Literary and Critical Theory Frantz Fanon
Anthony Alessandrini
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0001


Frantz Fanon (b. 1925–d. 1961)—psychiatrist, political theorist, poet, polemicist, diplomat, journalist, soldier, doctor, playwright, revolutionary—is one of the foremost writers of the 20th century on the topics of racism, colonialism, and decolonization. In his short lifetime, he produced two enduring books: Black Skin, White Masks (Peau noire, masques blancs), still regarded as the preeminent study of the lived experience of racism, and The Wretched of the Earth (Les damnés de la terre), regarded at the time of its publication as “the handbook of decolonization,” and presenting itself to us today as both a clear-eyed prediction of the lasting legacy of neocolonialism, and as a visionary account of a truly postcolonial condition yet to come. These two books encapsulate the major themes not only of Fanon’s writing but also of his extraordinary life. Black Skin, White Masks captures Fanon’s experience as a native of Martinique and thus as the product of a colonial education who came to experience metropolitan racism upon his arrival in France (Fanon, having fought in Europe during the Second World War, returned to France to study medicine). The book draws upon Fanon’s training in psychiatry and psychoanalysis but also upon Marxism, existentialism, the work of the négritude movement, and a number of literary texts in order to analyze the lived experience of racism. Having completed his medical studies, Fanon took up a position at the Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria in November 1953. While working in Algeria, Fanon introduced a number of innovative programs and also authored and coauthored many articles on the practice and theory of psychiatry (many of these texts are available in English, thanks to the publication of Fanon’s previously uncollected writings in Alienation and Freedom, published in 2018). However, as he recounts in The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon was responsible for treating both Algerians fighting for independence and also French police and army officers—both the tortured and the torturers. This experience was to shape his remarkable theorization of colonial and anticolonial violence, one of the key themes of The Wretched of the Earth, which has inspired ongoing critical debate. In 1956 Fanon resigned his position and joined the FLN (National Liberation Front) in Tunis, where he served as an editor of the movement’s newspaper, El Moudjahid. It was during this time that Fanon wrote L’an V de la révolution algérienne (Year V of the Algerian Revolution, translated as A dying colonialism), his sociological study of the Algerian liberation struggle. Shortly after its publication, Fanon was diagnosed with leukemia. While undergoing treatment, Fanon worked to produce in a period of ten weeks his last (and what would come to be his most famous) book, The Wretched of the Earth. Published only weeks before his death in December 1961, The Wretched of the Earth remains a key text for postcolonial studies. Fanon’s unsparing analysis of the movement for decolonization and the struggle toward what he called the “African Revolution”—as well as his call for a new form of humanism not overdetermined by the crimes of racism, slavery, and colonialism—continues to resonate with readers.

General Overviews

The works listed in this section can be read as introductions to Fanon’s full body of work, in most cases also providing introductory information about his life and activities outside of his writing. Gendzier 1973 is one of the first major critical studies of Fanon’s work in English, written by a scholar of the Middle East and North Africa. Hansen 1977 marks one of the first attempts to read Fanon’s body of work as a totality, examining Fanon’s texts from the perspectives of political philosophy, social science, ideology, and mythmaking. Taylor 1989 is the best and most extended discussion of Fanon’s life and work within the context of Afro-Caribbean politics and culture. Gordon 1995 can be seen in many ways as beginning a new generation of work on Fanon; the author reads Fanon’s work within a tradition of existential phenomenology, in particular the work of Edmund Husserl. Sekyi-Otu 1996 is arguably the most ambitious study of Fanon’s work and certainly among the closest readings: the author reads Fanon’s work as an interconnected oeuvre, “as though [his texts] formed one dramatic dialectical narrative” (p. 4). The illustrated, comic book–style of Wyrick 1998 might put off “serious” readers and scholars of Fanon, but it provides an excellent brief introduction to his life and work. Gibson 2003 presents itself both as an introduction to Fanon’s work and also as an argument for his continuing relevance as a major humanistic thinker whose texts ask to be put to work in the name of social justice. Nayar 2013 is part of a series of texts devoted to critical thinkers; it focuses on a number of key issues in Fanon’s body of work, as well as some of the critical approaches to his work in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Bhabha 1986 and Bhabha 2004 provide introductions to Fanon’s two most important books: the former is a foreword to a new edition of Black Skin, White Masks, which has had a great influence on subsequent readings of Fanon’s first book; the latter is a foreword to Richard Philcox’s new translation of The Wretched of the Earth. In terms of the most recent texts here, Gordon 2015 provides a philosophical (and unapologetically polemical) introduction to Fanon’s life and thought, while Marriott 2018 brings together Fanon’s clinical and political writings to examine what Marriott calls Fanon’s “psychopolitics.”

  • Bhabha, Homi. “Remembering Fanon: Self, Psyche, and the Colonial Condition.” In Black Skin, White Masks. By Frantz Fanon and translated by Charles Lam Markmann, xxi–xxxvii. London: Pluto, 1986.

    Designed to introduce Fanon’s first book, which was reissued in 1986 (after going out of print), for a new British edition of the text. Bhabha’s extended reading of Fanon’s text emphasizes the psychoanalytic, post-structuralist, and disjunctive aspects of Fanon’s thought, while playing down the Marxist and existentialist strands. This text has proven to be one of the most influential (and most controversial) of the readings of Fanon’s work undertaken since the 1980s.

  • Bhabha, Homi. “Framing Fanon.” In The Wretched of the Earth. By Frantz Fanon and translated by Richard Philcox, vii–xlii. New York: Grove, 2004.

    Both an introduction to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and a long meditation on the relevance of Fanon’s book to the 21st century. It includes an important reading of the psychoanalytic themes in Fanon’s late work, as well as discussing the continuing relevance of Fanon in the contemporary context. It is also marked by Bhabha’s strong division between Fanon’s early and late work, a theme to which he returns throughout his work on Fanon.

  • Gendzier, Irene. Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study. New York: Pantheon, 1973.

    One of the first book-length studies of Fanon’s work, Gendzier’s book functions both as a biography of Fanon, and as a close study of his work. As a historian of the modern Middle East, Gendzier is well positioned to place Fanon’s work in its historical and political context, making this one of the first important studies of his work.

  • Gibson, Nigel. Fanon: The Postcolonial Imagination. New York: Polity, 2003.

    Both an introduction to Fanon’s work and also an argument for his continuing relevance as a major humanistic thinker. Gibson works through a series of themes in Fanon’s work by arranging them roughly biographically—from Fanon’s engagements with the racial gaze, to his struggle with négritude, to his growing commitment to the Algerian Revolution—ending with Fanon’s theory of national consciousness and his positing of a new humanism in his final work.

  • Gordon, Lewis R. Fanon and the Crisis of European Man: An Essay on Philosophy and the Human Sciences. New York: Routledge, 1995.

    One of the first and most important studies of Fanon as a philosopher, placing him within the tradition of existential phenomenology. Gordon’s engagement with Fanon alongside G. W. F. Hegel, Edmund Husserl, Jean-Paul Sartre, and other phenomenologists is motivated by his belief that “Fanon was a great philosopher and that his ideas continue to be of great value to other philosophers, cultural critics, human scientists, and laypeople alike” (p. 2).

  • Gordon, Lewis R. What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to His Life and Thought. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt13x08sb

    Gordon, one of the most influential readers of Fanon’s work, returns to his texts (working with his own translations of Fanon’s original writings) in order to present Fanon as an exemplar of “living thought” and a powerful voice against the philosophical bases of antiblack racism.

  • Hansen, Emmanuel. Frantz Fanon: Social and Political Thought. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1977.

    An early attempt to read Fanon’s oeuvre as a totality, Hansen’s book was published at a time when Fanon’s work was viewed as belonging to a decade that had been left behind, as well as to decolonization struggles that had ended in failure. Against this current, he argues for the continuing importance of Fanon’s work, from the perspectives of political philosophy, social science, ideology, and mythmaking.

  • Marriott, David. Whither Fanon? Studies in the Blackness of Being. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018.

    In this book, Marriott, an influential poet and critic, focuses upon the clinical system that Fanon devised in an attempt to intervene against negrophobia and antiblackness. Marriott rereads Fanon’s clinical and political work together, arguing that the two are mutually imbricated in what he calls Fanon’s “psychopolitics.”

  • Nayar, Pramod K. Frantz Fanon. New York: Routledge, 2013.

    Nayar’s book is part of the Routledge Critical Thinkers series and thus is intended to be an introduction to and overview of Fanon’s work. It works through a number of important themes in Fanon’s work, including long analyses of Fanon’s views on violence, nationalism, and humanism. It ends with an overview of some of the critical work published on Fanon since his death.

  • Sekyi-Otu, Ato. Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

    An ambitious, closely argued, and often polemical study. Sekyi-Otu declares his intention to read Fanon’s body of work dialectically, as an interconnected oeuvre. This means valorizing Fanon’s later work, particularly The Wretched of the Earth, as holding the key to Fanon’s thought; in the process, he produces remarkably creative close readings of all Fanon’s texts and defends Fanon from his harshest critics.

  • Taylor, Patrick. The Narrative of Liberation: Perspectives on Afro-Caribbean Literature, Popular Culture, and Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.

    While not immediately obvious from its title, Taylor’s book, which he presents as a study of “the experience of the Afro-Caribbean community” (p. xiii), is in fact a book-length study of Fanon’s work as it applies to the Afro-Caribbean political and cultural context. Taylor analyzes the ways that Fanon presents what he calls the “drama of colonialism” as well as a narrative of liberation, and ends with a final chapter on Fanon’s work alongside the Caribbean writers George Lamming and Derek Walcott.

  • Wyrick, Deborah. Fanon for Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers, 1998.

    Published as part of a “for beginners” series that includes books on a number of important theorists and philosophers, the illustrated comic book format of Wyrick’s book should not put off “serious” readers since it provides a concise and excellent introduction to Fanon’s work. Includes sections on each of his books and a final section addressing Fanon’s continuing influence. An excellent starting point for readers who are encountering Fanon’s work for the first time.

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