Cover image for Frantz Fanon : a spiritual biography
Frantz Fanon : a spiritual biography
Ehlen, Patrick.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Crossroad Pub. Co., [2000]

Physical Description:
192 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
CT2628.F35 E39 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Patrick Ehlen resurrects the tremendous personality of Fanon and presents his remarkable life with the skill of a fine novelist. The book opens on the small French Caribbean colony of Martinique at the turn of the century, and recounts the trials of an ordinary family in extraordinary times, subtly fusing the social, economic, and psychological elements that fed young Frantz Fanon's intellect and passion.

Scant details of Fanon's childhood have ever been published, and interviews with family members help to provide this book with a rich and unprecedented account of the development of Fanon's powerful personality. Fanon's early years illuminate the uncommon life that follows, revealing how a single man matures into a decorated hero of war, a revolutionary pioneer in psychiatry, a radical theorist in philosophy, and a passionate revolutionary in one of the bloodiest anticolonial struggles of modern times, the Algerian war of independence. Supported and understood by few save his family, a few life-long friends, and Simon de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Fanon aims for the impossible and achieves the improbable.

Frantz Fanon is the story of a family, the story of an island, and the story of love, disappointment and loss and offers a lucid view of Fanon's theories through the narrative of his life.

Author Notes

Patrick Ehlen was awarded an advanced degree in psychology from The New School for Social Research, and volunteers at a psychiatric day-treatment clinic in Harlem. He has lived in France and in Venezuela, and recently taught at Eugene Lang College

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

This brief, informative biography of the West Indian philosopher, psychiatrist, writer and Third World revolutionary explores Fanon's widespread influence on human and civil rights leaders on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1950s and `60s. Using Fanon's own writings, interviews granted by his family, and secondary sources, psychologist and poet Ehlen, a professor at the New School, paints a complete portrait of a thinker and activist driven by a deep political and philosophical commitment to freedom from colonial oppression and fascism, who was profoundly shaped by his cloistered middle-class upbringing in the French colony of Martinique and his service in WWII, for which he was awarded the coveted Croix de Guerre. As a psychiatrist, Fanon (1925-1961) became intensely interested in Marxist thought and the political plight of the oppressed in Africa and America, ultimately writing three seminal guides for those seeking social change (Black Skins, White Masks [1952], A Dying Colonialism [1959] and The Wretched of the Earth [1968]), which won him prominent friends and supporters like Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir and Richard Wright. Writing with sincerity, intelligence and restraint, Ehlen is careful not to depict Fanon as a sainted figure, revealing a complex man, alternately generous and charming or arrogant, exacting, volatile and brilliant to the point of annoyance. His descriptions of Fanon's courageous determination to work and write in the final days of his battle with cancer are especially poignant. Ehlen's book is a credible complement to two other well-known commentaries on the man's life: David Caute's 1970 biography, Fanon, and Irene Gendzier's 1973 work, Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study, both of which are out of print. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Je Suis ... O my body, make of me always a man who questions! -- Frantz Fanon I am a black man. I am a white man. I am a Frenchman, a Martinican, an Algerian. I am a hero to my country and I am a traitor to my country. I am the idol of the film, but I am the villain of the film. Am I handsome? Yes, of course; but I am ugly. I am darker than my brother and lighter than my father. I am larger than the universe. I sing, I weep, I dance. I am all men, and no man. I am Frantz. I am Frantz Fanon.     But who am I?     The years since his death offer countless responses: He was a revolutionary, a psychiatrist, a humanist, an existentialist, a Marxist, a nihilist, an anticolonialist, an internationalist, a prophet, a demon, a pope. But in life he subscribed to no ism, would carry the card of no party. From a historical perspective he appeared to make choices based on a single question: Will this choice free souls from their chains? Or better, will this step move humanity toward greater liberation? His answers led him to war with the Nazis, to struggle with himself, to labor against mental illness, and to a bloody and painful revolt against French colonialism in Algeria.     Looking across his life, one sees that he failed at many things. But the luminescence of his successes outshine all loss. In the course of ten years he produced three books, Black Skin, White Masks, A Dying Colonialism , and The Wretched of the Earth , as well as the handful of essays collected in the posthumous collection Towards the African Revolution , all of which continue to be read and studied today, perhaps more widely with each passing year. In the United States these works greatly inspired thinkers and activists of the American civil rights movement and the Black Panthers, and offer profound insight on our collective understanding of race, of alienation, and of power and oppression. Some ideas precede those of his generation by several decades and speak plainly to our contemporary dilemma of how we can manage the friction of a world that is increasingly interwoven, fractured and complicated. He wrote for several journals and newspapers, produced three plays, and published a handful of psychiatric studies, consistently pursuing the theme of personal liberation in the face of an alienating society.     Whatever contradictions may be found in the pages of his writings, at no point does he deviate from one premise: that the human mind, the human spirit, and human society are inextricably connected, and that one of these elements cannot be liberated if the others remain in bondage. Even toward the end of his life, when he fought for the seemingly contradictor interests of a single nation's autonomy in hope of achieving a united Africa that would transgress all nationalism, this premise held at the fore. Liberate the individual, grant autonomy to each spirit, and unity will follow--the spirits will merge together. For unity is the natural state of the human spirit, when freed from all chains.     There seems to have been rarely a day that he did not commit to a struggle for freedom. Yet he lived as anyone, managing to fashion from common leaves the wings of a transcendent life, a life devoted to others. Overshadowed by such a figure we are compelled to ask, how was it managed? What condition, what essence, made it possible? To maintain such altitude, when we are all of us pulled down by the cumbersome world ... But the flight of any grand spirit is achieved through the unsteady flappings of an individual. And the story of Frantz Fanon is the story of a family, the story of an island, and the story of disappointment and loss. And as with many such stories, it is the story of love and tragedy.     For now, let it merely be said that an oppressive society breeds oppression among each person it dominates. Most often this oppression, this fury, is kept within the confines of family relations, or is turned inwards to affect the individual in a self-destructive manner. But sometimes this oppression plants the seed of its own destruction. Sometimes the interior pressure of that force within a single individual reaches an intensity that drives the individual to uncommon lengths, the force recoiling and erupting back outward again, and oppression forges the means of its own undoing. The lesson of history tells us that this is the moment we will witness the spiritual.     It is at this moment--at the moment when a limit is reached and all boundaries give way to an infinitude of possibility--that mundane and material dictums evaporate to reveal the nature of that which crosses every culture and every era, the immutable force of the human spirit. It is a moment of beauty for all who bear it witness, but let us not forget that a beautiful individual is sacrificed in the process. It is at this moment that we witness Gandhi, that we witness Mohammed, that we witness Christ. It is at this moment that we witness Frantz Fanon. Copyright © 2000 Patrick Ehlen. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

1. Je Suis...p. 11
2. Morne Noirep. 15
3. War from Within, War from Withoutp. 33
4. Motherlandp. 53
5. Return Homep. 73
6. Masksp. 85
7. Liberator of Mindsp. 107
8. Revolutionp. 125
9. The Strugglep. 141
10. Into the Sunp. 155
Acknowledgmentsp. 171
Chronologyp. 172
Notesp. 176
Bibliographyp. 185
Indexp. 188