesis on all blackmen who mustlaborunderthe brutalcolonial injunction
to become (in Bhabha's eloquent turn of phrase) "almost the same but not white"
["Mimicry"130]. Forthe black man, mimesis is a by-productof the colonial encounter,
a pathology createdby the materialconditions of imperialdomination,a psychological
"complex" that at all points must be refused and resisted.'4 If we compare Fanon's
discussionof blackmen inBlackSkin,WhiteMasksto his laterdiscussionof blackwomen
in "AlgeriaUnveiled,"we detecta dubiousgenderincongruitystructuringFanon'stheory
of colonial mimicry: whereas colonial mimicry for black men is alienating and
depersonalizing,for black women it is naturaland instinctive. In Fanon's view, black
women are essentially mimics and black men are essentially not. Fanon's analysis of

13. Fanon does not get awayfrom theproblem of intentionalityhere; indeed,Fanon's point
is thatpoliticsnecessarilyresidesin intentionality.Fanon 'sstrategyis to reconstructthepossibility
of agency that colonialism vitiates, and he does this by locating "politics" in the space where
imitationexceeds identification.
14. Theclearest statementofFanon 's view thatidentificationitself is a pathological condition
producedby the colonial relationcomesin Black Skin, WhiteMasks,whereFanon suggests, again
using Sartreanterms, that "as long as the black man is among his own, he will have no occasion
... to experiencehis being throughothers" [109]. For Fanon it is not the case that unconscious
racial identificationscreatethecolonial driveforassimilation,butratherthatcolonialdominations
produce thephenomenonof racial identification. No identificationwithoutcolonization.

diacritics / summer-fall 1994 29

colonial mimesis repeatedlyrunsagroundon the questionof sexual difference. Whatare
the implications of Fanon's sex/gender essentialisms for his project to decolonize

Decolonizing Sexuality

Fanon'sdisquietingdiscussionsof not only femininitybuthomosexuality-inextricably

linkedin Fanonas they arein Freud-have receivedlittle if any attentionfromhis critical
commentators. Passages in Fanon's corpus articulatingardentdisidentificationsfrom
black andwhite women and fromwhite gay men (for Fanonhomosexualityis culturally
white) are routinely passed over, dismissed as embarrassing,baffling, unimportant,
unenlightened,or perhapssimply politically risky. In this section I turnspecifically to
Fanon's theory of "the sexual perversions"for several reasons. First, these difficult
passagestell us somethingimportantaboutFanon'sown sexualidentificationsas they are
shapedwithin andagainsta colonial discourseof sexualitythatappropriatesmasculinity
as the exclusive prerogative of white male colonizers while relegating black male
sexuality to the culturallyabjected,pathologizedspace of femininity,degeneracy,and
castration.Second, Fanon's remarkson homosexuality,while failing to challenge some
of Freud's most conventional and dangerous typologies of sexuality, simultaneously
question,at least implicitly,the ethnologicalcomponentof psychoanalysisthathas long
equated"the homosexual"with "the primitive."'5Finally, Fanon's theoryof racialized
sexualitiesundercolonialismhelps pointus in thedirectionof interrogatingthe ethnocen-
trismof the very categoryof "sexuality."Along the way, I hope to avoid the problemof
oversimplification-either hastily dismissing Fanon's notions of sexuality as theoreti-
cally suspect, or uncritically recuperatingthem as historically overdetermined-by
employinga doublereadingstrategy. The most appropriatemethodologyfor readingthe
politics of sexual identificationsmay be to theorizeand to historicizeat once, to follow
whatI take,in fact,to be Fanon'sown readingstrategyelaboratedmorefully in laterworks
like The Wretchedof the Earth.
Fanon'stheoryof the sexual perversionsappearswithin a broaderdiscussion of the
problem of Negrophobia in chapter 6 of Black Skin, WhiteMasks. "The Negro and
Psychopathology"takes as its centralfocus fantasiesby white subjects in which black
men perform the role of "phobogenic object[s]" [151]. Following closely Angelo
Hesnard'sdefinition of phobia as "a neurosis characterizedby the anxious fear of an

15. A significantbody of workalready exists on the role nineteenth-centuryracial models of

theJew play in shaping Freud's work. See, for example,Geller; Boyarin. Most recently,Sander
Gilman's Freud,Race, and Genderargues for understandingFreud's theory of femininity as an
anxious displacementof dominantracial representationsof the male Jewish body. Something
rathersimilar may be going on in Fanon's passages on femininityand homosexuality,where the
popularcolonialist caricatureof the blackman as castratedand sexuallydegenerateis seamlessly
transposed onto women and gay men. In this section I briefly discuss Fanon's complicated
negotiationsof colonial representationsof black sexuality-racial epistemologiesin whichFreud
is inevitablyimplicated. For Fanon, theproblem of anti-Semitismand racism are not unrelated.
Fanon in fact models his investigationof Negrophobia in Black Skin, White Masks on Sartre's
studyAnti-SemiteandJew, adaptingSartre's claim that "itis the anti-Semitewho makestheJew"
into his own formulationon racism, "it is the racist who creates his inferior"[Black 93]. The
representationalhistoryofJews as "theNegroesofEurope"[cited in Gilman20] provides the basis
ofa powerfulandambivalentidentificationforFanon withthefigureof themaleJewish intellectual.
For Fanon's comparisonsin Black Skin, White Masksof theJew and the Negro, the anti-Semite
and the Negrophobe,see especially 87-93, 115-16, 157-66, and 180-83.

object,"16Fanon widens the field of the clinical disorderby explaining that the phobic
object need not be presentin actualitybut need only exist as a possibility in the mind of
the subject[154]. In a readingof the fantasy"A Negro is rapingme"(thechapter'scentral
exampleof Negrophobia)Fanonidentifiesthe phobiaas a disguised expressionof sexual
desire: "when a woman lives the fantasy of rape by a Negro, it is in some way the
fulfillmentof a privatedream,of an innerwish.... [I]t is the woman who rapesherself."
How can it be said thatthe Negrophobicwoman rapesherself? Like Freud'shysteric,17
Fanon'sphobiccan apparentlyoccupy in fantasytwo or morepositions at once. Through
a cross-genderedand cross-racialidentification,the white Negrophobicwoman usurps
the positionshe herselfhas assignedto the blackmanandplays the role notonly of victim
but of aggressor: "Iwish the Negro would rip me open as I would have rippeda woman
open"[179]. ForFanon,thewhite woman's fantasy"A Negro is rapingme"is ultimately
an expression of either a violent lesbian desire or a wish for self-mutilation, with
narcissismultimatelyblurringthedistinctionbetweenthem. Even morequestionable,the
desire to be a rapist is posited as the basis of the desire to be raped, a masochistic
identificationthatFanonunproblematically takesas one of thedefiningpsychopathologies
of white femininity. It is, however, importantto recall at this juncture that Fanon
elaborateshis readingof this particularfantasyduringa periodwhen fabricatedcharges
of rapewere used as powerfulcolonial instrumentsof fear and intimidationagainstblack
men. Fanon's deeply troublingcomments on white women and rape are formulated
within a historical context in which the phobically charged stereotype of the violent,
lawless, and oversexed Negro put all black men at perpetualrisk. Whatwe might call
Fanon's myth of white women's rape fantasies is offered as a counternarrativeto "the
myth of the black rapist"[see Davis].
Ultimately,what may be most worrisomeaboutthe treatmentof interracialrape in
Black Skin, WhiteMasks is not what Fanon says aboutwhite women andblack men but
what he does not say aboutblack women and white men. As MaryAnn Doane notes in
her readingof Fanon's analysis of rape and miscegenation,

Fanon asksfew (if any) questionsabout the whiteman'spsycho-sexualityin his

violent confrontationwith the black woman-fewer still about how one might
describe blackfemale subjectivityin theface of such violence. In the historical
scenario conjoining rape and lynching, the emotional charge attached to
miscegenation,its representationalintensity,are channeled onto thefigure of
the white woman,effectivelyerasing the black woman's historical role. [222]

According to Doane, rape itself undergoes a certain displacement-"from the white

man's prerogativeas master/colonizerto the white woman's fears/desiresin relationto
the black male"[222].18 Whatdisappearsin Fanon's act of displacementis any analysis
of the productionand institutionalizationof a violent imperialmasculinitynecessary to
keep the social structureof colonial dominationfirmly in place. What drops out is a
recognition of how sexual violence is imbricatedin an entire economic and political
systemin which the rapeof blackwomen by white settlers(or"colons")worksto establish

16. TheoriginalcitationisfromAngeloLouisMarieHesnard's L'universmorbidedelafaute

17. I referto Freud'sfavoriteexampleof hysteria:the womanwhoplays bothpartsof a
seductionat once,tearingherdressoffwithonehand("asa man")andpressingit toherbodywith
theother("asa woman").SeeFreud's"Hysterical PhantasiesandTheirRelationtoBisexuality
(1908),9: 155-66, and "SomeGeneralRemarksonHystericalAttacks"(1909),9: 227-34.
18. In "DarkContinents: ofRacialandSexualDifference
Epistemologies inPsychoanalysis
andtheCinema,"Doanehelpfullysuggeststhatwethinkofpsychoanalysis"asa quiteelaborate
formof ethnography-asa writingof theethnicityof thewhiteWesternpsyche"[211].

diacritics / summer-fall 1994 31

and to maintainwhat is, in effect, a slave economy.19What is missing, finally, is any
seriousdiscussionof blackwomen's subjectivityundercolonial rule: "Thosewho grant
ourconclusionson the psychosexualityof the white womanmay askwhatwe have to say
aboutthe woman of color. I know nothing abouther"[Black 179-80].20
If, in Fanon's theory of Negrophobia,the white woman who fears the black man
really desires him, then so apparentlydoes the phobic white man: "the Negrophobic
woman is in fact nothingbut a putativesexual partner-just as the Negrophobicman is
a repressedhomosexual"[156]. For Fanon,the rootpathogeniccause of Negrophobiais
sexual perversion-a perversionof sexual objectchoice for men andsexual behaviorfor
women ("All the Negrophobicwomen I have known had abnormalsex lives.... [t]here
was also an element of perversion,the persistenceof infantile formations: God knows
how they made love! It must be terrifying"[158].) In both instances, perversion is
representedspecifically as a whitepathology. Thereareno homosexualsin Martinique,
Fanonspeculates,because the Oedipuscomplex remains,in every sense, foreign to the
Antilles: "Like it or not, the Oedipus complex is far from coming into being among
Negroes" [152]. Fanon insists thatwhile Martiniquemay have its "godmothers,"male
transvestitesin theAntilles nonethelesslead "normalsex lives"and"cantakea punchlike
any he-man"[180]. Forwhite men homosexualityis a pathologicalcondition;for black
men it is "ameansto a livelihood,"a by-productof colonialism in which blackmen from
the colonies are forced into homosexualprostitutionin the metropolein orderto survive
The mostseriousproblemwith Fanon'stheoryof the sexualperversionsis the pivotal
relation assigned to homosexuality in the culturalconstructionof racism. All of the
psychicalcomponentsFanonidentifiesas centralto the "hatecomplexes"areidenticalto
thosehe posits as constitutiveof same-sex desire:"fault,guilt,refusalof guilt,paranoia-
one is back in homosexual territory"[183]. It is not entirely clear which of these two
"complexes"(racismor homosexuality)Fanonbelieves to be the pathologicaltriggerfor
the other;more certainis the sleight of handin which "homosexuality"is insertedinto a
violent culturalequationwhere "homophobia"properlybelongs. As Lee Edelmanhas
pointedout, homosexualityandhomophobiaaremadeto changeplaces with one another
in a falsely syllogistic logic: "homophobiaallows a certainfigurallogic to the pseudo-
algebraic'proof' thatasserts: where it is 'given' thatwhite racismequalscastrationand
'given' that homosexuality equals castration,then it is properto conclude that white
racismequals(or expressesthroughdisplacement)homosexualityand,by thesametoken,
in a reversal of devastatingimport for lesbians and gay men of color, homosexuality
equalswhite racism"[Edelman55]. If racismis articulatedwith homosexualityinstead
of homophobia,where are antiracistlesbians and gay men, of all colors, to position
themselves in relation to same-sex desire? Fanon's theory of sexuality offers little to
anyone committedto both an anti-imperialistand an antihomophobicpolitics.

19. Forjust such a carefulanalysis of the racializedclassfield of sexuality,see, for example,

M. JacquiAlexander's "RedraftingMorality:ThePostcolonial State and the Sexual OffencesBill
of Trinidadand Tobago." In "Cartographiesof Struggle: ThirdWorldWomenand thePolitics of
Feminism," Chandra Talpade Mohanty also analyzes how "racialized sexual violence has
emergedas an importantparadigm or trope of colonial rule" [17].
20. Fanon immediatelyunderminesthis disclaimerby extendingthe mythof rapefantasy to
blackwomen,asserting in the verynext line thatlight-skinnedAntilleanwomenalso havefantasies
of rape, masochisticwishfantasies in which the role of aggressor is played by blackmenof darker
skin color than their own. WhileFanon sympathizeswith black men who are constrainedunder
colonial dominationto identifywithwhitemen, his commentson black women'sidentificatonwith
white women are comparativelyharsh and unsympathetic. See Fanon's reading of Mayotte
Capecia's autobiographicalbook,Je suis martiniquaise,in chapter2 of Black Skin,WhiteMasks.
For a more extendedanalysis of Fanon's dismissal of Capecia's book, see Bergner.

Yet, like Fanon's theoryof white femininity,his complicatedreadingof homosexu-
ality needs to be framedhistorically,placed within the prism of the particularcolonial
history that shapes and legislates it. Fanon's concern with the economics of sexual
exchange between colonizer and colonized is not entirely withoutwarrant;prostitution
was indeedone of the few occupationsopen to black immigrantsin colonial France. The
point needs to be made that colonialism's insatiabledesire for exotic black bodies, its
institutionalizationof a system of sexual exploitation that focused largely on black
women, was extendedto include many black men as well. Moreover,Fanon's effort to
call into question the universalityof the Oedipuscomplex may constitutewhat is most
revolutionaryabout his theoreticalwork, a political interventioninto classical psycho-
analysis of enormousimportfor latertheoristsof race and sexuality. Respondingto an
allusion by Lacanto the "abundance"of the Oedipuscomplex, Fanonshows insteadthe
limitations of Oedipus, or ratherthe ideological role Oedipus plays as a limit in the
enculturatingsweep of colonial expansionism. Prone to see Oedipuseverywherethey
look, Western ethnologists are impelled to find their own psychosexual pathologies
duplicatedin theirobjects of study [152]. Undercolonialism, Oedipusis nothing if not
self-reproducing. Taking their cue in part from Fanon, two French theorists of the
metropole,Gilles Deleuze andFelix Guattari,unmaskoedipalityas a formof colonization
turnedinside out: "Oedipusis always colonization pursuedby other means, it is the
interiorcolony, and ... even here at home, where we Europeansare concerned,it is our
intimatecolonial relation"[170].21Deleuze andGuattari'sAnti-Oedipus, publishedin the
early 1970s during the watershed of
period publications on Fanon's work,22is as much a
polemic against psychology of colonization as it is a demystificationof the imperial
politics oedipalization, and indeed the greatinsight of this wildly ambitiousbook is its
demonstrationof how the historicalemergence of both colonizationand oedipalization
participatein a doubleideological operationwhere each serves effectively to conceal the
political function and purpose of the other. "Even in the case of worthy Oedipus,"
pronouncesAnti-Oedipus,"it was alreadya matterof 'politics"' [98].
Fanon's insistencethatthereis no homosexualityin the Antilles may convey a more
trenchant meaning than the one he in fact intended: if by "homosexuality"one
understandsthe culturally specific social formations of same-sex desire as they are
articulatedin the West, then indeed homosexualityis foreign to the Antilles. Is it really
possible to speak of "homosexuality,"or for thatmatter"heterosexuality"or "bisexual-
ity," as universal, global formations? Can one generalize from the particularforms
sexuality takes underWesterncapitalismto sexuality as such? Whatkinds of coloniza-
tions do such discursivetranslationsperformon "other"traditionsof sexual differences?
It is especially important,confronted by these problems, to focus attention on the
ethnocentrismof the epistemologicalcategoriesthemselves-European identitycatego-
ries that seem to me wholly inadequateto describe the many differentconsolidations,
permutations,and transformationsof what the West has come to understand,itself in
myriadand contradictoryfashion, underthe sign "sexuality."
Fanon's disavowal and repudiationof "homosexuality"take on special meaning in
light of the parallelthatpsychoanalysisdrawsbetween "perversion"and "primitivity."
This is not to say thatFanon's work is free of the specterof homophobia. When Fanon
confesses, "I have neverbeen able, withoutrevulsion,to heara man say of anotherman:
'He is so sensual!" [Black 201], the very form of the enunciationobeys the terms of
Fanon's own earlierdefinitionof phobia as "terrormixed with sexual revulsion"[155].

21. After all, "therevolutionaryis thefirst to have the right to say: 'Oedipus?' Never heard
of it" [Deleuze and Guattari96].
22. In additionto Gendzier'sbiography,several other critical studieson Fanon appeared in
the early 1970s. See Bouvier; Caute;Lucas; Woddis;Zahar; and Geismar.

diacritics / summer-fall 1994 33

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However, Fanon's disidentificationcan be read as anotherkind of refusal as well, a
rejectionof the "primitive= invert"equationthatmarksthe confluence of evolutionary
anthropologyand sexology and their combined influence on early twentieth-century
Inversion,Freudcommentsin ThreeEssays on the Theoryof Sexuality,"is remark-
ably widespreadamong many savage and primitiveraces .. .; and, even amongst the
civilized peoples of Europe,climateandraceexercise the most powerfulinfluenceon the
prevalenceof inversion and upon the attitudeadoptedtowards it" [7: 139].23 In these
curiouslines linking inversionto race and climatology,Freudhas in mind the influential
theory of the "Sotadic Zone" developed in the final volume of RichardBurton's The
Arabian Nights. Burton's Sotadic Zone, a global mapping of inversion according to
certainlatitudesand longitudes, covers all the shores of the Mediterranean,including
NorthAfrica, and extends as far as the South Sea Islandsand the New World.24While
Burtondescribes his sexual topographyas "geographicaland climactic, not racial,"he
nonethelessfinds the incidenceof "Le Vice" to be highest amongstthe Turks("a race of
bornpederasts"[232]), the Chinese ("thechosen people of debauchery"[238]), and the
NorthAmericanIndians("sodomites"and"cannibals"[240]). The sexologist Havelock
Ellis, following Burton, also finds a "special proclivity to homosexuality ... among
certainracesand in certainregions"[Ellis 22]. ForBurtonandEllis, the category"race"
encompassesmorethansimply skincolor;for thesewriters"race"operatesas a somewhat
more elastic term folded into the category of nation ("the British race"), species ("the
humanrace"),and even gender ("themale or female race"). Not insignificantlyfor the
presentreadingof racializedsexualities, fin de siecle sexology routinelyrefers to "the
thirdsex" as a separateraceor species. In both Ellis's andBurton'sdiscourseof Empire,
Algeria is singled out as the most dangerous-because the most sexually infectious-of
the Sotadic Zones. Like a kind of venereal disease threateningthe moral health of an
Empire,homosexualityis said to be "contractedin Algeria"by membersof the French
ForeignLegion,"spread"throughentiremilitaryregiments,andfinally transmittedto the
civilian population[see Ellis 10; Burton251]. Throughwhat we might call an epidemi-
ology of sexuality, colonial discourse representsplaces like North Africa as breeding
grounds for immoralityand vice, thereby invertingand disguising the real traumaof
colonial imperialism: the introductionof highly infectious and devastatingly lethal
Europeandiseases into the colonies.
Fanon's theory of the sexual perversionscan thus be more fully understoodas an
impassioned response to popular colonialist theories of race and sexuality. Fanon's

23. Most of whatFreud has to say on race can be found in his anthropologicalwork,where
Gustave Le Bon's use of the phrase "racial unconscious" as a synonym for "archaic" or
"primitive"is revisedand expandedbyFreud to includehis theoryof repression. For Freud's most
extendedtreatmentof thesubjectof race, see TotemandTaboo(1913), 13:1-162. For theinfluence
of Darwin on Freud's theoryof race, see Edwin R. Wallace's Freudand Anthropology. Freud's
GroupPsychology andthe Analysis of the Ego (1921) provides us with a psychoanalytictheoryof
racismthatmaynot be withoutinterestin the contextof thepresentchapter: "Closelyrelatedraces
keep one another at arm's length; the South German cannot endure the North German, the
Englishmancasts everykindof aspersionupontheScot, theSpaniarddespises thePortuguese. We
are no longerastonishedthatgreaterdifferencesshouldlead to an almostinsuperablerepugnance,
such as the Gallicpeoplefeelfor the German,theAryanfor the Semite,and the whiteracesfor the
coloured"[18: 101]. See also Gilman.
24. Burton writes: "Thereexists whatI shall call a 'SotadicZone,' boundedwestwardsby
the northernshores of theMediterranean(N. Lat. 43?)and by the Southern(N. Lat. 30?). Thusthe
depth would be 780 to 800 miles including meridionalFrance, the Iberian Peninsula, Italy and
Greece, with the coast-regions of Africafrom Marocco to Egypt" [206]. See Burton's Terminal
Essay for thefull coordinatesof the Sotadic Zone, too lengthyto be cited here.

diacritics / summer-fall 1994 35

resolutelymasculineself-identifications,articulatedthroughthe abjectificationof femi-
ninity andhomosexuality,takeshapeover andagainstcolonialism's castratingrepresen-
tations of black male sexuality. Unfortunately, Fanon does not think beyond the
presuppositionsof colonial discourse to examine how colonial dominationitself works
partiallythroughthe social institutionalizationof misogyny and homophobia. Fanon's
otherwisepowerfulcritiqueof the scene of colonial representationdoes not fundamen-
tally question the many sexualized determinationsof that scene. In each of Fanon's
works, including"AlgeriaUnveiled,"the colonial encounteris stagedwithin exclusively
and subjectivity is ultimately claimed for men alone. When the politics of sexual
differenceis in question,Fanon'stheoryof identificationriskspresentingitself as simply
another"theoryof the 'subject' [that]has always been appropriatedby the 'masculine"'

Identificationin Translation

It is importantto remember,when discussing the complicated subject of Fanon's own

personalidentifications,thathe was a practicingclinician whose theoreticalandcultural
work was informed and shaped by an entire institutional,professional, and political
apparatuslocated in the space of violent colonial struggle. The complexity of Fanon's
heterogeneoussubjectposition-an Antillean-bor, French-educatedphysicianpractic-
ing psychiatryin NorthAfrica-helps to frameone of the most startlingcontradictions
of his clinicalpractice.As a psychiatristFanontreatedall typesof patientsduringtheearly
yearsof the Algerianwar: duringthe daytimehe workedwith Frenchsoldiers suffering
psychological breakdowns as a result of their daily torture of suspected Algerian
nationals;at night he treatedthe victims of these tortures,often restoringthem to health
only to see them returnedonce again to the brutalityof a Frenchpolice interrogation
[McCulloch1]. Not surprisingly,Fanon'sattitudestowardpsychiatryreflectedthe deep
ambivalencesof his own changingpolitical affiliationsandpersonalidentifications. As
a memberof the FLN andeventuallyone of its most importantinternationalspokesmen,
Fanon warned against colonialist appropriationsof the psychoanalytic "cure" as a
convenientmethodof culturalsocialization,a meansof adjustingmembersof thecolonial
populationto theirpolitical conditionof social alienation. At the same time, as a doctor
from the metropole,Fanoncontinuedthroughouthis life to promotepsychoanalysisas
one of the most powerfulinstrumentsavailableto combat those mentalpathologiesthat
are"thedirectproductof oppression"[Wretched251]. Introducedinto Algeria in 1932,
the psychiatric hospital ironically became for Fanon a site of active resistance to the
violence of the colonialistenterprisethatinstitutedsuch Western-styleinstitutionsin the
first place.
When Fanonwas appointed,in the fall of 1953, directorof the Hospital at Blida-
Joinville, the largestpsychiatrichospital in Algeria, there were eight psychiatristsand
2500 beds for a nationalpopulationof 8.5 million Muslims and 1.5 million Europeans
[Gendzier73]. Disproportionateto their numbers,over half of Fanon's patientswere
white Europeans,the restblack Algerians;Fanonministeredto both. However,Fanon's
sessions with his EuropeanandAlgerianpatientswere markedby a radicaldisparity,for
the French-speakingFanonspoke neitherArabicnorKabyleandcould not communicate
with his Muslimpatientswithoutthe mediationof a translator.25 Therearetwo immediate

25. There is considerabledisagreementover the extent of Fanon's language skills and its
consequencesfor his professional work,a disputethat in the level of its intensityunderscoreshow
very high are the stakes involved. Fanon's most sympatheticbiographer,Peter Geismar,claims
that by the end of 1956, several years after arrivingin Algeria, Fanon could "understandmost of

points to be made on the subject of the translatorin Fanon's clinical practice. The first
is what is added to the analytic process: a heightened awareness of language as an
embattledsite of historicalstruggle and social contestation. Fanon's complete reliance
upon translatorsto converse with his Muslim patients is nothing if not a powerful
reminder,to both doctor and patient, of the immediate political context in which the
therapeuticdialogue strugglesto takeplace. The daily translationsof Arabicand Kabyle
into Frenchcould not avoid reproducing,within the space of the clinical treatment,the
very structureof the colonial relation. The second is what is lost in this translation:quite
simply, the analysand'sown speech, the speakingunconscious. Whatultimatelyescapes
Fanon are the slips and reversals,the substitutionsand mispronunciations,in short, the
freeassociationsthatprovidethe analystwith his most importantinterpretivematerial,the
traces and eruptionsof the patient's unconscious into language. Strictly speaking, the
speech Fanonanalyzesin the sessions with his Muslimpatientsis the translator's,not the
patient's,a situationthatimpossiblyconfuses the analyticprocess andurgentlyposes the
questionof whethera therapeuticmodel constructedin one languageor culturecan be so
easily or uncriticallytranslatedinto another.
Fanon's essay "The 'North African Syndrome,"'published in the February1952
issue of L 'esprit,gives us some indicationof the formidableproblemsposed by the use
of a translatorin colonial medicine. The following scene dramatizes,with wry humor,a
routinemedical examinationbetween a Frenchdoctor and a NorthAfrican patient:

[Thepatient] tells abouthis pain. Whichbecomesincreasinglyhis own. He now

talksabout it volubly. He takeshold of it in space andputs it beforethe doctor's
nose. He takesit, touches it withhis tenfingers, develops it, exposes it. It grows
as one watches it. He gathers it over the whole surface of his body and after
fifteen minutesof gesturedexplanationsthe interpreter... translatesfor us: he
says he has a belly-ache. [Toward5]

Fanonlaterfaced very similar difficulties in his psychiatricpracticeat Blida, where the

problemof languagecomprehensionwas furtherexacerbatedby the tendencyof analysis
to base itself almostexclusively upondialogue,uponclose attentionto the intonationsand
equivocations of language, language that indeed must be said to be completely and
inescapablyculturallyinflected. Fanon'sown clinical writingsprovideus with little clue
to the presence of a third-partyinterpreterin the psychiatricsessions with his Algerian
patients;all traces of this fundamentaldisturbancein the actual scene of analysis are
entirelyerasedfromthewrittencase histories. Who were these translatorswithoutwhom
Fanoncouldnot do his work? Fanon'stranslatorsatBlidawere the hospital'smale nurses,
educatedAlgerianmen who, undercolonial rule, were denied the opportunityto pursue
advancedmedical degrees. It was this groupof male nurseswhom Fanoncountedas his
closest supportersin the battleto institutea seriesof controversialhospitalreforms;it was
the Algerian nursesand not the Europeanstaff who possessed the appropriatelanguage
skills necessaryfor runninga multilingualhospital;andit was the nursesto whom Fanon
dictatedhis case notes,the nurseswho, in some instances,actuallywrotethe case histories
thatwere latereditedby Fanon[Gendzier77; Geismar83]. Unlike Freud,then,who had
the luxuryof a privatepracticethatselectively treatedexclusively middle-classpatients,
Fanon's professional sessions were conductedin a large psychiatricstate hospital and
were dependent upon the intensive labor of a whole team of invisible workers that

what his patients were telling him" [86]. Irene Gendzierprovides a sharply differing account,
describing Fanon's efforts to learn Arabic as "stillborn"and personally anguishing [77]. For
AlbertMemmi,Fanon's refusal to learn the language of thepatients he was treating constituted
nothing less than a "psychiatricscandal" [5].

diacritics / summer-fall 1994 37

administeredto the needs of many hundredsof patients a day. This cadre of nurse-
translatorsmay be only the most visible sign of an institutionthat in both purpose and
design continuedto bearthe stampof a colonial import.
Ultimately,the use of a translatorin his clinical workmayprovidethe most powerful
testimonyof all to Fanon'shypothesisthatto be exiled fromlanguageis to be dispossessed
of one's very subjectivity.26 When Fanon begins his investigation of cross-racial
identifications in Black Skin, White Masks with a chapter called "The Negro and
Language,"he does so to emphasize the importanceof speech to the assumption of
subjectivity: "to speak is to exist absolutelyfor the other"[17]. Moreover,"to speak a
languageis to takeon a world, a culture. The Antilles Negro who wants to be white will
be the whiteras he gains greatermasteryof the culturaltool thatlanguageis" [38]. Racial
difference operates in this context as a linguistic constructbounded and defined by
opportunitiesof class and education. Fanonrecognizes thathis facility with the French
languageaccordshim what he calls "honorarycitizenship"as a white man [38]. He also
recognizes that this citizenship is never more than "honorary,"insofar as a racialist
discourseof immutablebiological differenceceaselessly worksto "seal"the white man
in his "whiteness"and the black man in his "blackness"[9]. To his white European
patients,Fanon is ineluctablyblack-"the Negro doctor"[117]. To his black Algerian
patients,Fanonis white: a French-educated,upper-middle-classprofessionalwho cannot
speak the language. Identifying with both groups but accepted by neither, Fanon's
shiftingandcontradictorysubjectpositionskeepidentityperpetuallyatbay. It is precisely
identitythatis suspendedor deferredby the work of identification,identitythatremains
in a state of internalexile. Put anotherway, Fanon's own identificationsare in constant
translation,caught in a system of cultural relays that make the assumptionof racial
identityboth necessaryand impossible.27
In light of his own ambivalent identifications, Fanon's attempt to perform a
sociohistorical analysis of the process of psychical incorporationtakes on singular
politicalimportance.Interestingly,the questionof the politicalityof Fanon'spsychoana-
lytic theory is a contentious,even divisive issue for his biographers. Irene Gendzier's
importantbiographyof Fanon notes that although Fanon was aware of a connection
between psychiatryandpolitics, he nonetheless"abandoned"the one in his quest for the
other [64]. Gendzierexpresses the view held by many readersof Fanon's life and work

26. WalterBenjamin's "TheTaskof the Translator" takesas its thesis the useful notion that
any language is a place of exile, that "all translationis only a somewhatprovisionalway of coming
to termswith theforeignness of languages " [75]. Benjamin'sinterestin translation,however,lies
in the "suprahistoricalkinshipof languages" or "the relatedness of two languages, apart from
historical considerations" [74]. The theoretical move to banish history from the realm of
translation operates to conceal, and ultimately to preserve, a colonizing impulse at work in
translation;Benjamin's "greatmotif of integratingmany tongues into one true language" [77]
representsan imperialistdream,afantasy of linguisticincorporationand culturalassimilation. If
it is impossibleto read translationoutside the historyof colonial imperialism,then it may also be
the case that colonial imperialismoperates as a particular kindof translation. In the roundtable
discussion on translationincluded in Derrida's The Ear of the Other,Eugene Vanceposes the
questionin its simplestrhetoricalform: "Isn't the colonizationof theNew Worldbasically a form
of translation?" [137]. For more on the imperialhistory of translation,see Krupat193-200.
27. Complicatingmattersfurther is the question of Fanon as object of identification. In
"CriticalFanonism,"HenryLouis Gates,Jr., demonstrateshow Fanon is inevitablya repository
for his critic'sprojectiveidentifications: "IfSaid made of Fanon an advocateofpost-postmodern
counternarrativesof liberation;if [Abdul]JanMohamedmade of Fanon a Manicheantheoristof
colonialism as absolute negation; and if Bhabha cloned, from Fanon's theoria, another Third
Worldpost-structuralist,[Benita] Parry's Fanon ... turnsout to confirmher own ratheroptimistic
vision of literatureand social action" [465]. To this list I wouldhave to add myown identification
withFanon thepsychoanalytictheorist,practicing clinician, and universityteacher.

thatit was necessaryfor Fanon,afterthe publicationof his first book, Black Skin,White
Masks, to repudiate"psychoanalysis"to access "politics."Joch McCulloch's carefully
researchedstudyof Fanon'softenoverlookedclinicalwritingsmakesthecounterargument
that "thereis no epistemological or methodologicalbreakbetween Fanon's earlierand
later works" and that indeed "all of Fanon's works form part of a single theoretical
construct"[3].28Thecriticaldebateoverthe relationbetweenFanon'spsychiatrictraining
and his political education-posed in the oppositional terms of dramatic break or
seamless continuity-obscures the critical faultlines upon which Fanon's own work is
based, for Fanon himself was interested precisely in the linkages and fissures, the
contradictionsand coimplications, the translationsand transformationsof the theory-
politics relation.I havetriedto explorein this essay theway in which, in Fanon'sthinking,
the psychical and the political are hinged together on the point of identification. I am
remindedof the concludingline of PhilippeLacoue-Labarthe'sstudy of mimesis: "why
would the problem of identification not be, in general, the essential problem of the
Fanon'sown politics takes the multifariousform of an extendedinvestigationof the
psychopathologyof colonialismthatnotonly describesimperialpracticesbutalso, where
sexual differences are concerned, problematicallyenacts them. When addressingthe
politics of sexual identifications,Fanon fails to register fully the significance of the
foundingpremiseof his own theoryof colonial relations,which holds thatthe politicalis
locatedwithin the psychical as a powerfulshapingforce. I take this workingpremiseto
be one of Fanon'smost importantcontributionsto political thought-the criticalnotion
thatthepsychical operatesprecisely as a politicalformation. Fanon's work also draws
our attentionto the historicaland social conditions of identification. It remindsus that
identificationis never outside or priorto politics, that identificationis always inscribed
within a certainhistory: identificationnames not only the historyof the subjectbut the
subjectin history. WhatFanongives us, in the end, is a politics thatdoes not oppose the
psychical but fundamentallypresupposesit.

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