Fanon and Externality

In his chapter “On National Culture,” Fanon argues that it is only through the formation of a liberated nation that national culture can be constructed. Or, to be more precise, it is the very act of liberation (and the violent struggle which it entails) which constitutes the character of the national culture. Importantly, Fanon views the formation of a nation as a vital step to moving towards an international consciousness. He concludes his essay by stating that “Far from distancing it from other nations, it is the national liberation that puts the nation on the stage of history. It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness establishes itself and thrives” (180). This is vital for Fanon. It is only with the support of nationhood that culture can permeate other cultures, a process which he views as a necessary counter-balance to the universalizing attempts of European culture.

If one of Fanon’s ultimate goals is for the nation to become a vehicle through which African national cultures can influence the global cultural stage, it can only be achieved by turning inward. Fanon sees, with the birth of the nation, a birth of a new audience and the reorientation of the culture-maker away from a foreign audience. Rather than attacking or delighting the colonizer, the artist turns to addressing the people, who in turn serve an important function in reshaping the cultural work produced. Fanon writes that “The storyteller responds to the expectations of the people by trial and error and searches for new models, national models, apparently on his own, but in fact with the support of his audience” (174). It is in this way that the artist and the audience form one another, and in the process form a national culture. This is, importantly for Fanon, impossible outside of the very material conditions of a nation which can foster a national audience.

Finally, Fanon argues that the dynamism engendered by the awakening national consciousness is often denounced by the metropolitan experts, who prefer static and codified representations which developed, as Fanon puts it “in tune with the colonial situation” (175). Fanon characterizes this, rather sarcastically, as “colonists who become the defenders of indigenous style” (175). Though Fanon is speaking here of pottery (and later, of jazz), it is equally applicable to literature. One can see it in the viewpoints which privilege qualities such as orality, and which view innovation purely as the result of Western influence. Fanon, wary of this preservationist mentality, embraced the dynamic and innovative forms that he saw on the horizon of national liberation.


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