How do we know why we love something? Or, how would our feeling of appreciation be different if we begin to understand why we have been loving something?
Autumn has always been an object of beauty for me, stimulating a deep but inexplicable enthusiasm. This year, my reading of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks has coincided with the emergence of the fall, when autumn rains pour over the city, and drinks, foods, and sweets are mixed with pumpkin flavor. In the last autumnal days of the summer, I am given a more concrete reason to scrutinize my feelings about autumn.
In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon applies psychoanalytic theory to explain the “so-called dependency complex” of the black psyche, analyzing it as symptomatic of a racial/colonized construct. After a thorough study of the black man and his relation to language, sexuality, and self-recognition, against the backdrop of his lived experience, Fanon ends the book with a gesture towards a “New Humanism”: “My final prayer: O my body, always make me a man who questions!” (206). Fanon’s call for lifelong inquiry introduces his desire for a dynamic subjectivity which does not rest and moves beyond the place of the unknown, or the unknowable.
Through his observation, Fanon introduces a zone of nonbeing, a site he describes as “an extraordinarily sterile … region, an incline stripped bare of every essential from which a genuine new departure can emerge” (xii). He locates this zone in the heart of the black experience, in a world ruled by white standards, where the black man neither belongs to whiteness, nor can exist through his blackness.
It might at first seem that for Fanon the zone of nonbeing traps the black psyche, and maybe other kinds of oppressed psyche as well. But an inspirational observation of the nature of autumn might suggest the possibility of being in this suspended zone through reconciliation of diverse forces, and could turn its apparent impotence to productivity. Fanon suggests such productivity in his description of the zone when he writes of emergence. For autumn is when the Manichean dualism gets deconstructed; it is a season neither governed by light nor obscured by darkness, neither melts in the heat, nor freezes in the cold. Autumn is the celebration of the birth of the second half of the year, which is inclined toward its ending; where light and dark, hot and cold, beginning and end mix and reconcile. Autumn is full of life in a deathful way, as such it becomes rich with potential energy. It exhibits its own shine and color, which is neither bright and white, nor dark and black, and possesses its own temperament, one that is neither hot nor cold. Autumn embodies some level of each of these qualities and has experienced all of them.
Interpreting Fanon’s zone of nonbeing through this notion of the fall season has turned my abstract enthusiasm into a tangible feeling for the most dynamic time of the year. I experience autumn as the natural incarnation of any kind of being which questions the rigid dualisms and embraces hybridity, a manifestation for the “New Humanism.”
It might sound naïve to a critical theorist, but may not to a poet!
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 2008.
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