chapter  6
BREAKING UP FANON’S VOICE
ByJOHN MOWITT
Pages 10

The distinction between historicism and historical materialism Walter Benjamin once invited us to draw requires us to turn our attention away from the past “as it really was,” and toward a temporal expanse comprising memories flashing up, as if in protest, against the oblivion to which the historical victors are on the verge of consigning them. What separates this from Foucault’s “history of the present” is the theme of redemption or liberation (die Erlösung). That is, the notion that the present’s investments in a “usable past” ought to be indexed to a political assessment of the past’s immediate value in the struggle to bring about a future that-in displacing the current historical victors-would render worthwhile all that had previously been forgotten. The model of historiography that is at stake here-one, I would argue, receptive to the less exclusively temporal preoccupations of geography-is not, however, what motivates my evocation of this material. Instead, I raise the issue of historiography because, to put the matter bluntly, I want to use the occasion represented by this volume to think about Fanon as a memory, that is, as someone or something that, among many other things, obliges us to inquire after our interest in him. Why does Fanon continue to matter? Why does he matter today? Benjamin’s formulations, of course, insist that we recognize our own moment as a moment of danger. Thus, if Fanon has come to matter here and now it is because he represents, from the standpoint of the historical victors, someone or something worth forgetting. For this very reason, historical materialists have an interest in, at the very least, storing the weak messianic charge borne by Fanon’s memory. However, to do so they need more than Edgar Allan Poe’s prototype of Big Blue. They need to articulate with some clarity the stakes, and perhaps even the repercussions, of Fanon’s memory. How and where is it bound up with the agonistic vicissitudes of the present? Elsewhere, I have pursued this in relation to the struggle to theorize the conjuncture of postmodernism and postcolonialism-especially as it bears upon the politics of positionality (Mowitt 1992). Here, my aim is to pursue

this in terms of the cultural politics of the university, primarily-though not exclusively-in North America.