Book Review: “Primitive Versus Civilized, The Impediment of a Written Language, Consequent Target for Colonialism”

By, Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu

“Primitive Versus Civilized, The Impediment of a Written Language, Consequent Target for Colonialism”

Title of chosen passage:  “The So-Called Dependency Complex of the Colonized,” by Frantz Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks)

The approach I have selected to view this work is Postcolonial.  Postcolonial critics assess or have chief responsibility with the examination of literature relating to power, hegemony, colonial powers, and views of those deemed colonized by colonial powers or subject to colonization.  Postcolonial analysis may relate ideas about empires, or imperialism, economics, politics, religion, culture, or historical relevance particular to empires such as the British Empire.  Postcolonial writings may perform close readings that look at colonial ideology or subjects relating to things such as “civilized versus primitive cultures” (Fanon, 66).  Postcolonial writings may look at the dissolution of colonial empires or how as in the title of Chinua Achebe book (how) “Things fall apart.”  Postcolonial writings may strive to codify cultures, race, historical occurrences, or things that specify or maintain a semblance of superiority like “first world” or “third world.”  Postcolonial writings may appear racist of lacking in objectivity. 

“Primitivism versus civilized” may have been the ultimate win for the colonials. Primitive nations were impeded by not only primitive cultures that were meant to house and care for the “wild” animals (e.g., African Game Reserves).  Cultures were left undeveloped to maintain what may have been a necessary “rurality” for man’s animal species.  However, what may have tipped the pendulum to swing in the favor of the colonial empires quest, may have been primitive languages with under or undeveloped written components that may have so severely stifled learning that a local news media would provide a shock.  Perhaps it was not a “muscular white skin” versus a black skin without muscle, but the duel of “languages” some written, some not.  It may be said that the speakers, writers and thinkers of a sophisticated English language, and even subsequent British Empire, dominated, speakers of primitive dialects, with almost no intellectual way up, and incognizant. The shortcoming of using such a lens as primitive versus civilized may be that it lacks the necessary delicacy, compassion or range or inclusivity of national accomplishments.

Fanon highlights in “White Skins, White Masks,” “an inferiority complex” (Fanon, 66). He describes how in the case of the Malagasy, “how they drew a closed circle around them” (Fanon, 74). Fanon goes on to describe how a culture can come to have an “interdependence on their colonizer” (Fanon, 74).  Perhaps very often language is a unit, that translates into books and ultimately into schools and education, then advancement, development, wealth and all forms of epiphany, revelation, or discovery.  With each step, a new brick, the notch, and notch way forward. How language impedes primitive cultures or the distinctions that make one more subject to dependence and more vulnerable to takeover.  

A Low Bar,  A High Bar, A Man, A Scholar

Title of chosen passage:  “The Lived Experience of the Black Man,” By Franz Fanon (White Skin, White Masks)

I chose Critical Race Theory to look at the above text.  Some may use Ethnic Studies in place of Critical Race Theory to look critically at texts that involve matters relating to race, the racial experience, race as it pertains to culture, or history and power dynamics.  Some may embrace race or ethnicity through a gender-based lens.  Critical race theory may have been catapulted by the 1960’s American Civil Rights movements as well as American race relations, racial tensions and disparities emanating from barbarism and slavery.  Critical Race Theory looks at representations in literature and makes parallels.  However Ethnic Studies extends itself beyond the African or African American or Black experience and is inclusive of a marginalized racial experience or just plain-diversity. 

A black person may rely on “representation” to liberate themselves from eyes and viewpoints that objectify them.  A black person may steadfastly desire irreverence for his race, to be what Fanon described as “a man among men” (Fanon, 92).  Still further, than a low bar, to be even a man, but a black person may desire scholarship and may create within him this insane desire for an “impossible irreverence.”  Just as he or she is not invisible, neither are the history, the oppression, and the flashing need for immediate resolution.   

Fanon writes how a black person may be impeded by history as “ the grandson of slaves” (Fanon, 92).  How a comment like “Look how handsome that Negro is,” may appear like an absurdity, or a rarity or even radical.  That pasted on to one’s cultural identity is so much adversity, that weighs one’s being down, that radical measures may be required to strip the pasting. 

Literary Theory in this regard represents how canons have excluded marginalized people where there was little if any inclusivity.  Where culture and languages unwritten have eliminated many players from knowledge, from literature, from canon.  Literary Theory is the “tool belt” that Third Wave will utilize in Feminist Theory and that marginalized people will begin to strap on in their intellectual quest to take part and be an included and viable player.

 Works Cited:

Fanon, Frantz, Black Skins, White Masks, “The Lived Experience of the Black Man.” Grove Press, New York, 2008. pgs. 89-119

Fanon, Frantz, Black Skins, White Masks, “The So-Called Dependency Complex of the Colonized.” Grove Press, New York, 2008. Pgs. 64-89

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