When thinking about Freud, we should think also of one of his most important successors, Frantz Fanon. Fanon was born in Martinique in 1925 and studied medicine in France, specializing in psychiatry. In books like Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, he rewrites Freud, positing in place of the latter’s Western imperial Ego a black psyche: a diasporic, anti-colonialist Orphée Noir or “Black Orpheus,” as Sartre would say, seeking to liberate itself from a white world. Fanon is angered because the French Empire imposed upon him through colonial schooling the Master’s language, “the mother tongue,” the language of the core. The anticolonial subject takes possession of the language and talks back — though not, as he says, with fervor. Fanon tells us he doesn’t trust fervor. “Every time it has burst out somewhere,” he writes, “it has brought fire, famine, misery…And contempt for man. Fervor is the weapon of choice of the impotent” (Black Skin, White Masks, p. 9). What Fanon performs instead is a kind of radical psychiatry upon Western consciousness. His books are psychotherapeutic treatments for those whose heads have been shrunk.
Octavia E. Butler’s novels are painful to read; their narrators testify to traumas difficult to endure. In the Parable books, we’re made to identify with a first-person narrator who suffers from “hyperempathy syndrome’; she and others undergo attack, displacement, migrancy, enslavement, rape, torture, freedom from bondage, all manner of tragedy. Through it all is a story of survival. Lauren is a character who worships Change, and experiences her god in the events of her life. Always while reading, one is made to remember these are traumas that are part of black history, traumas inflicted by white supremacy and antiblackness throughout US history and with it the history of the West. The country is still right now trying to dismantle the Confederacy, if by the latter we mean the portion of America that wants to remain a white Christian settler-colonialist slave-state. The Confederacy lives, in other words, in that part of the republic that refuses the thirteenth amendment.
The story that writes itself and needs to be written is the story of black life — multiple, joined with others, protesting, demonstrating, rioting against systemic racism and Trumpism and white supremacy and police murder in cities across America. “We have our masks and we’re ready,” says the voice of the collective subject. Reception of the Event is always mistranslated by journalists — yet awareness is growing, consciousness is changing. We’re learning our way toward insurrection and rebellion against injustice. My hopes are, as always, with the struggle. Mike Davis and Jon Wiener walk me through the Watts Uprising of August 1965. As Horace Tapscott exclaimed, “The Giant Is Awakening.”
Tapscott’s Underground Musicians Association (UGMA) formed at the heart of the Watts Renaissance. They were a jazz commune like Sun Ra’s Arkestra — but unlike the autocratic structure of the latter, Tapscott’s group was, as Davis and Wiener say, “an anarchist participatory democracy” (Set the Night on Fire, p. 245). The feeling today is much the same: giants awakening, people assembling. What has needed to happen is happening.