Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Satre's Preface to 'The Wretched of the Earth' by Fanon - Seminar Summary

For this seminar post, I will be looking at Existentialism and will also study Satre's preface to The Wretched of the Earth by Fanon.

Existentialists believe that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject. There is a focus on the 'acting, living and feeling' human individual. Kierkegaard is a key figure in the world of Existentialism, described by many as one of the most influential minds with a connection to the movement. He was a Danish writer known for his publications that explored themes such as psychology, theology and philosophy. When Kierkegaard referred to 'existence', he specifically meant human existence, as opposed to God, for example. This was one of the reasons why Kierkegaard's name is heavily linked to Existentialism. For Kierkegaard, a prominent human characteristic was the concept of free choice.

The preface to Fanon's text by Sartre begins with a discussion of how colonisers from Europe carried out their civilising mission and also what the outcomes of these actions were. It creates a comparison between 'natives' and 'men', pinpointing what it is that sets these groups apart. Sartre describes the uprising of the natives, writing: 'The 'civilized' native, who had learnt to echo his masters voice, finally led to the independent individual who disregarded the European civilisation and wouldn't mind taking up arms, when necessary, against his oppressor".


The Wretched of the Earth was published in 1961 

Sartre explores the disadvantages of Western culture and its stranglehold over the people. He writes: "In the colonies the truth stood naked, but the citizens of the mother country preferred it with clothes on". Men poisoned by the Western World and its controlling nature were living a lie, Sartre was pointing out. Unlike the natives, they do not live as their true selves. Instead, their values are shaped and controlled. Sartre explains the issue well when he states: "They stuffed their mouths full of high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck in their teeth". Men were altering themselves in order to follow cultural expectation, which meant they were ultimately living as someone they weren't.

The colonisers were brutal by nature. Sartre explains how the colonisers made an effort to wipe out native culture and traditions, to substitute them with their own, writing: "Attempts were made to create a rootless native who belonged to nowhere in particular". By destroying the natives sense of origin, they became easier to control and manipulate. It was far easier to shape a man if you could rebuild his values from the ground up. There is a link here between the actions of the colonisers and Locke's description of the 'blank slate', where the mind is moulded over time by the experiences it encounters.

The passage also explores the theme of revolution, with the writer pointing out that revolution is constantly in the making. "In order to triumph, the national revolution must be socialist", Sartre writes. He continues: "In those countries where Colonialism has deliberately held up development, the peasantry, when it rises, quickly stands out as the revolutionary class".

The key theme of the preface is oppression. In terms of Existentialism, the themes of the true self and culture moulding individuals has links with the natives as they come into contact with the colonisers. Satre goes into detail with regards to forced labour and slavery. When it comes to slavery, he states, there is no 'contract'. There must be intimidation from which oppression grows. This is the key to gaining control of the natives, and this is the way colonisers approached their task. They aimed to dehumanise the enslaved. If the native gave in to his capturers, he could not be considered a man at all. Shame and fear would break apart his character, and he would become a tool of the colonisers. The way in which the natives are taken over links the piece well to the theme of totalitarianism, which I discuss in THIS blog post.


Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the leading figures in 20th Century French philosophy

From the ruins of an enslaved native rises a true man ready to sacrifice himself for the cause of his nation. Once a man, a slave will look at himself as a tool. Satre likens a slave to a gun or a horsewhip in the preface, which is a good way of portraying the manner in which slaves are used as tools of the nation. The natives do not always go down without a fight, however, battling against those who Satre claims wish to make them 'beasts of burden'. Violence could be considered advantageous, however. When the natives rage boils over, he rediscovers his lost innocence.

Satre states that Fanon's work does not necessarily need a preface. He argues that he has merely written one to bring the argument to its conclusion, pointing out that Europe is being decolonised too. "The settler which is in every one of us is being savagely rooted out". There are different ways in which the coloniser strengthens his hold over the oppressed. In certain places, the mother-country will form a native bourgeoisie and give rise to different factions.

Satre is soon to highlight the fact that the peasant classes must hold power. Unlike the Bourgeoisie and the proletariat, they suffer the most. He describes the poor as the 'most revolutionary class', going on to support revolution as a concept. Such an action can reform a nation and prevents power from reaching the Bourgeoisie.

3 comments:

interesting and helpful!! thanks!!

sartre . GOOD one. Helpful.Thanks

very informative! thanks for the explanation

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