Black Skin, White Masks, Brown Corduroy Pants

I knew there was something I was meant to do Sunday. I’ll get the hang of this “blog post every week” business eventually! I swear!

I loved this book, inasmuch as I’ve read (at like page 150, almost there). It’s funny, because I find equal amounts of validity and plain crap in both Freud and Fanon, but Fanon was an immensely pleasurable read. He does the kind of scholarship that I would like to do (‘disjointed’ according to Jon, and ‘not very rigorous’ according to a translator’s footnote; wonder what that says about me). It’s work born out of real feeling, authentic passion.

I identified very strongly with the accounts of the black children and the comic books. In fact, the entire drive to be white is one that typifies a lot of my childhood desires, and I don’t think it’s uncommon. I was raised on a diet of pop culture that was mostly anglocentric. I was the only brown kid in a school full of athletic white, blonde haired, blue eyed kids; compare soft, doughy, short me. None of the girls I liked ever found me particularly attractive, with probably more factors beyond just colour; still I did feel this urge to be white. I even at one point that white was ‘default’ human. Another brown friend of mine, who like me was reared on a lot of anime, once told me that he spent many of his years wanting to be a thin, Asian boy. He grew up in Richmond. Hmmmm.

And Chapter 5, despite its difficulty, I found amazing. Prose-poetry scholarship. Brilliant. I feel like it allowed me to comprehend the alienation of ‘the black man’ viscerally in a way that I don’t feel I would if it was written more traditionally. It worked through impression, not through explanation, and achieved its goals better for that, especially given its literal central position in the book. It’s sort of the nexus of the book (and as Jon said, functions as an allegory for the rest of it too, a functional synecdoche) and really grounds the emotional anguish of the rest of the arguments. I think that lends a certain level of validity to the text, even the parts I disagreed with.

Still, I did have some qualms with the book. For one, Fanon really does fail to substantiate a lot of his sources. He often will quote a passage, and from there repudiate it without thorough critique, and use that as a jumping off point. Chapters 2 and 3 also, in my opinion, overpoliticize interpersonal relationships, which is a big problem I have with a lot of things. Also, in reference to Chapter 5, though it allowed me to identify with ‘the black man’ it conversely dehumanized ‘the white man’. And, as I tried to humorously suggest with my title, where are the Arabs, Asians, and Jews that Fanon always references yet makes no attempt to integrate? Fanon acknowledges this himself, but these are still important parts of the discussion that remain to be addressed, because without them, it can turn into a binary that is every bit as stifling as the racialised structures Fanon decries, and becomes the zealotry he wants to avoid.

Also, Jon, did you write the Newsweek quote on the cover, because your lecture and that quote basically said the same things: you even used the word ‘melange’! Still, great lecture.

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Black Skin, White Masks

Psychology, history, and dehumanization are the  main keywords that are expressed in Black Skin, White Masks. As a non-caucasian and as a Korean, this book is very interesting and easily understandable in some parts. Many topics such as post colonialism, racism, and stereotypes can be related with historical facts about my country, how Koreans once lost their identity during  Japanese colonization and how we are still living under the post colonial state under the United States after the independence. How is it possible that all men are equal?

Dobby has no master, Dobby is a free elf!

So it’s late (or early?) and I should really be studying for a french midterm but I thought I’d get this out of the way.

What I liked:

  • the style that Fanon uses, with his integration of quotes from other texts and poems
  • the language is actually understandable, unlike all the medical terms that Freud used

What I think the text is talking about:

(this is just brain vomit)

  • being black means being evil, a savage, etc
  • being white means being good, angelic
  • black people want to be white
  • a black man is a penis

I’m going to be honest here, I followed along pretty well at the beginning and quite enjoyed the book. But somehow along the way I realized I had no idea what was going on anymore. Maybe I had missed out on something from not reading the footnotes? But really, like Hannah mentioned in her post, footnotes are just not that fun to read when they take up so much of the page.

On another note, on page 195, when Fanon talks about the abolishment of slavery, I was reminded of Dobby the house elf being freed from the Malfoy’s. Especially in the line, “the upheaval did not differentiate the black man. He went from one way of life to another, but not from one life to another,” (195) I began contemplating whether Dobby could represent the black man and I realized that Fanon’s statement does apply to him as well. Maybe Dobby isn’t a free elf after all.

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Race revisited

I’m really not sure how to feel about Black Skin, White Masks to be honest. The first thing that struck me about this compared to other texts was its ‘readability’. It seemed quite accessible to me and not dense or dry or ugh like some other things (Hobbes, Freud). Or maybe I’m just being incredibly simpleminded and enjoying the larger size of the text.

On the other hand, I really disagree with a lot of what Fanon is saying. I’ll start with something petty that bothers me about this: I hate footnotes. Really. Truly. I wish they weren’t a thing. Sometimes I read them, but never in the place I’m supposed to, and a lot of times (especially if they’re bloody long like half the ones in here) I’ll skip them entirely because the print is lighter or smaller and at the bottom and it’s honestly too much work.

Now to actual content: Fanon says in the introduction that “Many Blacks will not recognize themselves in the following pages. Likewise many Whites.” (xvi) He follows that up by saying that just because we don’t understand something fully or experience it ourselves doesn’t mean it isn’t a reality, and that all the things he puts in his book (analysis?) he has found to be true “any number of times”. This is a nice set up but a lot of the things in the text itself feel a lot like generalizations. (Also, as a ‘White’, I don’t recognize myself in this.)

As we have talked about in seminar many (many) times, I don’t like generalizations/stereotypes/assumptions. I think that Fanon overgeneralizes based on racial and ethnic group, and he compares a lot of situations that black people experience to those experienced by the Jews. (“I was drawing closer to the Jew, my brother in misfortune. Disgraceful!” (101)) Certainly, both of these groups have been through a lot of unnecessary crap. Still, comparing their situations feels overly general to me.

Towards the middle of the book (page 86) we suddenly start talking about penises. Okay. If “The fierce black bull is not the phallus” and “The Senegalese soldier’s rifle is not a penis, but a genuine Lebel 1916 model”, then why are we bringing up genitalia at all? (There was also a brief section on pages 79-80 where Fanon talked about a patient-type scenario, analyzing dreams and the unconscious. Very reminiscent of Freud.)

I could pick on any number of quotes; I’ve written down a ton of them. I’m going to end with one that I think is particularly thought-provoking:

“Sin is black as virtue is white.” (118)

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Fanon x arrangement x history

Enjoying Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks quite a bit. A couple of things make this a really good read

For one, Fanon’s unconventional style, which blends theory, poetry, and quotations, makes this text easier to approach (compare to Butler). The way Fanon remakes and re-arranges quotes from other works, especially Cesaire, is fascinating. I find this style really provocative when we keep in mind the way we process and understand information in our modern “internet age”. The way Fanon works with quotations and poetry corresponds with the way we jump around and consume massive amounts of seemingly unrelated content online. Fanon’s style is really admirable because he takes a mass of information and makes sense of it, re-arranges it into something coherent.

In regards to content, Fanon’s argument that the black social experience (as one always in relation to whiteness), is characterized by a constant re-living of history stands out most prominently for me. I cannot stress the importance of the link he makes between the past and the present in regards to race. Indeed it is easy as an outsider to wonder why somebody can’t just “get over” and “forget about” the past. When the past is constantly being re-lived, positive development and progression becomes inconceivable.

The way that Fanon utilizes media and textual analysis to help argue this is insightful, although I feel that in many respects it could be stronger. Cultural analysis (he deals with comics and cartoons most noticeably) seems sort of like an after thought to his work, although I regard it as a lot more compelling then his argument founded in the psychosexual.


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Going Hysterical

When I first begun to read “Dora”, my initial knowledge of Freud was honestly very basic and I knew only of the very obvious and common ideas linked to Freud. As I continued my reading on the bus, I slowly crouched more closer to my book as to hide my book away from the people around me standing up or beside in case their eyes wandered to the pages of my book and their vision briefed over the overly sexual subject matter. I immediately acknowledged that I experienced embarrassment reading this text in public. Perhaps, it is because because sexuality is a sensitive matter.

Freud’s text exploits the sexuality of his patient, Dora, in a very blunt manner. His text or stream of consciousness it seems rarely acknowledges Dora as a person, a woman but rather as a subject to his interpretation. He doesn’t seem to exemplify any real knowledge of females and is extremely unsophisticated in saying they are just “mysterious.”  Of course, I am allowing my sensitivity again to take precedence rather than simply reading this text as Freud intended it to be a professional and scientific reading. It is difficult however to get over how presumptuous and complicated Freud’s methods and theories are, and to really understand how they in fact work. Freud creates quite a complex case… (Dora is repressed because of a regret of being sexually advanced by Herr K. at age 14, because of childhood masturbation and bedwetting, and her father’s love for Frau K… and it goes on.) I couldn’t help but think Freud a little hysterical himself to be able create such complex associations and explanations. He’s quite brilliant really.

During many sections of the text, I was in complete confusion as to what Freud is trying to say, and further more, I could not understand the reason for the case. While the obvious is that Dora suffers from “hysterical”, or physiological, symptoms need to be resolved, I am not quite convinced how her psychological thoughts and feelings can or need to necessarily be treated. From a modern perspective, Dora’s story would not be overwhelmingly inappropriate as there must be numerous cases of scandalous stories which are worse than hers. Sexuality tends to be wild subject.


(Blogging before Monday night next week is in the agenda)


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Dora: the dreams of Freud

Dora is a distinctive book, recognizing that the main character Dora is hopelessly trapped in her dreams. I really thought that the book was very dense and confusing. The book to me was simply Freud transcending his ideas into a plotline creating a story. After taking classes in psychology there is a sense of respect in his book but you end of just feeling bad for her. I really thought throughout the book how sad it would be to live like Dora. Dora than finds out that her father is cheating on mother, and the fact that Dora has no uplifting settings in her life. It seems like she just has troubles after troubles. Can real life be this sad? If real life is this depressing, could Freud be giving us a look at his inner psyche? If the question is true, than why would Freud not work to better himself, instead he write depressing articles and books. We could only ponder how Freud need to handle his problems in books.

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