Q&A and Reading with Lewis Gordon

On Monday, April 20th, at 7pm, Lewis Gordon will read and discuss his latest book, What Fanon Said.  Drucilla CornellPaget HenryKyoo LeeDoug Ficek, and Nelson Maldonado-Torres, will join the event as respondents.  

About What Fanon Said: 

Antiblack racism avows reason is white while emotion, and thus supposedly unreason, is black. Challenging academic adherence to this notion, What Fanon Said offers a portrait of Martinican-turned-Algerian revolutionary psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon as an exemplar of “living thought” against forms of reason marked by colonialism and racism. Working from his own translations of the original French texts, Gordon critically engages everything in Fanon from dialectics, ethics, existentialism, and humanism to philosophical anthropology, phenomenology, and political theory as well as psychiatry and psychoanalysis.

How did you come to write What Fanon Said?   

I was part of a movement that argued the following: a genuinely great thinker offers ideas on which to build. My relationship with Fanon was primarily through using arguments from his thought that I found useful for my own intellectual work. I noticed, however, the emergence of Fanon studies proper, and debates in that area of study often hinged on things he was accused of saying or writing that he actually did not say or write and in other cases varieties of misinterpretations in translations from French to other languages. I was invited by another publisher to write a book on what Fanon “really” said, but it turned out they wanted a very non-intellectual book on Fanon, which I considered an insult to his memory as well as to what I have argued against—namely, the tendency to de-intellectualize the work of black authors through seeking theory from white ones and only experience from black ones. I thus decided, as I did in my book An Introduction to Africana Philosophy (2008), to write, in philosophical terms, a genuine philosophical introduction to his thought. The question of an intellectual history of black thinkers requires a philosophy of intellectual history, which I argued for and in fact introduced under the guise of “an introduction” in the earlier book, but for Fanon, the additions also involve the addition of a philosophical biography, for Fanon’s life posed complicated questions of how disciplines meet to study a life. I thus used ideas from my book Disciplinary Decadence, in which I argued for an approach of, paradoxically, building a philosophy beyond philosophy. Fanon’s life and even his “after life,” if we will, are heavily political, which makes the task not only one of a philosophy of biography but also a theory of political biography and, by extension, political history. So, wrote this book as a project with several aims: (1) articulating a philosophical political intellectual biography not only of Fanon and his thought but also of ideas stimulated by that thought, which means a portrait of Fanon studies as well; (2) exploring the problem of what is involved in studying a thinker from the Global South and demonstrating the scale of fields, disciplines, and political events affected by that thinker; (3) demonstrating Fanon’s continued relevance theoretical and political relevance; and along the way it occurred to me that the book was completed in time to serve also as a celebration of (4) Fanon’s 90th year.

What are you currently reading?

I am not a linear reader. I engage texts along with my multiple projects, which means I’m always reading several books at a time. Thus, I am currently reading (and re-reading) an unusual and I can add thought-provoking set of books: Maya Schenwar’s Locked Up, Locked Down: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better (Barrett-Koehler, 2014), Geoffrey Adelsberg, Lisa Guenther, and Scott Zeman, Death and Other Penalties: Philosophy in a Time of Mass Incarceration (Fordham UP, 2015), Nahum Dimitri Chandler, Toward an African Future—of the Limit of the World (Living Commons Collective, 2013), Judith Butler’s Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Polity, 2013) and Sense of the Subject (Fordham UP, 2015), Anthony Allessandrini, Frantz Fanon and the Future of Cultural Politics: Finding Something Different (Lexington, 2014), Pierre-Philippe Fraiture, V.Y. Mudimbe: Undisciplined Africanism (Liverpool UP, 2013), Matthieu Renault, L’amérique de John Locke: l’expansion colonial de la philosophie européenne (Édition Amsterdam, 2014), César Carillo Trueba, El racism en México: una isón sintética (Tercer Milenio), Monique Roelofs, The Cultural Promise of the Aesthetic (Bloomsbury, 2014), Eric Lichtblau, The Nazi Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), Gary Greenberg, The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry (Plume 2013), Peg Streep and Alan Bernstein, Quitting: Why We Fear It—and Why We Shouldn’t—in Life, Love, and Work (DeCapo, 2013), Robert Stalnaker, Mere Possibilities (Princeton UP, 2012), Isaac Newton, The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (Snowball 2010), and Shing-Tung Yau, The Shape of Inner Space (Basic Books, 2010).

Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?    

I don’t have one but a set of favorites connected to the multiple and converging ways in which I think and see the world, and these books are always circulating in my head. The list is pretty long, but here are (in fairly random order) some: The Papyrus of Ani (i.e., Going forth by Day or The Egyptian Book of the Dead), Joseph Harris, Africans and Their History, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Plato’s Symposium, Hesiod’s Theognis, the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (with more focus on the last), Sapho’s poetry (many collections), e.g., If Not, Winter, Catullus’ Odi et Amo, St. Augustine’s City of God and Confessions,Voltaire’s Candide, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, Frederick Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom, Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South, W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction in America, Amiri Baraka (publisher should use his chosen name instead of Leroi Jones), Blues People, Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and The Damned of the Earth, C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, Richard Wright’s Native Son and The Outsider, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and Another Country, Herbert Gutman’s The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and The Ethics of Ambiguity, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, Critique of Dialectical Reason, and Words, Angela Davis, Women, Race, and Class and Angela Davis: An Autobiography, Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, Sigmund Freud’s nearly everything but especially Civilization and Its Discontents and Character and Culture (and nearly everything else), Albert Einstein’s The World as I See It and Relativity: The Special and General Theory, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourses, Social Contract, and Confessions, Kant’s three Critiques, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Karl Marx, Early Writings and Capital, Nietzsche, The Will to Power, Henri Bergson, Mind and Matter, Husserl’s Formal and Transcendental Logic, Cartesian Meditations, and Philosophy as Rigorous Science, Elias Cannetti, Crowds and Power, Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, Nishitani’s Religion and Nothingness, Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace and many other works (especially “The God of Love and  Affliction”), Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Either/Or, and Works of Love, John Dewey’s Logic, Ernst Cassirer’s 3 volume Philosophy of Symbolic Form and An Essay on Man, Karl Jaspers’s Philosophy and Philosophy of Existence, Martin Buber, I and Thou, Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Bertrand Russell, William Barrett’s The Illusion of Technique and Irrational Man, The Principles of Mathematics, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, and The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Maurice Cohen, A Dreamer’s Journey, Leonard Harris, Philosophy Born of Struggle, Cornel West, Prophesy, Deliverance!, James Cone, God of the Oppressed, William R. Jones, Is God a White Racist, Susan Haack, Philosophy of Logics, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception and The Primacy of Perception, Kame Gyekye, Essay Concerning African Philosophy, Kwasi Wiredu, Cultural Universals and Particulars, Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject, Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the Mind, Gabrielle Garcia Marquez, everything, but especially his collections of short stories, Poppy Z. Brite, Lost Souls, Neruda’s The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes’s The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Paget Henry’s Caliban’s Reason, Charles Finch III, Echoes from the Old Dark Land, Drucilla Cornell’s Philosophy of the Limit, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, Abdul JanMohamed, The Death-Bound-Subject, Enrique Dussel, Philosophy of Liberation, Twenty Theses on Politics, and Política de la liberación, Linda Alcoff’s Visible Identities, and so, so many more.

Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to the publication of?

Yes. LaRose Parris, Being Apart: Theoretical and Existential Resistance in African Literature (U. Virginia Press).

What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?

A bunch. I must finish a much overdue anthology for Routledge India: Transcending Disciplinary Decadence. I am also completing another volume for Fordham UP: No Longer Enslaved, Yet Not Quite Free: On Freedom, Justice, and the Decolonization of Knowledge and a co-authored volume with Jane Anna Gordon and Nelson Maldonado-Torres entitled Global Critical Caribbean Thought. I am also preparing a work on global existentialism and several volumes that will debut in Romanian, Portuguese, French, and Chinese (Mandarin), and organizing my lectures across the Global South (Southern Africa, South America, Indigenous Australia, and more).