The black body and representations of the: (In)human

Li Chun Hsiao*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In the opening pages of Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon assumes not only a white mask but a white gaze and addresses provocatively his race as "other than human." Consistent with the ambivalent vacillations characterizing the writing of this book, Fanon, however, does not simply interpellate his fellow blacks as either outright "non-human" or affirmatively human. On the very same page, he states that "the black is a black man," which does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the black is therefore a man-and not only because a sophist or nominalist argument would remind us that a black man is not equivalent to a man. For later in the book Fanon would tell us that he sees "in those white faces that it is not a new man who has come in, but a new kind of man, a new genus. Why, it's a Negro" (116). From our historical hindsight-which has witnessed the weakening, if not the total dismantling, of many a bigotry-this ostensibly difficult and excruciating conception of black in terms of human/non-human would seem to us moot. Yet, Fanon's difficulty lies precisely in the obvious, as he points out: "I am the slave not of the 'idea' that others have of me but of my own appearance"-the fact of his blackness (116). And that is probably why Fanon closes his book with an often-cited appeal: "O my body, make of me always a man who questions!" (232) But why conceive of the black man as "rooted at the core of a universe from which he must be extricated" (8)? How is the readily recognizable black body included, even embedded at the core of the dominant colonialist/racial sociopolitical order, and emphatically excluded from it at the same time? How can the concept/ designation of black invokes diverse and even conflicting designations, ranging from the non-human, the barely human, a subhuman, a renewed human, and, as Fanon affirms occasionally in his text, the unequivocally human? I approach these questions, and similar issues raised in other historical and literary examples, by means of Giorgio Agamben's conception of "bare life" and Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's notion of "social antagonism." Based on these theoretical insights, I highlight a certain constitutive exclusion that would be pivotal in the representations of the (in)human. I illustrate such a constitutively excluded element by examining the popularity of the term "slave" as trope in post-Bastille social, political, and literary discourses and the figuration of the black body in Fanon's writings.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRepresenting Humanity in an Age of Terror
PublisherPurdue University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9781557535689
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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