Decolonial Doctoring: Attending to the “Pain without Lesion” in Frantz Fanon

Carolyn Ureña

University of Pennsylvania

Monday, September 20, 2021 3:30 pm EDT

Cohen Hall 337
249 South 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Frantz Fanon’s Les damnés de la terre(The Wretched of the Earth) is generally considered his revolutionary tour de force. Written during his involvement in the Algerian decolonization struggle of the 1950s and ’60s, and published shortly after his death from leukemia, the book is an impassioned manifesto lauded by the Black Panthers and banned from French bookstores for affirming violent revolution in response to colonial rule. As a result of the book’s notoriety, the political nature of Fanon’s work has tended to overshadow his commitments to healing “the countless and sometimes indelible wounds inflicted on our people by the colonialist onslaught,” which Fanon rendered almost a decade earlier as a “pain without lesion.”  
 As a Black Martinican physician and psychiatrist living under French colonialism, Fanon understood his work as a contribution to medical knowledge. His writing draws our attention to the importance of healing both the visible and the invisible wounds of anti-Black racism by attending to the social relations that produce them. In my own research and writing, my focus has been on the way that Fanon’s clinical practice served as the springboard for his revolutionary thought, in turn informing his approach to health and healing. I have since become increasingly interested in exploring the earliest instances of Fanon’s critique of colonial medicine by revisiting the texts he wrote as a medical student.  
 Taking as a point of departure Fanon’s 1952 article “The ‘North African Syndrome,’” I invite us to consider: what is a “pain without lesion,” and what would it mean to learn to heal such a wound? What can Fanon reveal about the limits of medical education, traditionally understood? And finally, what kinds of knowledge about health and illness are brought to the fore when we reimagine doctoring as an inherently activist undertaking?