On the 70th anniversary of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952), the Department of English, on 25th March 2022, organized a lecture on “Fanon and Madness”, by Robert JC Young, the Julius Silver Professor of English and Comparative Literature, New York University. The talk began with a welcome by the Head of the Department, Professor Anna Kurian, followed by a short introduction of the speaker and his work by Professor Pramod K Nayar.

Professor Young began his lecture by tracing Fanon’s experiences of the Second World War, which was his first encounter with racism and the hierarchies within the French Empire, going on to enumerate how these experiences of trauma influenced Fanon and the trajectory of his career. Fanon’s career as a psychiatrist was unconventional. He wished to submit a manuscript as his thesis. The proposal was rejected by the medical college, but later published as a book, Black Skin, White Masks. After graduating, Fanon worked at various hospitals and under leading psychiatrists like François Tosquelles, was exposed to methods of treatment that were revolutionary for the time, such as open psychiatry aimed at rehabilitation and the use of electric shocks to facilitate a fresh beginning to the patients suffering from trauma. These radical methods informed Fanon’s own practice in Algeria, where he developed socio-therapy, aiming to connect with his patients’ racial and cultural backgrounds. Fanon was also an active participant in the Algerian revolution, and was aware of the tortures and murders of the Algerian rebels by the French army. During the Algerian War of Independence, Fanon treated both the colonizers and the colonized, identifying trauma on both sides of the equation. He later went on to write his most famous work, The Wretched of the Earth, a book published just before his death from leukaemia.

Professor Young drew attention to the genealogy of Fanon’s psychiatric theories and his responses to the current trends in the field, especially psychoanalysis. Demonstrating the close link between Fanon’s work in the revolution and his medical practice, Professor Young provided a route into the mind and practice of this hugely influential thinker.

The session ended with Professor Young answering queries from the participants on the genealogy of Fanon’s works, the trauma constituting the identity of the colonial subject and madness in the postcolonial period.

– Text by Megha Manjari Mohanty, PhD Scholar, DoE, Images by Atul V. Nair, PhD Scholar, DoE.