Cry of the Self as a Call from the Other:
does not become suspect at just any moment in the spiritual history of the
West. To recognize with
philosophy—or to recognize philosophically—that the real is the rational
and that the rational is alone real, and not to be able to smother or cover
over the cry of those who, the morrow after this recognition, mean to
transform the world, is already to move in a domain of meaning which the
inclusion cannot comprehend and among reasons that reason does not know, and
which have not begun in philosophy.
Frantz Fanon has achieved
the status of an icon in the academy. In
contrast to the late 1960's and the early 1970's, today his books and essays
tend to be more in the hands of what Kierkegaard disparagingly called
“assistant professors” than in study groups of radical political
The moments appear long gone when people approached Fanon’s texts as
a recipe for immediate political action.
Now, with the academy taking for many the privileged locus of
significant political activity, Fanon’s texts have moved from the ghettos
into the classrooms. This move is
not by itself a negative one, since, even though this has not been entirely
the case so far, it invites Fanon’s readers to focus on his thought and
ideas, and no longer to reduce his work to his biography or to a preconceived
political agenda on his commentators’ parts.[ii]
It also brings the opportunity to study the philosophical and political
implications of what arguably constitutes one of the darkest sides of
“our” ordinary existence—precisely the opposition between ghettos and
classrooms. Yet, the recent
academic turn in Fanon studies carries with it a problem of its own, the
biggest temptation of all, i.e., the desiccation of Fanon’s lively words and
the annulment of the intense pathos contained in his work.
As Kierkegaard once warned in the context of reading biblical stories,
so, too, we should not pass over “the
anxiety, the distress, and the paradox” in Fanon’s texts (cf. Kierkegaard
1982: 66). We should not ignore
the existential drama that finds expression in Fanon’s words, and we should
not remain oblivious to the “cry of ethical revolt” that alone explains
the emergence of his discourse and gives meaning to his narrative.
Listen to the voice that introduces us to the body of
explosion will not happen today. It
is too soon . . . or too late.
do not come with timeless truths.
consciousness is not illuminated with ultimate radiances.
in complete composure, I think it would be good if certain things were said.
things I am going to say, not shout (non les crier). For it is a long
time since the cry [“le cri”] has gone out of my life.
very long. . . (1968: 7, italics mine, translation modified).
discourse opens with a clarification and with a remembrance.
It comes into being only by first asserting its ineluctable, enigmatic
character. Fanon adopts the
“composure” of discourse. But
what is a natural stance for many is for him only the result of a mysterious
prehistory. A cry has
preceded the emergence of words. What
is the meaning of this cry, and what role does it play in the emergence of the
Fanonian narrative? I will
attempt to elucidate the meaning behind this enigmatic conversion of the cry
into words, of crying/shouting into the serenity of discourse. What is at stake here is the tracing of the
“saying” behind what Fanon has “said,” of the fundamental inspiration
or passion animating Fanon’s rhetoric.[iii]
In short, the challenge is to clarify why Fanon is no longer
Toward a Phenomenology of
remembrance of a cry long gone at the beginning of Fanon’s Black Skin,
White Masks locates the text and its author in an intriguing existential
predicament. The “serenity” of organized discourse is not preceded by
a period of contemplation or neutral observation of reality, but by a time of
urgency in which the subject cannot take his recognition as a human being for
granted and has to attract attention simply to the fact that he is there.
The cry is, indeed, precisely that, a sound uttered as a call for
attention, as a demand for immediate action or remedy, or as an expression of
pain that points to an injustice committed or to something that is lacking.[iv] The
cry is the revelation of someone who has been forgotten or wronged.
Before the word reaches the horizons of meaning, where the world is
unveiled and the meaning of reality becomes clear, the cry becomes a call for
the recognition of the singularity of the subject as such.
The cry indicates the “return of a living subject” who
impertinently announces his presence and who by doing so unsettles the
established formations of meaning and challenges dominant ideological
is linked with both shouting and weeping.
Shouting and weeping are at the same time associated with expressions
of grief, sorrow, and anger on one hand, and with joy, happiness, and love on
A clarification of why Fanon is no longer crying by the time of the
essay requires the analysis of these themes in his work.
The mention of the cry at the beginning of the text becomes precisely
an invitation to trace the presence of these themes and to uncover dimensions
of meaning that are not obvious. It
is revealing that these themes appear in what may arguably be considered the
backbone of Black Skin—its fifth chapter,
“The Lived Experience of the Black.”
The “Lived Experience of the Black,” not “The Fact of
Blackness” as the Markmann translation has it, clearly alludes to the living
subjectivity of someone who alone can utter a cry.[vii]
If “lived experience” refers to the existence of an interiority,
the cry is the call for attention to this idea, that a subject has an
interiority. This affirmation
only makes sense in a context where the subjectivity of the subject in
question is denied. It is
precisely in this fashion that chapter five begins: “‘Dirty nigger!’ Or
simply, ‘Look, a Negro!’” (1968: 109).
The signifying gaze of a subject—in this case, a white child—denies
the presence of interiority in a subject who is typically defined by others
according to exterior appearance alone—in this case, the most patent and
obvious dimension of one’s exteriority, the color of one’s skin.
remembrance of the objectifying gaze of the child in the opening lines
of the “Lived Experience of the Black” introduces a paradoxical moment in
Fanon’s text. The paradox consists in, as Gordon has well put it, Fanon
announcing “the absence of his interiority from the point of view of his
interiority” (2000: 33). The
description and remembrance of the event of the negation of Fanon’s
interiority presupposes precisely what is denied, an interiority. This interiority is what is clearly rendered invisible by
“The Fact of Blackness.” This
invisibility is most unfortunate since the paradox is not merely a concept
among others, but the axis around which Fanon’s ideas revolve.
The paradox is at the core of Fanon’s entire text/existence, which is
narrated/lived in terms of the affirmation of the very possibility of
affirmation and negation in a context that confines him to the status of an
inanimate object. Gordon’s
words are also enlightening on this point: “[Fanon] experiences his
historicity as a false history and his struggle with Theory, with Reason, as a
cat-and-mouse game. Between Reason and History, Theory and Practice, there is
experience, which in this case is the existential struggle against sedimented,
dehumanized constructions “ (2000: 33).
represents a challenge to reason, a self-contradictory stance that interrupts
the flow of the clear and distinct logic of identity and difference.
Paradox is irreducible to the abstraction and neutrality of knowledge
as well as to systematic renderings of reality.
The paradox is the anti-systematic resistant par excellence.
That is why Kierkegaard opposed Hegel’s speculative and systematic
philosophy with diverse portrayals of paradox.
In Fear and Trembling, he explores the paradoxical nature of the
knight of faith, represented by its well-known prototype, the old Abraham.
Abraham incarnates the paradoxical tension introduced by the situation
of his having been commanded by God to sacrifice the son through whom God
himself promised to make Abraham the father of nations.
Without allowing himself to rest on the arms of sweet
resignation—that is, accepting the encroaching loss of his son
Isaac—Abraham not only obeys the command, but eagerly receives the son whose
life was later spared by the commander. Abraham’s interiority, his faith or trust in God (that God will
make him father of a nation
through Isaac, appears as no less than a mystery for Johannes de Silentio—Kierkegaard’s
pseudonymous author in this occasion. Abraham
is paradoxical, and as such poses a limit to a project that aims to identify
the rational with the real and the real with the rational.
subjectivity is, like Abraham’s, paradoxical.
His condition, however, reflects more the situation in which
Abraham’s son, Isaac, found himself: Fanon embodies the paradox of someone
who is sentenced to death, but who nonetheless continues living, as it were, by
virtue of the absurd. Existence
becomes in his case the negation of the negation of existence.
It is “the anxiety, the distress, and the paradox” brought by this
condition that is often left out in our readings of Fanon.
We also forget that this paradoxical condition emerges not in a context
where Law and Reason call us to stop “murder,” as it did in Abraham’s
case, but in conditions in which they ultimately justify or are complicit with
The paradox of Fanon’s existence becomes no less than a declaration
against the imperial gestures and the totalitarian ambitions of a system that
transforms reason into murder and inter-human contact into the evisceration of
difference. Fanon’s cry, the
call for attention to a wrong committed, becomes here the expression of this
paradoxical stance whose primary significance is posed in the form of a
command, “Don’t kill!” In
this case, the system does not appear primarily as a prison to a subject that
sees his particularity violated by the universal, but as an imperial formation
that can offer the universal to some at the expense of the negation of a truly
human existence to others.
cry of Fanon is the expression of his paradoxical existential stance. The cry does not emerge out of any particular unsatisfied
demand, but out of the impossibility to demand anything whatsoever.
It gives expression to a fundamental contradiction between the
existence of the world at large and one’s own existence.
Yet, if this were the only or even the more fundamental dimension of
the cry, if the cry merely reflected the desire to continue living and be
recognized as a subject, then its paradoxical character would be significantly
reduced—Fanon, the paradoxical subject, would be lost.
Even if we could not understand why Fanon keeps on living, it would be
clear to us that he cries because he wants to keep on living.
The same would be true of Isaac. If
Isaac would have known his father’s plans, it would have been simply natural
for him to cry and beg for his life. Although
the nature and profundity of Abraham’s faith would have been untouched by
this, the event would have thrown a shadow of doubt upon his successor and
upon the upcoming generations born through Isaac.
Isaac would be lost. But
all this is true only if the cry were only the expression of an
individualistic urge for life. In
this case we would expect Isaac/Fanon to continue crying until dead or until
finally liberated. Fanon,
however, realizing that his liberation may not come as yet or even very soon
(“the explosion will not happen today”), transforms his cry into the
composure of discourse. In the
interval between the knife and his body, Fanon’s discourse is born.
The opening lines of Black Skin, White Masks unveil the
particular temporal character of Fanon’s discourse: he writes with death and
suffering vigilantly on his side. There,
under the knife, with a death sentence upon him, he writes.
But, why write and no longer simply cry?
is clearly aware of the paradoxical nature of his act.
And so he continues in the opening lines of Black Skin, White Masks,
“Why write this book? No one
has asked for it. Especially those to whom it is directed” (p. 7). On the altar, about to be sacrificed, Fanon writes, and he
writes for others. He is
not merely looking for an interlocutor who may carry with him the memories of
a glorious but disgraced subjectivity. He
is writing as if he were answering a question or responding to a demand.
Yet he writes for others who have not themselves articulated a question
or solicited his words. Is Fanon
ultimately listening to his own cry? Is
it possible that beyond a demand for individual self-recognition and for the
preservation of his life, the cry represents a call for the Other?
The paradox emerges again, and now in a more intensified form, as Fanon
not only lives against all odds, but as he lives his life in response to
Cry of Ethical Revolt and the Paradoxical Nature of Love
seems to be thus an ethical dimension of the cry irreducible both to the
universal and to the egocentric claims of the subject.
The “Don’t kill!” that finds expression in Fanon’s cry is not
properly translated merely as a demand for individual preservation, but as a
general and more categorical demand to fight against a reality where Others
are killed. But how is this
possible? If the cry arises out
of the pain of a violated subject, how is it that it ultimately becomes a call
for attention to something that ultimately resides outside of the
subject—something extrinsic, not intrinsic to him?
This can only be the case if the subject is himself originally outside
of himself. In this case,
the cry would represent the expression of a subject who has been violated
precisely in regard to the possibility of being outside of himself—that is,
of loving, giving, and of communicating.
Fanon’s main object of inquiry in Black Skin, White Masks is,
in fact, the set of barriers that inhibit inter-human contact in a colonial
world. It is not strange that the first three chapters of the book
deal with language and love. It
is not surprising either that Fanon opens the first chapter proclaiming the
central importance of language: “I ascribe a basic importance to the
phenomenon of language. That is why I find it necessary to begin with this
subject, which should provide us with one of the elements in the colored
man’s comprehension of the dimension of the other. For it is implicit
that to speak is to exist absolutely for the other” (1968: 17).
Now we can finally turn again to “The Lived Existence of the Black” in order to decipher the links between crying, shouting, and weeping, and their connection with their most basic fundamental motivations—anger and love. First, consider that in Fanon’s cry (shout) there is as much anger as love—indeed, one could argue that his anger stems from love. After the first episode of anger narrated by Fanon, when he finally “makes a scene” in response to an event of degradation, he explains,
While I was forgetting, forgiving, and wanting only to love, my message
was flung back in my face like a slap. The
white world, the only honorable one, barred me from all participation. A man was expected to behave like a man.
I was expected to behave like a black man—or at least like a nigger.
I shouted a greeting to the world and the world slashed away my
joy. I was told to stay within
bounds, to go back where I belonged (1968:
114-5, italics mine).
enters the world with a clear impetus to enact a relation.
He shouts, and his shout becomes like a lover’s declaration of love. He greets to the world as if announcing his presence, saying,
“Here I am!” Anger—“Kiss
the handsome Negro’s ass, Madame!” (1968: 114)—only emerges as a result
of a most radical dismissal and violation of this loving subjectivity.
does the black man want?” Fanon inquires throughout the work.
Here he advances his own response (as a black man); he wants “only to
love.” Fanon believes that
ultimately what the black man wants is to be a man—an ethico-political form
of the Nietzschean call “to be oneself”—and that to be a man is to love.
Given that Fanon’s black body, his race, is the crucial element in
the articulation of a system that violates the living subject and that
inhibits the emergence of a world of love, Fanon decides to transform his cry
of anger into a “Negro cry.” The
persistence of evil in face of the free offering of self and love is behind
this new turn. Fanon explains,
will always be a world—a white world—between you and us. . . .
The other’s total inability to liquidate the past once and for all.
In the face of this affective ankylosis of the white man, it is
understandable that I could have made up my mind to utter my Negro cry.
Little by little, putting out pseudopodia here and there, I secreted a
race (1968: 122).
question of racial identity emerges out of a deep concern for the construction
of a world of love. With the
“Negro cry,” Fanon announces a step forward in the search for recognition.
Since he is not welcomed in the world, he attempts to build his own
dwelling. Confronting a radical
lack of hospitality, he aims to have the means that will allow him to be
hospitable. After an incessant
search, Fanon finally seems to find a place of his own in Négritude,
where he can truly love. Yet, his illusions are shattered as Jean-Paul Sartre
illustrates how his “Negro cry,” the cry of Négritude, represents only a movement in the Hegelian and Marxist
is certain is that, at that very moment when I was trying to grasp my own
being, Sartre, who remained The Other, gave me a name and thus shattered my
last illusion. While I was saying to him:
negritude is neither a tower nor a cathedral,
thrusts into the red flesh of the sun,
thrusts into the burning flesh of the sky,
hollows through the dense dismay of its own pillar
I was shouting that, in the paroxysm of my being and my fury, he was
reminding me that my blackness was only a minor term.
In all truth, in all truth I tell you, my shoulders slipped out of the
framework of the world, my feet could no longer feel the touch of the ground.
Without a Negro past, without a Negro future, it was impossible for me to live
my Negrohood (1968: 138).
the midst of his disillusion, at the point where reason has given the final
word, Fanon paradoxically rises up again and elevates his cry once more.
It is his desire to love, his passionate loving subjectivity, that,
stronger than logic and Reason, defies the Sartrean attempt to reduce
existence and recognition to the movement of the dialectic: “But the
constancy of my love had been forgotten. I defined myself as an absolute
intensity of beginning. So I took
my negritude, and with tears in my eyes I put its machinery together again.
What had been broken to pieces was rebuilt, reconstructed by the intuitive
lianas of my hands. My cry grew
more violent: I am a Negro, I am a Negro, I am a Negro. . .” (1968: 138).
Abraham, the knight of faith himself, Fanon resists incorporation into the
System and its movements. The
excess of the loving subjectivity cannot be subordinated to the order of
Reason. Fanon shouts to the world
affirming his identity and wanting “only to love.”
Yet Fanon discovers that the cry of self-affirmation finds its limits,
not in the dialectic, but in the expression of love itself:
“I am a Negro, I am a Negro, I am a Negro. . . .
And there was my poor brother—living out his neurosis to the extreme
and finding himself paralyzed . . .” (1968: 138).
cry of self-affirmation suddenly comes to a stop.
The moment of upsurge is interrupted as Fanon perceives that his
“poor brothers” are still behind. He
realizes that the cry of self-affirmation is not exempt from the powers of
mystification. There are others
who have not even emitted such a cry. Imaging
Isaac about to be sacrificed and elevating a voice of protest.
This Isaac, however, soon realizes that his brother, another
prospective victim in a not much different Mount Moriah, is simply there,
quiet, paralyzed. He then turns
to his brother and attempts to analyze what is it that makes him remain in
this condition. Suddenly, the
point of reference changes and his “Negro cry” is left in the background.
Fanon observes the psychological character of Black characters in works
of literature and films. They remind Fanon of the one who is behind, and who cannot
even cry. “A feeling of
inferiority? No, a feeling of
nonexistence. Sin is Negro as
virtue is white. All those white
men in a group, guns in their hands, cannot be wrong. I am guilty.
I do not know of what, but I know that I am no good” (1968: 139).
out of love, Fanon’s “Negro cry” survives any intellectual challenge.
His love is stronger than any logical argument.
Yet, it is precisely this love that, leading him to pay attention to
his “poor brothers,” reveals the limits of the cry and its ambiguous
character. Leaving the exaltation
of the cry behind, he recognizes himself in those less fortunate.
About to be sacrificied, with the knife over his chest, Fanon no longer
cries for his life, but decides to live—in that interval of time before the
knife finally takes his life—for the Other.
It is his brother that worries him the most, and he feels responsible
for him, to the point of substitution[ix]
At this point a new self emerges, and the cry begins to turn into a
“The crippled veteran of the Pacific war says to my brother,
‘Resign yourself to your color the way I got used to my stump; we’re both
victims.’ Nevertheless with all my strength I refuse to accept that
amputation” (1968: 140, italics mine).
“I refuse” denotes the transformation—perhaps better,
transubstantiation—of a subject who now has substituted himself for the
Other. A new paradox emerges
here. A self confronting a
vicious death and who struggles against his enemy suddenly turns toward
another in a worse condition and responds to and for him.
Unable to account for this (ethical) event, reason is now more baffled
than before. An ethics emerges
beyond the realm of the universal. The
problem, to be sure, is not about the rescue of authenticity in front of an
alienating totality, but about the affirmation of life and about the very
possibility to be in-love-with-others confronting an homicidal System.
Fanon clearly opposes the forces of what is known in Heideggerian
parlance as the “They” (Heidegger 1962: 149–68).
But he only does it insofar as this They inhibits the
possibility of love. By virtue of
love, he ultimately is more concerned about the Them—privileged
objects of hate through which the They gains definition—than about
the preservation of his own self.[xi]
Yet it is precisely in this act of love that his subjectivity is truly
and sociality emanate for Fanon out of love and responsibility.
They both begin in the act of substitution whereby a loving
subjectivity gives itself for an Other.
At the end of the fifth chapter, after an intense existential struggle,
Fanon finds himself again where he began, confronting the opposition between
his majestic loving subjectivity and a world that resists the radical
expression of love. Without a
“Negro cry” to utter, beyond anger and joy, the cry turns from shouting to
weeping. The cry of anger and joy
is finally transformed, by virtue of substitution, into tears.
feel in myself a soul as immense as the world, truly a soul as deep as the
deepest of rivers, my chest has the power to expand without limit.
I am a master [literally gift, “je suis un don,” from the
French “donner,” to give] and I am advised to adopt the humility of
the cripple. Yesterday, awakening
to the world, I saw the sky turn upon itself utterly and wholly. I wanted to
rise, but the disemboweled silence fell back upon me, its wings paralyzed.
Without responsibility, straddling Nothingness and Infinity, I began to weep
(1968: 140, italics mine).[xii]
the end of the fifth chapter of Black Skin, White Masks,
we should turn again to the initial lines of the introduction.
“These things I am going to say, not shout. For it is a long time
since shouting has gone out of my life. So very long . . .”
(1968: 7). Shouting has gone away, but this only indicates a deeper
realization of the pain and suffering undergone by the many Isaacs of this
world. As Fanon observes the
situation of Others, he realizes the magnitude of the perversity and evil that
finds home in this world. He
weeps. He comes to terms with the
situation. Only now he becomes
acutely aware of the fact that “the explosion will [simply] not happen
today.” It is only after
weeping that his liberating pedagogical discourse can begin.
It is then that he can adopt the composure of discourse. But he knows that he is still sentenced to death.
Reaching a paradoxical climax, Fanon no longer shouts or weeps, but
decides to speak. Black Skin,
White Masks is the expression of his love.
Dare we not lose sight of “the anxiety, the distress, and the
paradox” contained in his work/words.
‘cry’ as the love of love
loving subjectivity is paradoxical. He
is a paradox when he cries, and a paradox when he cries no more.
In both cases it is the irruption, rebellion, and challenge of
otherness that posit a limit to attempts at systematization and egocentric
expressions of selfhood. In the
cry of ethical revolt, the “beyond Being” is announced.
The cry points to an irreducible exteriority that signifies as a
command. For this reason, it
cannot become a positive ground of a self-centered selfhood.
The cry of the self signifies as a call from and for the Other.
The I finds a place in the world only insofar as it serves the
Other. The evisceration of this
loving subjectivity is made manifest in Le damnée, the one who
cannot give precisely because things are taken from him.[xiii]
Love loves love and cannot stand its evisceration.
Fanon speaks to and for the damnées.
Patience is required for the needed critical activity, since the
subject must maintain the paradoxical stance of someone who lives against all
odds and who substitutes his self for an Other—to the point of writing, as
Fanon reminds in the opening lines of Black Skin, when no one has asked
him to write, “especially those to whom
[the writing, Black Skin itself] is directed” (1968: 7)—and
when it simply appears to be too soon or too late for an “explosion” to
occur. The paradoxical cry turns,
with patience and vigilance, into a text.
Why has Fanon written Black Skin?
There seems to be no reason. Black
Skin is a gift as much as an act of faith—that the explosion may
come one day and that a world of love may finally emerge:
Inferiority? Why not the
simple attempt to touch the other, to feel the other, to explain the other to
myself? Was my freedom not given
to me then in order to build the world of the You?
the conclusion of this study, I want the world to recognize, with me, the open
door to my consciousness.
my body, make of me always a man who questions! (1968: 232, bold-italics mine)
Skin, White Masks
ends as it begins, with the serenity of a paradoxical subject who can only
marvel us, with a prayer (p. 232). Fanon
prays to his (black) body (yet another paradoxical gesture), the indicator of
passivity and exposure to the other and bearer of the marks that testify to the
perversity of the system and the cries of those whom his paradoxically loving
subjectivity will unceasingly try to respond.[xiv]
The opposition between activists and assistant professors becomes
transparent with the following portrayal of the latter: “With security in
life, they live in their thoughts: they have a permanent
position and a secure
future in a well-organized state. They have hundreds, yes, even thousands of years between them
and the earthquakes of existence; they are not afraid that such things can
be repeated, for then what would the police and the newspaper say?
Their life task is to judge the great men, judge them according to
the result. Such behavior
toward greatness betrays a strange mixture of arrogance and
wretchedness—arrogance because they feel called to pass judgment,
wretchedness because they feel that their lives are in no way allied with
the lives of the great,” Søren
Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and Repetition, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Howard V. Hong and Edna H.
Hong, ed. ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982), pp. 62–3.
On this point see Gordon’s insightful “A Problem of Biography in
Africana Thought” in his Existentia Africana: Understanding Africana
Existential Thought (New York: Routledge 2000), pp.
On the distinction between the “Saying” and the “Said,” see
Emmanuel Lévinas, Otherwise than Being or, Beyond Essence, trans.
Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press 1998), pp. 5–8,
Consult The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd
ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Co., 1993), for these and related senses.
This interpretation of the cry is developed by the theologian of
liberation Franz Hinkelammert in a recent book conveniently titled Grito
del sujeto: del teatro-mundo del evangelio de Juan al perro-mundo de la
globalización (San José, Costa Rica: Editorial Departamento Ecuménico
de Investigaciones, 1998), see particularly pp. 197, 210.
In English, the main title is “The Cry of the Subject). Another theologian of liberation, Enrique Dussel, advances a
similar interpretation in his Teología
de la liberación: un panorama de su desarrollo
(Mexico, DF: Potrerillos Editores, 1995), pp. 10–18.
For Dussel, “La
noción de ideología se descubre por su contrario: la revelación no-ideológica.
Si hay una expresión que permite irrumpir la exterioridad a todo sistema
ideológico constitutido es la proto-palabra, la exclamación o interjección
de dolor, consecuencia inmediata del traumatismo sentido. El ‘!Ay!’ del grito de dolor producido por un golpe, una
herida, un accidente, indica de manera inmediata no algo sino a
alguien. El que escucha el grito de dolor queda sobrecogido porque
irrumpe en su mundo cotidiano e integrado el signo, el sonido, el ruido casi
permite vislumbrarla presencia ausente de alguien en el dolor.
No se sabe todavía quétipo de dolor ni el por qué del
grito, y por ello es inquietante hasta tanto no se sepa quién es y por qué
se lamenta. Lo que dicho
grito dice es secundario; lo fundamental es el decir mismo, el que
alguien dice algo. En el grito de dolor no se avanza lo dicho
sino un decir, la persona misma, la exterioridad que provoca: que
‘voca’ o llama al auxilio” [The notion of ideology is discovered
by its contrary: the non-ideological revelation.
If there is an expression that allows the irruption of the
exteriority of any ideologically constituted system is the proto-word, the
exclamation or interjection of pain, which arises as a consequence of the
trauma. The ‘Ouch!,’ result
of the cry of pain produced by a shock, a wound, an accident, indicates
immediately not something but someone], p. 10, partial
translation mine. These
reflections clearly stand behind Dussel’s interpretation of the content of
the “speech acts” that emanate from the victims of a System—or
“interpellation of the poor,” see Dussel “The
Reason of the Other: ‘Interpellation’ as Speech-Act,”
in Dussel’s The
Underside of Modernity: Apel, Ricoeur, Rorty, Taylor, and the Philosophy of
Liberation, ed. and
trans. by Eduardo Mendieta (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1996),
pp. 19–48. .
Dussel extends his reflections further in the context of a discussion
with the German philosopher Karl-Otto Apel; see Dussel, Debate
en torno a la ética del discurso de Apel: Diálogo filosófico norte-sur
desde América Latina (México,
D.F., Siglo Veintinuno Editores, and Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana–Iztapalapa,
For a more systematic treatment of these themes in Dussel’s oeuvre
see his recent Etica de la liberación en la edad de la globalización y
de la exclusión (Madrid: Editorial Trotta; México, DF: Universidad Autónoma
Metropolitana–Iztapalapa, and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México,
The link between crying and these variety of feelings is made
particularly evident in black music like the Spirituals and the Blues. In his classical work on these two musical expressions, James
Cone shows how joy and sorrow, love and hate, hope and despair are united in
the ‘cry’ elevated by black people in the Spirituals and the Blues; see James
H. Cone, The Spirituals
and the Blues: An Interpretation
(New York: The Seabury Press, 1972).
Cone argues that the unity of these strong feelings and emotions in music
“moves the people toward the direction of total liberation. It shapes and
defines black being and creates cultural structures of black expression,”
p. 5. With this enigmatic link
between the reconciliation of the contradictory and the possibility of
action Cone points to the intrinsic paradoxical nature of the ‘cry,’
which is going to be made more clear as our phenomenological exploration
I follow Gordon in taking the literal translation of the title as a
key to the reading of the chapter (see Gordon: 33).
It is not difficult to see the philosophical and the political
problems raised by Markmann’s translation.
“The Fact of Blackness” erases the reference to the interiority
of the subject, and ultimately adds support to the idea that “blackness”
is something merely “out there,” like a stone.
By doing this Markmann not only obscures the existential
phenomenological approach adopted by Fanon, but confirms the objectifying
look that is at the origin of the perverse politics of racial
I am indebted here to Hinkelammert’s depiction of the story of
Abraham and Isaac. For him,
Jesus occupies a position similar to that of Isaac.
Opposing murder and violence, Jesus rebels against the homicidal
tendencies of a reified Law. He
represents the “living subject” who protests against a divinized system
of laws (see Hinkelammert: 38–46).
On substitution see Lévinas: 113–118.
This paradoxical discourse is qualitatively different in character
from the rational discourse through which Fanon initially attempted to
analyze his situation and to communicate with white people, Frantz
Fanon Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann
(New York: Grove Press, 1968; original in French, 1952), p.
117 ff. The
“composure” with which Fanon begins Black
Skin, comes into being as
a result of a series of paradoxes and is far from reflecting the
“enthusiasm” with which he begins “cataloguing and probing” his
surroundings previous to the cry, p. 119.
For this reason we find Hinkelammert arguing that “El sujeto es
el otro. Por eso no es el individuo” [The subject is the Other. For this reason it is not the individual] (Hinkelammert:
197). With this
paradoxical expression, Hinkelammert voices what I ultimately want to
establish here, that the cry of the self finds its ultimate expression at
the point when it takes the paradoxical form of a call from the Other.
I revise here again
Markmann’s unfortunate one-sided translation of the second sentence of
this passage in which he translates the French “don” by master.
This way of rendering the meaning of “don” makes invisible
the paradoxical character of Fanon’s subjectivity.
The paradoxical event of substitution and the transubstantiation of
the self are betrayed by this attempt to integrate Fanon’s words with the
logic of a powerful and self-centered self.
To be sure the translation of “don” as master is not completely
misleading since the root do- makes reference both to take and to
give; see Émile Benveniste, “Gift and Exchange in the Indo-European
Vocabulary.” In The Logic
of the Gift: Toward an Ethic of Generosity, ed. by A. D. Schrift (New
York: Routledge, 1997), p. 34. Yet,
if we put the term in context it is clear that the “taking” plays a role
in Fanon’s narrative only, if at all, in the sense of “taking hold of
something in order to give” (see Benveniste: 34).
The paradox thus remains intact.
This paradoxical conception of the formation of the ethical self
clearly differs from the Hegelian conception of possession, struggle to
death, and war found in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V.
Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977) and Philosophy of
Right, trans. H.B. Nisbet and ed. by allen Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1991). I am
currently developing this theme in a longer work.
In Indo-European languages, as Émile Benveniste has revealed, the
concept of “don” is linguistically and semantically connected
with the notion of “damné.”
Both originally emerge from the roots do- and da (Benveniste:
34). While “donner”
is to give, “damné” refers to “the ‘loss’ which is
prejudicial and no longer a voluntary service” (Benveniste: 40).
The connection between “don” and “damné” is
preserved in French, but not in English—in which “don” is
translated as master or gift, and “damné” as condemned or
wretched. It is therefore
easier in English to remain unaware of the idea that the end of chapter five
serves as a propaedeutic not only to the book but to the whole of Fanon’s
oeuvre, from Black Skin to The Wretched of the Earth, trans.
Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1963; in French, Les damnés
de la terre and published in 1961).
For a complementary view see Gordon’s reflections on the Fanonian
prayer and the openness of the body in Gordon: 35, 132.
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