Black Skin, White Masks

Black Skin, White Masks is definitely one of the more challenging books we’ve read this year (for me anyway).  The complexity of the themes discussed as well as the psychoanalytic aspects of the text made it quite difficult for me to really grasp what was being said. I understood the text in small portions but I often found myself getting lost in the greater scheme of the book.

One thing I found especially interesting, which was mentioned in lecture, was the discussion of the title. At first glance I would have never found anything exceptionally intriguing about the title, but after lecture the significance of the title became apparent. When reading it initially, I saw the “white masks” as the sort of false appearance and the “black skin” as what lay underneath. But after it was explained in lecture, it became apparent that both the “white masks” and “black skin” were aesthetic objects. The black skin stands as yet another surface beneath the white masks: another thing to conceal what is truly at the center of a person. I found this quite interesting for I want to know what people really think is at the center of a person…is there anything? Is a person simply made up of a series of masks and surfaces? Is there anyway to tell? This may however be a complete misinterpretation of the concepts outlined in Fanon’s book. I’m going to go out on a limb and compare characters from Northanger Abbey to this concept of masks and surfaces… It seemed to me that characters like Isabella Thorpe and Mrs. Allen seem to be people made up exclusively of surfaces, having nothing of real value at their cores. Do they have anything underneath all their social platitudes? Or are they an endless series of masks and labels?

Read 2 comments

  1. Good questions, Maaike. I completely agree with you that those characters in Northanger Abbey may be just surfaces with little to nothing underneath. For Fanon, in the way I’m interpreting this book (and especially considering the last section of the text, “By way of conclusion”), it seems there isn’t anything that has to be at the core of oneself but freedom to (as he puts it) endlessly create oneself. But that doesn’t mean one can’t actually create oneself to be a certain way, to have something underneath the masks; it just means one should recognize that that isn’t some kind of permanent essence, but created by the self and could possibly be changed in the future.

  2. i agree that those characters seem very mask-heavy, yet they also seemed fairly content, (although superficial as well), for a large portion of the book. It is interesting to consider the benefits of foregoing a unique, self-aware identity altogether, and to ask why the type of person who would do this seems so deplorable.

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