Fanon and de Beauvoir: Opposing Discrimination

analytical Essay
2658 words
2658 words

Fanon and de Beauvoir: Opposing Discrimination

All modern (i.e. post-paleolithic) religions contain the "Gnostic trace" of distrust or even outright hostility to the body and the "created" world. Contemporary "primitive" tribes and even peasant-pagans have a concept of immortality and of going-outside-the-body (ec-stasy) without necessarily exhibiting any excessive body-hatred. The Gnostic Trace accumulates very gradually (like mercury poisoning) till eventually it turns pathological. Gnostic dualism exemplifies the extreme position of this disgust by shifting all value from body to "spirit". This idea characterizes what we call "civilization".

-Hakim Bey, “Information War”, c-theory a022

Struggles against ‘injustice’ in the 20th century tend to take a drearily similar form. First the advocate recognizes that not all people are equal, next demands that some irrelevant differences are ignored, and finally tries to make all people people again. This method has become so popular it has been applied “all the way down” the ladder of inferiority, to declare politically-irrelevant unequal treatment on ‘every possible’ basis. The effort is, in a sense, a drive to move from the “created” world outside the ‘body’ to a cheery world of equality in the mind. This hostility to the body and exoneration of a universal subject, unfortunately, is also precisely the basic cause of the discrimination one must condemn in step one of struggles for equality. The subject is a problem for many reasons, but the explicit proclamation of the inferiority of some to others relies purely on an ability to say what a person is or should be, and what not. If some are treated as less than human, it may well be because of the category of human itself....

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...attempt to initiate some oppressed groups into the class of oppressors. What may well be needed instead of trading places in the system of constructed identities centered around one ideal subject is a rethinking of the subject itself, a problematization of the role of self that Fanon and de Beauvoir are so anxious to expand just enough to allow in their chosen group. The analogy to Moses is apt, the Gnostic impulse here can be seen in both thinkers as they rescue their people from the servitude in one land, take them through a long initiation process to the promised land, which is disappointing, and then allow them free reign as stable subjects to wage war against their own enemies and dominate the Canaanites as they had been dominated. There is a perverse specter of the golden rule being obeyed: discriminate against others as you were once discriminated against.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that all modern (post-paleolithic) religions contain the "gnostic trace" of distrust or even outright hostility to the body and "created" world.
  • Analyzes how fanon and de beauvoir's efforts to create a more inclusive subject reinscribe the root of inequality.
  • Analyzes how freud's description of a subject is quintessentially of gendered and racialized character. the temptation is to squirm into an ambivalent response about the complexity of the self.
  • Argues that freud's waffling stance between physiology and psychology would call up biological claims of certainty in understanding the basis of emotions.
  • Analyzes how the freudian subject is so ensconced in particularities that to accuse it of minor inaccuracies in describing ‘all real’ subjects is to miss the basic point.
  • Analyzes how fanon's analysis exaggerates the simplicity and comfort of men’s subject position, that even white men are not entirely subjects, because they have not yet escaped the body.
  • Analyzes de beauvoir and fanon's legitimate objections to the subject positions into which women and black people fall.
  • Argues that fanon and de beauvoir are right in their criticisms of freud's model of the subject in that it is exclusive, but only for recognizing cruelty.
  • Analyzes how fanon and de beauvoir's attempts at liberation are depressingly intense endorsements of the problematic subject that caused the ‘inequalities’ they decry.
  • Concludes that fanon and de beauvoir fail to oppose discrimination, instead their objections to freud only attempt to initiate some oppressed groups into the class of oppressors.
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