Khalfa, jean “Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks: New Interdisciplinary Essays” The Modern Language Review, Vol. 102, No. 2 (April, 2007), pp. 527-528.
The Article is an assessment of the complexity and depth of Fanon’s first book Black Skin White Masks. Max Silverman organizes the essay into three groups mainly a criticism of traditional restrictive interpretations of Peau noire, masque blanc, a reinscription of the book within its geographical and historical context, and an analysis of concepts of particular resonance today.
Viewed within the context of its appearance, the book takes new meanings. Max Silverman compares Fanon’s analysis of racism to those of Robert Antelme and Claude Levi-Strauss. The book appears as an ambivalent exploration of the dilemmas of anti-humanism. Silverman points to Bryan Cheyette to show how Fanon oscillates between a discursive definition of racism and an essentialist one, and concludes that the book enacts Fanon’s detachment from Sartre’s universalism.
He also points to David Marriott who studies the position between inner self and appearance in Hamlet as read by Harold Rosenberg, in turn quoted by Fanon. Both attempt to demonstrate the importance of Fanon’s understanding of race awareness, in particular in fantasies of interracial rape, from a psychoanalytical point of view. Peau noire then essentially deals with dilemmas and contradictions in lived experience. The weakness of the book is a number of inaccuracies in French quotes and the use of the current, faulty translation. Fanon carefully used the semantic echoes of his words to give weight to descriptions of lived experience. Thus his experience of the racist gaze is called a ‘decollement’, in line with a whole vocabulary of flattening and skinning. This is translated as ‘amputation’. When the black man reaches whiteness through the love of a white woman, he penetrates ‘l’illustre couloir qui mene a la pregnance totale. The translation, the royal road that leads to total realization, misses the sexual connotation, the contrast of light and darkness (‘illustre couloir’), and the existentialist insistence on meaningfulness, rather than ‘realization’. These simplifications are just out of place in a book which is otherwise very attentive to the subtlety of Fanon’s thought.