dissertation, politics, queer

Angry (Queer) Fanon

[I]f there is a truly Fanonian emotion, it is anger.—David Macey

There are, for instance, men who go to “houses” to be beaten by Negroes; passive homosexuals who insist on black partners.—Frantz Fanon

I have been struggling with the improper question of what it means for critics to desire Fanon’s anger. The question is improper for it imputes, via Fanon, a form of desire that is troubling. It suggests that a certain critical gaze wants black anger, wants to be beaten, wants flagellation. That, in fact, such flagellation helps to secure a certain subject position, a certain “this is who I am now in my pain and shame.” It is an ungenerous reading, but not, I think, entirely wrong.

One might approach this “ungenerous but not wrong” reading by examining Fanon’s semi-colon. In another of my cultures this might be called reading entrails. Here contiguity or, my preferred term, frottage, might provide a way in.

The semi-colon joins closely linked clauses but is not expository in the same way as the colon. Really, I know this is supposed to be a semi-serious post, but I can’t help giggling as I type. I need to stop watching boy tv.

I have been trying to figure out the role of the semi-colon in Fanon, not only what it joins but how it joins, not only what it suggests but how it suggests, to understand the role of frottage in Fanonian erotics.

Fanonian erotics, in all their splendid perversity, turn on the slightest of grammatical units, a comma, a semi-colon, a dash, a hyphen, each one might lead to the house visited at midnight, the whispered desire, the scream of pleasure-pain. Fanon is constantly turning corners and finding queers, as footnotes, as asides, as supplements, as though they are always waiting for him, on the corner, at that place, in his text. As for the queer desire for Fanon, I offer myself as evidence.

But, you ask, what is this Fanon I am professing? (According to Ward Churchill, professors profess. Really?) Isn’t Fanon the one who confesses his revulsion at the thought of finding another man sensual? (There is a too-clever reading that seizes on this moment to queer him. It is too clever for my vulgar tastes.) Or, we might say, I am more intent on following his asides, looking at furtive figures in thick shadows. (I have night blindness and must move closer, but not too close.)

In part, of course, I am fascinated by Fanon’s queering asides because of my own love for and abuse of the aside, the constant appositives that go elsewhere, the dashes, the parentheses, the asides that announce themselves as such. But I will also remark that the quick, sudden smile makes all the difference, as does the moment when we embrace playfulness as part of intellectual and ethical work.

And because I so often read for the smile, I disagree with Macey about Fanon’s “genuine emotion.” There must be anger in the face of injustice, and Fanon may not be quite as ambivalent as Bhabha might like, but there is also deep pleasure not just in political and social action (Fanon’s discussion of the veil has a sly smile in it), but also in the language through which that action is detailed. Recall, for instance, that Fanon wanted to turn in Black Skins, White Masks as his thesis, and it was turned down for being too unsystematic (it is—he tells us “methods devour themselves”).

I am interested in pleasuring Fanon.

And I am also wary, as Fanon was, of the interracial dynamics of anger, in which black anger is fetishized, understood to be authentically black, and arousing in its blackness. And here we cannot distance the ambivalent pleasure that accompanied the endless replaying of Jeremiah Wright’s snippets, a pleasure whose racial-fetish elements become clearer when we note the absence of similar snippets by homo-hating, New-Orleans-deserved-its-fate John Hagee. It is not simply that Wright is more attractive (he is, yes the statement is catty), but that the fetish value of black anger in the white dominated media trumps whatever Hagee’s “righteous” anger might suggest (of course, as the media has told us several times, the media loves McCain, but that’s another issue).

It might be precisely at the point of the “fetish” that we return to Fanon’s “houses,” those semi-private settings in which anger is permitted, solicited, desired. But here, note that anger is contained and given back to “the master” (let’s be Hegelian for a moment) in the form of pleasure-pain. It does not go out of the “house” to perform transformative work. (Black Skins, White Masks, is above all else, a text about interiors and exteriors, houses and minds, streets and roads.)

The “homosexual,” for Fanon, will be the receptacle for pleasure-pain. I cannot say that he is wrong on this. Though my reading of that pleasure-pain has a different “interest.” I am, after all, for the queer. Of course, the ambiguity of that description is part of what I aim to capture: the queer as the receptacle of pleasure-pain, even and especially at the hands of the carefully selected Negro. This is difficult to understand, and it moves into places we might not want to venture. And because I’m chicken, I recommend Gary Fisher and move on.

The direction, even with asides, is to press the relationship posited by the semi-colon and to make it useful for a certain kind of critical operation.

That critical operation asks about the desire (with all its connotations) for black anger, who wants it, how they want it, what it contains, and what it enables for the parties engaged in the transaction. From my vantage point, it is to ask about black complicity and pleasure in performing anger, to track or at the very least hint at the benefits and pitfalls of such a strategy, to understand, albeit in a limited way, the transformation of anger into strategy, or the strategic re-appropriations of anger, not least by academics.

5 thoughts on “Angry (Queer) Fanon

  1. Hi Keguro

    I have read this post a couple of times and still find it difficult. I am not sure I fully understand what you are saying – I am somewhat blinded. My confusion lies in my question what links the fascination with Black anger of Fanon and of Wright and where does Fanon’s “queering” come into play when talking about the “black anger as a fetish”.

    What I think you are saying (put simply or rather, crudely) white people enjoy the pleasure of watching Black anger – in fact they go out of their way to create Black anger and when they find it as in Wright, they replay it endlessly for the pleasure it gives them as Black anger is a confirmation that they need to fear us and we are actually mad.

    However I am still confused with where Fanon’s “Queering” fits into all this.

  2. Hi Sokari,

    The anger part is correct, and elegantly put. I like to wind around in my sentences, so I often lack clarity.

    The queer part is something I’ve been trying to figure out in Fanon. I *don’t* yet have an answer, though I’ve written many many many pages on it. I find myself unsatisfied with the gay critique that Fanon is homophobic, though he might be. I’m interested, instead, in the role the queer plays in his text. What is its specific historical and ideological function? So, I look at semi-colons. This, of course, is why I am a literary scholar. I attend to relatively unimportant things.

  3. I found this very funny. T semi-colon as frottage – oh! I will never look at (or use) a semi-colon in the same way again…

  4. Keguro @ sometimes you are very funny – like texter says, “I will never look at (or use) a semi-colon in the same way again…”

    On a more serious note how do we address the possibility that Fanon or Malcolm X were / might have been homophobic – surely we need to be thinking about both in the context of their time? For example are white people on the whole less racist, straight people less homophobic today than 40 years ago? And if so (I could answer yes and no to both questions – which confuses me). I remember British activist Peter Tatchel writing a few years back in the Guardian that MX was possibly gay which shook me not because he might have been gay but because his gayness would be used to discredit and undermine everything he stood for which was quite frightening.

  5. I am so fascinated with your research and plan to read some more of what you’ve written regarding your dissertation. I also study Fanon (mostly the fetishization of black skin) but have never come across a queer analysis of Fanon. Absolutely fascinating.

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