But the fact that I feel alien to the world of the schizophrenic or of the sexually impotent in no way diminishes their reality.—Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
Who is this “I” who feels “alien”? And what might it mean to take that feeling as a demand, even an obligation? Why does Fanon select the “schizophrenic” and the “sexually impotent”? What binds these figures or so distinguishes them that they are opposing-complementary? This quotation has been nagging over the past year—a particularly annoying burr, it makes itself felt every few days, almost every time I open a Word document, every time I begin trying to think about living in “the world” and living “with others.” It has nagged me. It continues to nag. I am not yet sure why it nags so much, and I think it will remain with me far longer than I can anticipate.
What would it mean to take other lifeworlds seriously, that is to say, as real, as acting upon us? How might one function in the world of the sexually impotent? What fantasies become necessary? What gestures? What practices? What accents? What habits? What might be the demand that one cannot understand but might try to satisfy, even always already anticipating failure? That the “I” who speaks envisions itself as “not” sexually impotent is important, and one could say much about the racial and masculinist fantasies at play here; I remain stuck at the sense that “sexual impotence” produces and sustains its own distinct lifeworlds, even after reading Xala. Having no French, I also wonder what is translated as “sexually impotent”: is this the ability to have sex, and, if so, what kind of sex? Is it the ability to impregnate another? What is the relationship between impotence and pleasure? What fantasies of power surround this image of the impotent? Is the impotent a category akin to the sodomite prior to homosexuality?
What is it to feel “alien” in the world of the schizophrenic? What does that presume about that world and about the “I” who feels alien? Something strikes me about this “I” who permits itself to “feel alien,” as opposed to rendering the schizophrenic or the sexually impotent alien. What is it to set aside one’s normalcy and to enter into the space of another’s world as an alien in that world? To take seriously one’s intrusion into another’s space, to refuse to take for granted one’s view of the world?
These days, I am struck not by the newness of the question—any question—but by the persistence of the question. To think about persistence is to think temporally about the active life of ideology and politics. To comprehend that those things we name as oppressive are never inert, are always working on us, in us, and around us. To think of small moments of intervention and necessary loopholes of retreat. Crippling garrets.
Let me try to flip Fanon’s statement for a moment, to ask how the sexually impotent functions in the world of those who are not. This might be a question about the pull of the normative—the tethers and loops others throw out around us, the ways we are folded into lifeworlds that impress their strangeness on us. Perhaps this is what one’s un-return to an un-home always is, a stack of past due bills one did not know had accrued. (This is only just a metaphor, as siblings and cousins have just paid for a funeral.)
I remain nagged by Fanon’s question, aware of the less-than-honest shortcuts I have used to evade it. Interested by the positions he creates—who, after all, confesses to being sexually impotent? Unsure of my relationship to the “I” he posits.
In one iteration of this post—despite its brevity, it has taken about 6 months to complete this—I thought about using the word “queer” to describe the sexually impotent and the schizophrenic, but that felt too easy. It would have allowed certain evasions, made what feels impossible in Fanon less impossible. And I want to hold on to what is difficult.