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Fanon, Fire, Love

Instructor(s): Kaushik Sunder Rajan
Spring 2022

(with Stacy Hardy, Frida Robles and Asher Gamedze) 

Fanon, Fire, Love will explore colonial history and postcolonial politics through the often-invoked metaphors of fire and breath in order to think the relationships between love, violence, revolution and liberation. At a time when colonialism is often perceived by the former colonial powers as a past historical event, colonial domination does not occur so much at the surface of territories, as through the (attempted) control of every aspect of life, physical, sensory and affective. Against this backdrop of toxicity and suffocation, we trace the place of fire in oppression, registering its through-lines in histories of imperialism, from the literal gassings in the caves of Algeria in the early days of the establishment of French colonial rule to the neoliberal and necropolitical state-corporate entanglements that led to the fire in Grenfell Tower in London in 2017.  

Yet we also think about fire as metaphor for resistance. In The Wretched of the Earth (1961), Fanon describes the colonized’s dreams as being embodied dreams: dreams of joy and freedom. “I dream I am jumping, swimming, running, and climbing. I dream I burst out laughing…” If we take these dreams and Fanon’s concept of “combat breathing” together, we are invited to think of the lungs and heart as organs, always ready to draw a sudden breath of life and to beat towards liberation. To this end, we think of fire’s constitutive coupling to love, as itself a dangerous praxis, one which singes and burns but also opens up the possibility, as Fanon insisted, of new horizons of universality and new possibilities for a collective humanity. 

At the core of the class is Fanon’s little known love play, “The Drowning Eye.” Part love poem, part surrealist manifesto and part philosophical treatise, Fanon’s play reads as a testimony to the power and possibilities of love as an act of resistance against all brutal takeovers of language and reality that attempt to deaden us with cliche and denial. Here we read Fanon through other anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, anti-racist works of love (Aime Cesaire, Assia Djebar, Eduardo Galeano, Saidiya Hartman, James Baldwin, Steve Biko, Che Guevara and others), but also via different genres and modalities of performance: poetry, theater, film, opera, jazz.  

This class is structured as collaboration and conspiracy between Kaushik Sunder Rajan and the writer and poet Stacy Hardy, artist and curator Frida Robles, and jazz musician Asher Gamedze. We are grateful to the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, whose funding has enabled the collaboration through which this class has been conceptualized. 

ANTH 51513 | CCCT 51513