The readings and questions for the seminars will appear here each week.

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Seminar 9 – Fanon’s Concept of Race

For this seminar, we’ll read Bernasconi’s paper ‘The Great White Error and the Great Black Mirage: Frantz Fanon’s Critical Philosophy of Race’, which is in Nigel Gibson’s edited collection ‘Living Fanon – Global Perspectives’. I’ve emailed you all a link to the paper. Here are some questions to guide your reading:

  1. What is the older, biological account of race?
  2. Can you articulate Fanon’s attitude to the concept of race? For example, did he think we should abandon it altogether?
  3. Can you explain the differences between the concepts ‘ethnicity’, ‘culture’, and ‘race’. (There are lots of different ways to understand these ideas, and you will have to look beyond Bernasconi’s paper to try and pin these down. Also think about the way that Fanon understands them.)
  4. What is the connection for Fanon between race and racism?
  5. Can you explain Fanon’s idea of the nation and national culture?
  6. Why does he think the idea of the nation is the most useful concept to employ?
  7. Do you agree with him?

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Seminar 8 Fanon’s Humanism

We will look at the section ‘Reasons to take Fanon’s Humanism seriously’ of Richard Pithouse’s article ‘That the tool never possess the man’, pp. 2-11.

Thinking about the article and the material from the lecture on humanism, here are some questions to ponder:

  1. What is humanism?
  2. Is Fanon’s endorsement of violence in conflict with his supposed humanism?
  3. Does Fanon think that colonialism shows that humanism is a problematic position?
  4. What point is Fanon making with his description of the Algerian doctor?
  5. Hardt and Negri identify two opposing humanisms in modernity – what are they?
  6. And what is the contrast they draw between the Multitude and the People?
  7. What’s wrong with the second sort of humanism according to them?
  8. On page 9, they identify three conditions that characterise humanity on the first understanding of humanism – what are they?
  9. How do these understandings of humanism map onto Fanon’s view?
  10. Does Fanon’s Humanism escape scepticism about human nature? And does it escape worries to do with the co-existence of brutality with humanism?

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Seminar 7

For this seminar, we will think about some ideas to do with the Gaze and the body schema. Read Shiloh Whitney’s paper ‘The Affective Forces of Racialization: Affects and Body Schemas in Fanon and Lorde’. Some of it is quite difficult, so don’t worry if there are things you are unsure about – we can talk about this in the discussion. Here are some questions to help you with your reading:

  1. What is meant by ‘racialization’?
  2. What is meant by ‘negrophobia’? And how does Whitney argue that this means the central affect of the White Gaze is horror not shame on Fanon’s account?
  3. Explain the psychoanalytic account of horror.
  4. What claims does Kristeva make about abjection?
  5. Explain the idea of collective catharsis and what Fanon says about it.
  6. Explain the points made with Lorde’s anecdote.
  7. What is Merleau-Ponty’s account of the body schema? Can you explain how it is related to the perception of both inner and outer space?
  8. What’s the connection between affects and solicitations for Merleau-Ponty?
  9. How does Fanon develop Merleau-Ponty’s ideas to do with the body schema?
  10. What does Fanon mean when he says the historical-racial schema is a kind of ‘affective ankylosis of the white man’?
  11. What is meant by the idea of ‘metabolizing racial affects’?

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Seminar 6

We’ll use this seminar to go over Fanon’s ideas on language that we talked about in the lecture. This is based on chapter 1 of Black Skin, White Masks, so have a look at the text – there is a pdf of the text in the dropbox folder. Here are some questions to help focus discussion:

  1. What is linguistic determinism? If we adopt this interpretation of Fanon’s claim what is he saying? Can you see any problems with this claim?
  2. What is hermeneutical injustice? Explain this idea and how Fanon’s work anticipates this theory. Think about how to critique and/or defend his claims.
  3. Explain Fanon’s idea that language is used to signify status – can you think of examples of this phenomenon (aside from the ones I gave you in the lecture).
  4. What does Fanon say about French, creole, and pidgin in this regard?
  5. Think about Fanon’s anecdote of the French priest, and then his account of treating the woman with dementia. Do you agree with what he says about these cases?
  6. Explain the idea of different sorts of capital, and how we can use these ideas to describe Fanon’s claim.
  7. What is the linguistic double-bind that confronts the colonised person?

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UG Seminar 5 Fanon and Recognition

The seminar this week will look at chapter 6 ‘Master-Slave Paradigms’ in ‘Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression’ by Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan. There is a pdf of the whole book in the reading dropbox, in the folder called ‘Fanon’. I will also email everyone a direct link to the book. The chapter is rather long, so don’t worry if you don’t manage to look at absolutely all of it. Crucially, I want us to get to grips with the idea of the master-slave dialect and the notion of recognition. Here are some questions to direct your reading:

  1. What is Hegel’s master-slave dialectic and how does recognition feature in it?
  2. Explain Kojeve’s psychological reworking of the master-slave dialectic.
  3. Explain Mannoni’s idea that colonised and colonising people exhibit different complexes, or have different cultural personalities.
  4. How are these personalities formed?
  5. Which bit of Kojeve’s analysis does Fanon take issue with?
  6. How does Fanon understand the master-slave dialectic?
  7. Why does Fanon reject Mannoni’s understanding of the psychology of colonialism?

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Undergraduate Seminar 4

The reading for this week is Jones, Peter. 2015. Sartre’s concept of freedom(s)Sartre Studies International 21 (2): 86-96.

Here are some questions to help focus your reading.

  1. What’s the contradictory muddle about freedom that we find in Being and Nothingness?
  2. What are the two different types of freedom that Detmer identifies, and which he takes to solve the apparent muddle?
  3. What’s meant by Sartre’s claim that consciousness is not what it is and is what it’s not?
  4. Why does being enslaved not impinge on freedom for Sartre (at least according to Jones)?
  5. What is meant by the slogan that freedom is absolute but not omnipotent?
  6. How does the situation, which gives resistance to freedom, help to make freedom possible?
  7. What does it mean to say that choosing is not separate from doing?
  8. “Never were we freer than under German occupation.” What does Sartre mean here?

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Professor Lewis Gordon on Fanon in Times of Covid

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Undergraduate Seminar 3

The reading for this week is chapter 5 of Katherine Morris’ book Starting With Merleau-Ponty.

  1. Explain the difference between the problems of other minds.
  2. Why is ‘the existence of other people a difficulty and an outrage for objective thought’?
  3. Explain Sartre’s distinction between the Other-as-object and Other-as-subject.
  4. Explain Sartre’s case study of shame and what he thinks this shows us about our knowledge of others.
  5. Which bits of Sartre’s account does Merleau-Ponty reject?
  6. What is the interworld?
  7. What is bodily reciprocity?

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Undergraduate Seminar 2

The reading for this week is this extract from ‘Thought in action’.

  1. What is absorbed coping?
  2. Why must there be more to human action than this?
  3. What is the power to reckon with the possible?
  4. What is it to reckon with the actual?
  5. What can the agent who possesses this capacity do?
  6. Why can’t Schneider recognise Goldstein’s house unless he is going there?
  7. What does it mean to give bodily significance to a conceptual representation?
  8. How do thoughts bring about action, according to Merleau-Ponty?
  9. Can you give an example?
  10. Is this an attractive picture of action?

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UG Seminar 1

We’ve so far done quite a lot of scene-setting and only just started to look at Merleau-Ponty’s account of action. For the first seminar, I want to spend time checking that people have grasped the main ideas from Husserlian philosophy, and then think in a bit more detail about the account of action that Merleau-Ponty is starting to develop.

First, please review lectures notes so far, identify the key concepts, and anything you didn’t understand/want to go over again. Here are some questions to help with that task:

  1. What is the Transcendental-Phenomenological Reduction?
  2. What is the natural attitude?
  3. What is transcendental subjectivity?
  4. What is Husserl’s view of science?
  5. Why does the body cause problems for the early Husserl?
  6. What is the Lebenswelt?
  7. What is the Crisis?
  8. How do we solve it by using the idea of the Lebenswelt?
  9. What does Merleau-Ponty mean by Objective Thought?

Second, read this short extract and think about the following questions:

  1. What, according to the traditional account, are actions?
  2. What are ‘solicitations’? And ‘affordances’?
  3. How are solicitations involved in action, according to Merleau-Ponty?
  4. How does his account differ from the traditional account?
  5. How does Merleau-Ponty use the case of Schneider to support his claims?
  6. Do you think this is an attractive picture of action? Why or why not?

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