The New North African Syndrome: A Fanonian Commemoration


  • Nigel C. Gibson Emerson College



Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, North Africa, postcolonial theory,


What better way to celebrate, commemorate, critically reflect on, and think through Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth fifty years after its publication with a new North African syndrome: Revolution—or at least a series of revolts that continue to rock regimes across North Africa and the region.  Fanon begins The Wretched writing of decolonization as a program of complete disorder, an overturning of order—often against the odds—willed from the bottom up. Without time or space for a transition, there is instead an absolute replacement of one “species” of humanity by another.

In periods of revolution, like the one we are experiencing today, such absolutes appear quite normal. Indeed, radical change becomes the “new normal” and the idea that revolutionary change is impossible is simply the rantings and ravings of the conservatives and reactionaries of the ancient regime.

Too long buried under the weight of the tomes of academic discourse, Fanon has been resuscitated by the new dawn of North African revolutions. To celebrate Fanon, the revolutionary, all of a sudden seems contemporary and pertinent, while the musings of the critics who consigned him to postcolonial oblivion seem out of touch. But rather than continuing the painstaking work of exhuming Fanon from the postcolonial burial site, let us turn a commemoration of Fanon into an event. Indeed, why assume that a commemoration of Fanon after fifty years is not critical? Moreover why begin a contemporary engagement with Fanon assuming a priori the limits of his thought?

Indeed, where to begin is a philosophic question. It is a question of “intention” as Edward Said puts it in one of his most radical and Vicoian works. Beginnings are revolutionary, implying return and repetition and, following Said, “a sort of historical dialectic that changes its character and meaning.” Vico, Said argues “said that the word human comes from root to bury” suggesting that “his humanistic philosophy” contained “elements of its own negation.”