Of Nativity

20 Jul

I, too, am a native.

Saying this aloud, a mere whisper lost to the the deep night, is terrifying. The quick phrase feels like the slow stripping of all agency, a rape of my right to speak of the world and its concerns, forced to leave them to ‘better men’. To be native is to be blind and have one’s tongue cut off and limbs turned automaton. It was easier when I cut off my balls (rhetorically, you understand) and identified with femininity, however jaggedly and doggedly I fight the helplessness assumed of that affinity. Writers like Frantz Fanon give me the strength to remember that I would, nonetheless, prefer to be Injun over cowboy. Equally, he reminds me that as an urban mongrel with no ‘native village’ to speak of (wait, do university campuses count?), I am as much settler as native. Our homes shift upon residence.

Fanon

Two worlds: that makes two bewitchings; they dance all night and at dawn they crowd into the churches to hear mass; each day the split widens. Our enemy betrays his brothers and becomes our accomplice; his brothers do the same thing. The status of native is a nervous condition introduced and maintained by the setter among colonised people with their consent (sic)

I am rereading The Wretched of the Earth in memory of Frantz Fanon, who would have been 85 today.  So far I have made it past the preface and am already flooded by excerpts (as above).

The rest of this post is thus from memory and fourth year squiggles. Let me begin by conceding said memory is heavily reconstructed from aforementioned preface. In defence, you try jumping off the freaking Sartre-wagon. There is also a birthday rhyme to give Fanon’s bones a good bouncing about their grave. Besides, I strive to inject great guffaws into all your days, and disdain is small price for a grin.  If you feel the urge to chant Dryjhna! Dryjhna! Dryjhna! after the closing excerpt of post, please do tell. I will be gratified not to feel alone in all this wide world. If you continue to chant sporadically for the better part of a night, maybe there is something to be said for lunacy being a social hobby.

White Algiers

Remembering Frantz Fanon

Had he lived, he would turn 85 today. To his virtues, let me quote Sartre:

Fanon is the first since Engels to bring the process of history to the clear light of day… [he constitutes] step by step, the dialectic which liberal hypocrisy hides from you and which is as much responsible for our existence as for his.

There are many empires, uncountable hundreds, vying for the patriotic mind. One itches like a parasite at the skin of erstwhile India, another marches out of Kashmir to meet it. Another variant is mapped out across the water in Africa and Arabia. Yet another engulfs the fluctuating borders of meta-Europe, bleeding at this end and drowning at those, weighed down by ennui and the Oneiroi. Regional empires, of crime, of time, of political bastions, of cities and Panchayats, blot upon the body-politic of my democracy as much as all others.

The modern mind is under similar siege. Industry steams on brutally appropriated soil and soul. Will o’wisps markets tumble crooked in the wind, bent out of shape and reason. Nationalisms sour almost as soon as the nation is born, if not before. Revolutions seduce wantonly around street corners, peddling salvation and cocaine, obscuring the hangover. Patriarchy everywhere runs riot, corrupting what we coyly call the worlds within. Superimposed on all this chaos is the empire of the mind: the bipolar internet where we lucky few tweet, text and tattle.

Frantz Fanon wrote in a time that did not have these sparkly links that connects us all; just as he wrote before the potential for planetary destruction: by pollution, drowning, warfare, was as yet not fully realized. We live now in a world of indefinite scale; calling upon the cleansing fire of violence to expiate sinning humanity risks global conflagration. Fanon, and Sartre, who introduced him to fellow Frenchmen, wrote in the extraordinary cusp century that was the last, and their prophecies are never more dated than when they look to Dien Bien Phu for dreamscapes. Many things changed in the ‘60s, and nothing evolves faster than war. Read them, instead, for their diagnoses.

Seven years after Fanon’s masterpiece,The Wretched of the Earth, Parisians rose in revolt. You know, like they do. Paris, a city Cocteau had mocked for “speaking only of itself”, rebelled in the most revelrous anarchy it was to witness in a hundred years. Sartre called May ’68 “Freedom in Action” in an interview, and this was a man of legendary standards for freedom. For all his doom-ridden jeering (that fat, pale narcissist, Europe), it is Sartre who is the more optimistic of European prospects. As a European, he says in 1961, I steal the enemy’s book and out of it I fashion a remedy for Europe. What would the defeated 1968 man have made of the fact that his fire and brimstone resonates half a century later, when his ‘super-europe’ chugs smug on battlefield oil?

It is the moment of the boomerang: the third phase of violence; it comes back on us, it strikes us, and we do not realise any more than we did the other times that it’s we that have launched it. The liberals are stupefied; they admit that we were not polite enough to the natives, that it would have been wiser and fairer to allow them certain rights in so far as this was possible; they ask nothing better than to admit them in batches and without sponsors to that very exclusive club, our species; and now this barbarous, mad outburst doesn’t spare them any more than the bad settlers.

The Left at home is embarrassed; they know the true situation of the natives, the merciless oppression; they do not condemn their revolt, knowing full well that we have done everything to provoke it. But all the same, they think to themselves, there are limits; the guerillas should be bent of showing they are chivalrous; that would be the best way of showing they are men… let them endeavour by peaceful undertakings to deserve it. Our worthiest souls contain racial prejudice.

Sartre’s preface baits from the get-go, battling the basic hubris of settler ideology: that if you are the point of the discussion, you are its natural audience and final verdict. It is discomfiting, to go from subject to object, to be booted down from discussants to the discussed. It is a gap that colonialism uses to devastating effect: know your enemy, for it is all grist to a divisive mill. The preface is bitter, defensive, romantic (The rebel’s weapon is the proof of his humanity). It is Sartre who is cruel:

For with us there is nothing more consistent than a racist humanism, since the European has only been able to be become a man through creating slaves and monsters.

It is hard to imagine Fanon ever topping that whopper.

To Fanon, an appraisal of Europe is instrumental: not apologetic, nor sympathetic, nor reactionary. He could very well be dissecting alien life: not in the sense of difference, but with indifference, implacability. When the book is angry, and it is angry plenty, it is the stoic scorn reserved for any blindly predatory beast. This is where they are headed, my brothers, he says: do you want to go there? I can only hope to find he equally appealed to his sisters. His romance, such as exists, is all reserved for Africa.

Would Fanon, transplanted to the world circa 2010, agree with Robert Fisk that decolonisation was newspeak for recolonisation? Out with the old, in with the new, Fanon proclaims, bring on the tabula rasa. Little did he guess his ‘instantaneous translation’ would secure and elevate crony collaborators over seditionists; translating henchmen, inadvertently or intentionally, to faraway masters. Even less did he suspect that it was embedded within a precise logic.

All the brave ‘50s frogs, conservative and radical, Fanon and Sartre and Aron alike, croaked themselves hoarse about naked empire, and some chic boutique off the Champs Élyées stepped in to spin a fresh shielding glamour of gossamer lies. None of them foresaw the Algieria of today, locked as surely in an ignored orgy of violence in 2010 as it was in 1960. Or did they? For here is an uncanny sketch of the postcolonial terrorist:

This potential dead man has lost his wife and his children; he has seen so many dying men that he prefers victory to survival; others, not he, will have the fruits of victory; he is too weary of it all. But this weariness of the heart is the root of an unbelievable courage. We find our humanity on this side of death and despair; he finds it beyond torture and death. We have sown the wind, he is the whirlwind.

Their writing and indictment is as haunting now for the simple reason that it still applies.

To conclude with cheer, a rhyme for a birthday.

Truths cling to survive,
lies swing and splice.
History strikes a balance;
never the same strife twice.

Ok, so it makes no sense and it barely rhymes. So sue me for not being a poet. It made yeh smirk, eh?

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2 Responses to “Of Nativity”

  1. roswitha July 20, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    What an excellent post! Thank you for writing it.

  2. chaosbogey July 20, 2010 at 5:13 pm #

    danke. dryjhna!

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