Criptiques and A Dying Colonialism

Caitlin Wood’s 2014 edited volume Criptiques consists of 25 articles, essays, poems, songs, or stories, primarily in the first person, all of which are written from disabled people’s perspectives. Both the titles and the content are meant to be provocative and challenging to the reader, and especially if that reader is not, themselves, disabled. As editor Caitlin Wood puts it in the introduction, Criptiques is “a daring space,” designed to allow disabled people to create and inhabit their own feelings and expressions of their lived experiences. As such, there’s no single methodology or style, here, and many of the perspectives contrast or even conflict with each other in their intentions and recommendations.

The 1965 translation of Frantz Fanon’s A Dying Colonialism, on the other hand, is a single coherent text exploring the clinical psychological and sociological implications of the Algerian Revolution. Fanon uses soldiers’ first person accounts, as well as his own psychological and medical training, to explore the impact of the war and its tactics on the individual psychologies, the familial relationships, and the social dynamics of the Algerian people, arguing that the damage and horrors of war and colonialism have placed the Algerians and the French in a new relational mode.

[Image: A copy of the 1961 paperback edition of Frantz Fanon’s A Dying Colonialism, featuring a sea of dark-skinned people with upraised hands, coloured in diagonal bands of orange, red, and magenta.]

From within the new mode described by Fanon, the French cannot expect the Algerians to “go back to the way it was,” because the Algerians have changed too much in their struggle for freedom, against the French. Fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, siblings, all relate to each other differently now—all are either willing to kill, be killed, or facilitate the killing of the French in service of the revolution. Tools such as radio and the European medical training of Algerian doctors, both of which were once symbols of colonialism, have been reappropriated and redeployed in service of the revolution.

Fanon says that, with this being the case, there is no going back: a new way forward must be devised, and in this way the French must recognize and acknowledge what they have done to the Algerian people, and must come to fully see them as they are, not as the French wish they were, when they were first colonized. In this way, Fanon’s A Dying Colonialism lays the groundwork for a great many resistance and liberation movements, including those in the crip/disability community, enabling those struggling for liberation to demand that their status and self-definition be acknowledged by those who have subjugated and materially caused their oppression.

In Criptiques, this liberation struggle is rendered in the form of over two-dozen minds and voices grappling with what it means to be disabled, to be perceived as disabled, to be understood as disabled by the medical establishment, or society. People suffering temporary head injuries wonder “am I disabled enough to be part of this community?” and “do I only think of myself as not disabled because of my internalized ableism?” The authors in Criptiques all represent multiple intersections of gender and race and differing formulations and understandings of disability, and their stories all play out within structures of power and oppression put in place by non-disabled people, as they work to be understood on the terms they choose.

Each piece details various weights of microaggressions, outright hostility, or reflexive expectations in which a disabled person has to wonder about what other people are wondering about them, all while navigating the physical and social structures of a world which isn’t built for them. This comes out, in the whole text, even when it isn’t explicitly described in the individual pieces.

To an extent, my only critique of Criptiques is something of a paradox, in that I wish it were slightly more explicitly thematic in each of its texts. However, had it been more explicit, in that way, that might easily have dampened the breadth and creativity of the expressions of lived experience, an outcome which would have been antithetical to the drive and goal of the book.

For Fanon’s part, there’s some uninterrogated casual sexism, in chapter one, when he discusses how depredations on women act as evidence of occupier’s brutality, and I’m inclined to say there’s not enough interrogation of the view of Algerian-sympathizing white Europeans, as presented in chapter five. No matter how much they might sympathize as allies, these European would still materially benefit from the colonialist structure, and while they might be able to use that to the revolution’s advantage, it would still make them complicit. While discourse around power and privilege was perhaps not yet as nuanced as today, Fanon shows elements of this kind of analysis elsewhere, so why not here?

[Image of the cover of Criptiques: the title centered at the top on a blue background, with the words “Edited by Cailtin Wood” centered at the bottom]

Ultimately, both Criptiques and A Dying Colonialism present pictures of struggle against oppression and depredation. In Criptiques, we read about the struggles of everyday ableism and the ways in which the lives of disabled people are degraded, disregarded, or endangered by individuals and society. We learn about the weight of expectations and causal vitriol that come with living in a disabled bodymind, and the work it takes to reshape oneself, moment to moment, to live in a world which not only doesn’t accommodate but seems actively hostile to you.

In A Dying Colonialism, we read about the changes to the bodies, minds, social structures, and cultures of those who’ve lived under colonial rule, and what it means to survive the horrors of a world which not only views you as less than fully human, but which does so even while stealing your home and perpetrating unspeakable violence on all those who resemble you.

Both of these texts are explorations of what it means to live, survive, thrive, and resist, and they are both directed at two audiences at once: To others in the struggle with them, these texts provide a source of recognition, solidarity, and tactics; to those against whom the authors resist, they serve as a series of demands, and a warning.

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