Duncan mceachern yoon

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Cultural struggles


For an alternative modernity based on transnational solidarity and an affirmation of a non-exploitative global consciousness.

Franz Fanon: "[If]nationalism is not made explicit, if it is not enriched and deepened by a very rapid transformation into a consciousness of social and political needs, in other words into humanism, it leads up a blind alley."

This essay is going to appear in an international forum edited by Mukoma Wa Ngugi in July 2012 and is printed here with the editor's permission. The forum was inspired by “Literature to Combat Cultural Chauvinism: Indian Literature to World Literature”, the interview with Satya P. Mohanty that was published in Frontline (April 6, 2012). It is the first major initiative of the new “Global South Cultural Dialogue Project” and it will appear in newspapers, magazines, and academic journals all over the world, including Frontline, Journal of Contemporary Thought (India/USA), Daily Nation (Kenya), Chimurenga (South Africa), and various periodicals in China, the United States and the United Kingdom.

* * *

You, brothers from Asia, invite us to defeat the historical mystification that aims to present a certain culture as the peak of universal culture. And through your work, through your research and by means of your triumphs, you have proved that universal culture, [and] the conception of a man to [the] size of the world, have only just started. We say: This is exactly what we wanted to affirm.

- Frantz Fanon

Speech at the Closing Session of the Second Afro- Asian People's Solidarity Organisation Conference, Conakry, Guinea, April 15, 1960.

I WOULD like to begin by juxtaposing this little-known speech given by Frantz Fanon in my epigraph with Satya P. Mohanty's statement in the Frontline interview (April 6) concerning the importance of excavating “alternative modernities”:

If it is likely that there are various forms of modernity, the concept of modernity can be disaggregated – that is, its constituent features can be taken apart and imaginatively re-examined in new combinations in different social and cultural contexts.

Mohanty's notion that the components of modernity may be reformulated within spaces outside of the Western capitalist framework is no better embodied than in the goals of the Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO). Formed after the Bandung Conference of 1955 in Indonesia, the AAPSO became one of the most vibrant and contentious forums for the creation of solidarity links – economic, political, and cultural – within a rapidly decolonising Global South. Alternative modernities, understood as intricately connected to questions of alternative paths of development, became one of the main issues during these conferences. In what follows, I would like to take up and help expand Mohanty's notion of a “disaggregated modernity” through a brief examination of Fanon, the cultural policies of the AAPSO and its accompanying Writers Bureau. These cultural policies gave rise to the publication of a number of poetry and fiction anthologies, as well as Lotus magazine, in which questions of modernity, development, culture and, ultimately, of recuperating humanism took centre stage.

Fanon's involvement in the AAPSO, with the Algerian delegation in both 1958 and 1960, provides a unique lens with which to understand not only the transnationalism of the organisation but also the environment within which he wrote his seminal work, The Wretched of the Earth (1961). While specifically grounded in the Algerian war for independence, this important text's vast scope marks it as one of the first theorisations of a Global South. As such, Fanon's involvement with the AAPSO during the period meant his own writings on national culture can be read against the backdrop of the transnational solidarity of the organisation. I would like to return to his epigraph, in particular where he addresses the peoples of Asia: “[Y]ou have proved that universal culture, [and] the conception of a man to [the] size of the world, have only just started” (AAPSO 121). Here, Fanon not only addresses Asia as “you” – both South and East – as well as its complicated relationship with discourses of universal culture, but he also echoes a famous line from Aimé Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism (1955): “a humanism made to the measure of the world” (Césaire 73). What is intriguing about these statements is that rather than reject Western categories of universalism – especially as they pertain to the human and culture – Fanon is, in fact, an advocate for the retention of these categories. He sees value in holding on to ethical universals, to the philosophical and cultural efforts to define humanism. However, for Fanon it is the scale of this definition that must be disaggregated and reimagined – that is, humanism must include definitions that emerge from not just French or other European categories that buttress the apparatus of colonialism but also those from an Afro-Asian “wretched of the earth”.


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