Un-Writing Fanon

In “Critical Fanonism,” Henry Louis Gates, Jr. argues that Frantz Fanon is a Rorschach blot. Available for any and (almost) all appropriations.  I suspect that interpretation has hit a wall.

The Journal of Pan African Studies recently issued a call for papers (cfp) on Fanon. I considered submitting something. Whether it be from the manuscript chapter, a hot mess of Hegel and footnotes, or an elaboration of a blogpost.

The manuscript requirements killed the idea.

Submitted articles should have: an introduction, literature review (annotated bibliographies accepted), a methodological construct, results, discussion, conclusions, and suggested steps for further research that can intellectually engage scholars, students and others with interest in African world community studies (Pan African Studies).

Now, I am not averse to learning new formats. A recent submission to a Sociology journal forced me to re-conceive how I structure essays, but not too much. I explained to the nice people who solicited the article that I was a literary scholar and knew nothing about sociological methods. And then I wrote about poetry. I’ll see how that goes.

And, of course, anyone who has had to switch from MLA to Chicago knows about changing gears. Not simply style formats, but brain converters.

That said, the JPAS format is too restrictive. Especially for a journal that claims to be “trans-disciplinary.”

If you are writing on Black Skin, White Masks, for instance, it is almost impossible to produce the kind of essay JPAS want: the text resists synthesis. Fanon himself wages a war against being systematic. He tells us he tried to submit Black Skin, White Masks as his thesis, but it was rejected. As interested in form as it is in content, Black Skin, White Masks compels us to think about the labor of form, refusing to distinguish between form and content. Fanon’s inchoate fantasies and desires mark the manuscript as do his (dis)engagements with Mayotte Capecia, Hegel, Mannoni, and Adler.

And the best scholarship on Fanon wrestles with the ambivalence of his texts. I avoid tracking the two distinct paths charted by those who embrace Black Skin, White Masks and those who adopt The Wretched of the Earth, though I mourn the missed conversations that would happen were we to take the insights about affect and psychic work as seriously as we do those about resistance and revolution.

And, granted, we do need a recent overview of Fanonian scholarship. I would recommend that one essay in the journal be devoted to an extended annotated bibliography, while the rest chart new scholarship.

I am certainly not suggesting that the kind of essay envisioned by JPAS cannot be written. Of course it can. And very successfully. And I will be happy to read the special issue when it is published.

But, as a friend said, the gatekeeping seems incredibly fierce. Perhaps that is the point. We who pursue theoretical projects might be deliberately excluded by the formal requirements of this particular special issue.

I do hope that is not the case. I hope that we learn the Fanonian lesson about taking intellectual risks embodied in the forms we use. (I note, of course, that based on this description, Fanon himself would be unpublishable, but then I suspect that Fanon would be unpublishable in most of today’s journals.)

I wish JPAS the best as they assemble this issue. My Fanon piece, when complete, will seek a more congenial home.

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