Paul Gilroy “Fanon and Amery: Theory, Torture and the Prospect of Humanism”


“Post-Marxism  and its Discontents/The End of Postmodernism?”

Class Presentation

Oct. 19th 2011.

Babacar Faye


Paul Gilroy  “Fanon and Amery: Theory, Torture and the Prospect of Humanism” Theory, Culture & Society 2010 (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Singapore), Vol. 27(7-8): 16-32



Paul Gilory’s analysis of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (2004, new edition) prefaced by Jean Paul Sartre and foreworded by Homi Bhabha and Jean Amery’s At the Mind’s Limits (1980), can somewhat be viewed as a revisionist reading of Postcolonial Studies through the lenses of Fanon’s legacies, especially with regards to his insights about the psychological trauma of colonialism on the colonized, the psychic wounds of what Aime Cesaire called the Negro’s “appalling process of …depersonalization” (1960). For my part, I think that Fanon has been either misread or incompletely grasped by most postcolonial scholarship thus far. This same academic treatment, to a certain extent, has been done on Cheikh Anta Diop’s works on history and Egyptology. As Mamadou Diouf and Mohamad Mbodji have pointed out, “to question the work of Cheikh Anta Diop, even from a scientific point of view, was for a long time synonymous with African antipatriotism, to refer to it in passing was an obligation one could readily fulfill, especially in academic work, to repeat its great principles, often without any real knowledge of the work itself, was a certificate of nationalism and Pan-Africanism” (117-118). In the same way, citations of Fanon’s works are often quoted without any questioning of the work itself. “Fanon’s insights,” Gilroy writes, “have been devoured and tamed by timid, often parochial fields like ‘critical race theory’ and ‘postcolonial theory” (17).

In a revisionist perspective, Gilroy aims at redirecting the insights of Fanon not to a colonial discursivity but to the complex state apparatus of what he calls “securitocracy” of Western nation-states behind their “fortifications” (18). Frantz Fanon’s insights on psychiatry can, according to Gilroy, help us better analyze the social experiences of the “denizens, pseudo-citizens, illegal and sans papiers” and “the aspects of the social and psychological conflicts…inside the postcolonial metropolis” (20). Because of the “spectacular mainstreaming of black cultures,” most of readings on Fanon’s works merely focus on the “amputed and epidermalized humanity,” of the colonial moment. To what extend can Fanon’s insights be applied to the dynamics of postcolonial identity? And because Fanon’s critique of the colonized himself and the incompleteness of African nationalist movements have been glossed over in postcolonial reason, some cultural theorists, mainly blacks, are somehow reluctant to talk about the “responsibilities” of blacks, as “individuals…in both collective rehabilitation and personal salvation. Mass incarceration is apparently the favored means to accomplish this regressive ‘form'” (21). In a nutshell, if we, contemporary and/or postcolonial subjects, want to have a more complete picture of the Fanon’s legacies, we should make a move beyond the label “postcolonial,” to translate “the postcolonial critique of reason” into “a critique of postcolonial reason” (Spivak, 1990, 1999). “Scholars in the Humanities” Spivak writes, “must see the ‘Third World’ as a displacement of the old colonies as colonial proper displaces itself into neocolonialism (meaning the largely economic rather than the territorial enterprise of imperialism)” (3). There seems to be a productive move or shift within postcolonial scholarship.

The comparative analysis between Fanon and Amery is quite interesting in that Gilroy constructs a critical view of what is sometimes called “liberal humanism” which, most of the time, silences the tangibility of racism and its new configurations. For Gilroy, Fanon and Amery paved the way for a “radical humanism”, especially with regards to what we can link to Foucault’s “Biopolitics” through the very act of torture. In cross-reading  the psychological and physical tortures of colonial times (blacks) and in the “concentrationary universe” of Jews, Gilroy sees the body as a ontological site of identity which the tortured’s consciousness. “Only in torture” Amery says “does the transformation of the person into flesh becomes complete (…) My body when it tensed to strike,  was my physical and metaphysical dignity. In situation like mine, physical violence is the sole means for restoring a disjointed personality”  (28, 91). I, however, feel ambivalent about Gilroy when he talks about “Fanon’s naive humanism and juvenile existentialism” (17), especially when “the transgressive sexual desire and its full appreciation in the colonies” (18) is concerned. Although Fanon himself is sometimes depicted as a homophobic by gender studies scholars, I think that only more contextualized analysis of his works can help overcome this controversy. This is open to questions though.

What Paul Gilroy is trying to put forward in this article is a rereading of Fanon with a close eye on what is currently happening in postcolonial metropolis.  “It may be greater” he says, “if his ideas can be reapplied carefully to managing challenges that are tied up in the lives of the often traumatized incomers (migrants) who are expected to bring the global insurgency alive on the fertile soil of their racialized exclusion from the dreamscapes of indentured consumerism” (21). This connection of identity to economics echoes, to certain extent, Sara Ahmed’s notion of Affect and its relation to economics in the social dynamics of immigration. Lines of identifications for blacks immigrants are not solely constructed on racial terms, but on economic, class consciousness and consumerism.


Work cited:

Diouf, M., Mbodji, M. “The Shadow of Cheikh Anta Diop” in The Surreptitious Speech:

Presence Africaine and the Politics of Otherness 1947-1987 V.Y. Mudimbe (ed.)

Chicago: The Chicago University Press, 1992, pp: 118-135

Spivak, G. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason:  Toward a History of the Vanishing Present.

Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999.




About Babacar

I am a graduate student at the Bowling Green State University (Ohio) in American Culture Studies program for a two year Master degree. Am studying the theories of race, multiculturalism and feminism and their intersectionality in the formation of Identity in the racial and postracial America.
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