Lewis Gordon’s Fanon and the Crisis of European Man contains the following striking statement: “In the eyes of anti-black racists, blacks suffer a hemorrhage in their facticity. A consequence is that there is no black autobiography in anti-black worlds.”
What does a “hemorrhage in facticity” look like?
One example might be the famous scene from movie history: Marty McFly gazing with bewilderment at his disappearing hand in Back to the Future.
Marty, we recall, is at the high school dance at which his parents must fall in love if they are to ultimately procreate and bring him into being. As this achievement begins to seem less and less probable, his own “facticity” begins to leak. (It is no coincidence that this is the same moment that McFly symbolically labors to retroactively claim white authorship of black music; by way of a fortuitously timed phone call, Chuck Berry will have learned rock ‘n’ roll from a white teenager, the very same white teenager linked in the audience’s mind with the Reagan Revolution’s truest believer, Alex P. Keaton).
Back to the Future is an elaborate cinematic staging of the racial asymmetry of autobiography to which Gordon calls our attention.
The story is powered by what Brian Massumi calls the “ontology of the threat.” Marty McFly’s is a kind of “subjunctive anxiety”—he struggles on behalf of the “will-have-been” or, more accurately—to prevent the “will-not-have-been” in the absence of the heroic gesture that proactively guarantees the desired retrospective outcome. This “subjunctive anxiety” lies at the core of white autobiography: the weirdness of fantasies of “self-making” and the seizure and occupation of one’s own person in the compulsory labor of “possessive individualism.”
The memoirist struggles to establish himself as “having had been”—to grant to himself substantiality and presence. Only a comparatively small number of humans in any historical moment compose and publish autobiographies. Here, we return to the politics of naming, named-ness, and anonymity.
Part of what powers the autobiographer’s “subjunctive anxiety” is the problem of indexicality or deixis. Philosophers have long recognized that “proper names” are very strange: they are indexical markers, par excellence, but they are also “shifters.” They are specific and general, unique and shared. Names, as conjugates of bits of sound, are, at one level, sort of stupid. At the same time, however, one’s name is the index or pointer to one’s innermost essence. Yet, I did not choose my name, and many other people share it. Not infrequently, one is named for someone else, living or dead. In a crowded mall, the call of “Kurt” causes me to turn my head. But I am only momentarily confused if I realize that some other “Kurt” has been hailed, and it causes me no existential distress to learn that other people named “Kurt” are among my co-shoppers.
Saul Kripke describes names as “rigid designators,” which solves part of the problem, accounting for the empirical fact that humans, for whatever reason, use proper names without much confusion or special effort. Names, however inherently flawed, “work” most of the time.
In the terms that Gordon favors, this ordinary everyday functionality of names testifies, paradoxically enough, to the generality of anonymity. To be “John Smith” is to be able to participate in the business of daily life. To sign “John Smith” on a check or write “John Smith” on an envelope’s return address is to be just as ontologically filled-in as the structure of mundane life requires. It is this anonymity that is always in question when some evidence of non-whiteness is registered on the part of the structure (Fanon’s “Look! A Negro”; and compare with the angry Duke University professor ranting about African American naming practices).
Ato Sekyi-Otu writes: “Quite recently (the Canadian philosopher) Charles Taylor, citing Fanon as ‘one of the key authors’ in discourses of ‘the politics of recognition,’ asserts that ‘Fanon recommended violence as a way to [the] freedom of the colonized.'” Taylor’s take on Fanon is probably the most commonly shared interpretation, but it is deeply flawed. To correct against its distortions requires, however, an insistent shift of perspective, a demand that the reading of Fanon correctly identify the questions that Fanon himself was trying to answer (a fidelity to Fanon as a situated thinker, a fidelity that would be extended as a matter of course to Locke or Rousseau or Rawls).
This is where an apparently difficult argument––such as Gordon’s proposal that the structure of whiteness itself prevents Fanon from being able to straightforwardly compose an autobiography that will not be too or not-enough a testament to some white fantasy of racial reality––that there will always be a “hemorrhage of facticity” when the author of an autobiography is black––becomes a vital weapon against hermeneutic closure.
Such a move allows us to register that Fanon is not at all concerned with the business of recognition, nor with any “violence” that could be situated in the Hegelian dialectic of master and slave. Fanon is interested, instead, in the anonymity that Alfred Schutz and Maurice Natanson insist is a topic of fundamental philosophical concern, and with anonymity’s asymmetrical distribution in the world––what we might call, using a term favored by Fanon, anonymity’s “scissiparité”––anonymity’s fissiparousness. This, it seems to me, is a theme with which intellectual historians might wrestle productively.
 Lewis R. Gordon, Fanon and the Crisis of European Man: An Essay on Philosophy and the Human Sciences. New York: Routledge, 1995.
 R. Zemeckis, Back to the Future. 1984.
 Saul A. Kripke, Naming and Necessity. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1980.
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