Sweden 2014, 1h 30min.
«Decolonisation can never go unnoticed. It affects people’s inner being and changes it completely. From being a spectator constricted by his own insignificance, he becomes the main character thrust into the limelight of history. It is almost a heavenly experience. Interacting with new people, a new language, a new way of being human, gives the ‘I’ a new rhythm. In reality, liberating a colony creates new humans. This creation is not due to supernatural forces. From being a thing, the colony slave becomes human whilst simultaneously liberating himself. »
These harsh and bold words by Franz Fanon are found in the remarkable book The Wretched of the Earth (1961). The text directly addresses the oppressed inhabitants of Algeria, who, when Fanon penned this, remained a French colony kept down by brutal force. But, in reality, he speaks to anyone suppressed, everywhere, and at all times. He also «speaks» with all freedom fighters – not least the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, a personal friend of Fanon – and the philosophy publication Les Temps Modernes to which he contributed.
Resistance logic. Fanon was born in Martinique, but worked in France as a doctor, philosopher and author. The focus of all his work was his attempt to describe the psychopathology of colonialism, and more importantly, how the suppressed can liberate themselves from hegemony. Fanon supported Algeria’s war of independence with France, and was a member of the national Algerian liberation front. Since his untimely death of leukaemia aged 36, the same year as The Wretched of the Earth was published, his work has provided inspiration for the suppressed worldwide, among them Palestine and South Africa.
Fanon was highly educated, and used his knowledge both to understand the logic of the colonial masters and to find a powerful enough language, and as mighty, or even mightier, method for the suppressed. The Wretched of the Earth, but also earlier work such as Black skin, White masks (Peau noire, masques blancs, 1952), are considered sacred to the current colonised world. What makes his books unusual, is the way he uses the suppressers’ – the Europeans’ – own thinkers against the colonial masters themselves. For example, the nationalistic Hegel’s ideas around master and slave are central to Fanon’s counter-hegemonic conceptualising of the colonisation problem. In his view, the master does not recognise the suppressed, because he does not see them at all. He or she is an object, a mass, indistinguishable and uninteresting. Later, the philosopher Susan Buck-Morss continued the reading of Hegel in her Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (2009), in which Haiti’s blacks are the designated owners of the French revolutionary mind set.
The necessity of violence. Fanon was a radical in the original sense of the word. He went to the root, the «radix». His defence of violence, for instance in the famous first chapter of The Wretched of the Earth, first published in Les Temps Modernes in 1961, prior to the book being published. But Fanon does not defend violence for the sake of it, but as a last – and a necessary – link in a suppression chain which can no longer be endured. Violence is a language which heralds a new human being, says Fanon. Because when the suppressor leaves no space for the suppressed to speak – when this no longer exists, a form or frame which creates dialogue – the suppressed must break down the language which has stolen his ability to talk, and create a new one. Fanon writes: «Colonialism is not a thinking machine, a being equipped with common sense. It is pure violence, which will only pull away for even more vicious violence. »
Fanon was highly educated and used his knowledge both to understand the colonial masters’ logic and to find a powerful enough language and a method which would be as mighty, or even mightier, for the suppressed
This part of the book is the starting point for the Swede Göran Hugo Olsson’s Concerning violence. Olsson is a distinctive director: His documentaries are, as he terms it, «non-recording-films». Everything is post production, as both this and his previous film, The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975, are exclusively based on archive cuttings. Most were found in the SVT’s archives, often taken from documentaries and 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and 80s news bulletins. Olsson’s current film also features quotations from Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, narrated by Lauryn Hill, and sometimes excerpts are accompanied by the read text, spelt out across the atrocious images.
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