Specters of Fanon
Against the backdrop of the war in Gaza, Frantz Fanon’s shadow looms larger than ever. He was the intellectual activist of the postcolonial era, and his writings about race, revolution, and the psychology of power continue to shape radical movements across the world. In this searching biography, Adam Shatz tells the story of Fanon’s stunning journey, which has all the twists of a Cold War-era thriller. Fanon left his modest home in Martinique to fight in the French Army during World War II; when the war was over, he fell under the influence of Existentialism while studying medicine in Lyon and trying to make sense of his experiences as a Black man in a white city. Fanon went on to practice a novel psychiatry of “dis-alienation” in rural France and Algeria, and then join the Algerian independence struggle, where he became a spokesman, diplomat, and clandestine strategist. He died in 1961, while under the care of the CIA in a Maryland hospital.
Today, Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth have become canonical texts of the Black and global radical imagination, comparable to James Baldwin’s essays in their influence. And yet they are little understood. In The Rebel’s Clinic, Shatz offers a dramatic reconstruction of Fanon’s extraordinary life—and a guide to the books that underlie today’s most vital efforts to challenge white supremacy, racial capitalism, and colonial domination. At the Columbia University Institute for Ideas and Imagination, Shatz will discuss his book with two fellows: David Scott, an anthropologist who has written extensively on colonialism in the West Indies; and Juan Gabriel Vásquez, a novelist whose most recent book, Retrospective, tells the true story of a Colombian couple who raised their children to become Red Guards in Maoist China during the Cultural Revolution.
About the Speakers
Adam Shatz is the US editor of The London Review of Books and a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and other publications. He is the author of Writers and Missionaries: Essays on the Radical Imagination and the host of the podcast “Myself with Others.”
David Scott teaches in the Department of Anthropology, Columbia University. He is the author of Formations of Ritual (1994), Refashioning Futures (1999), Conscripts of Modernity (2004), Omens of Adversity (2014), Stuart Hall’s Voice (2017), Irreparable Evil: An Essay in Moral and Reparatory History (forthcoming 2024), and (with Orlando Patterson) The Paradox of Freedom (2023). Scott is the founder and editor of the journal Small Axe and director of the Small Axe Project.
Juan Gabriel Vásquez is the author of two collections of short stories, Lovers on All Saints’ Day and Songs for the Flames, and of six novels: The Informers, The Secret History of Costaguana, The Sound of Things Falling, Reputations, The Shape of the Ruins and Retrospective. He has also published two books of literary essays: El arte de la distorsión and Viajes con un mapa en blanco. His books are currently published in 30 languages and have won, among others, the Premio Alfaguara, the Premio Gregor von Rezzori-Città di Firenze, the IMPAC International Dublin Literary Award, the Premio Real Academia Española, the Premio Casa de Amèrica Latina de Lisboa, the Premio Biblioteca de Narrativa Colombiana, the Prix Roger Caillois, the Premio bienal de Novela Mario Vargas Llosa, and the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger. He has translated works by Joseph Conrad and Victor Hugo, among others, and has won two Simón Bolívar awards for his work as a journalist. His opinion columns appear in the Spanish newspaper El País. In 2016 he was named chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic; in 2018 he was awarded the Order of Isabel la Católica by the King of Spain; in 2022 he was distinguished in the United Kingdom as International Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.