One day I’ll tell you what I think

Adam Shatz

  • No Exit: Arab Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre and Decolonisation by Yoav Di-Capua
    Chicago, 355 pp, £26.00, March 2018, ISBN 978 0 226 50350 9
  • The Stillborn: Notebooks of a Woman from the Student-Movement Generation in Egypt by Arwa Salih, translated by Samah Selim
    Seagull, 163 pp, £20.00, April 2018, ISBN 978 0 85742 483 9

In the spring of 1961, Frantz Fanon wrote to his publisher in Paris to suggest that he ask Jean-Paul Sartre for a preface to his anti-colonial manifesto, The Wretched of the Earth. ‘Tell him that every time I sit down at my desk, I think of him.’ For revolutionary intellectuals in the Third World, Sartre seemed miraculously uncontaminated by the paternalism – and hypocrisy – that gave the white left such a bad reputation. While intellectuals in the orbit of the French Communist Party were vacillating over the Algerian war of independence, he gave his unconditional support to the rebels, a stance that nearly got him killed by an OAS bomb planted outside his flat. He contributed fiery prefaces not only to Fanon’s book, but to Léopold Sédar Senghor’s anthology of Négritude poets and to Albert Memmi’s Portrait of the Coloniser. ‘Your influence in this region is deeper and wider than that of any other writer,’ the Egyptian writer Ahmad ‘Abbas Salih told him. Fanon, alert to the transformation that had caused Sartre to replace the abstract ‘self’ and ‘other’ of Being and Nothingness (1943) with a new understanding of power relations in Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), based in part on the distinction between coloniser and colonised, gave lectures on the Critique to Algerian soldiers in training camps in Tunisia.

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