Founding member, in 1964, of the Freudian School of Paris, Octave Mannoni (1899-1989) was both a classical Freudian and an early Lacanian, contributor to the review Les Temps Modernes, engaged in the anti-colonialist fight, as well as his wife, Maud Mannoni (1923-1998). Both were left-wing activists, close to the English antipsychiatry movement, who embodied for two generations of psychoanalysts the very spirit of protest against the conformism of the psychoanalytic milieu.
Published for the first time in 1950, Psychology of colonization, reissued today, brings together several articles published in various journals (Psyché, Esprit, etc.). The author had pursued a career as a philosophy teacher in Martinique, Reunion and, above all, in Tananarive (Madagascar). After twenty-three years of colonial life, including eighteen in Madagascar, he moved to Paris in August 1948, after spending time on Jacques Lacan’s couch. Since his childhood, he felt marked by the signifier “colony”.
Inspired by Prospero and Caliban, two mythical characters from Shakespeare (The Tempest), both prototypes of a dialectic of domination and slavery, he distinguishes, in this book, Malagasy personality and personality European colonial. According to him, the dependence of some on others is the result of a double transference: the whites project onto the natives their own fears – hence the formula: “The Negro is the fear that the white a of himself” – blacks regard whites as the equivalent of a dead ancestor who is sought protection.
Despite the support given to him by Francis Jeanson, organizer of the Algerian FLN aid networks, Mannoni was accused by Aimé Césaire of complicity with the stereotypes of colonialist discourse, according to which the “Nègre” would be incapable of gaining independence. . Worse still for him, his friend Frantz Fanon dealt him a decisive blow in 1952 in Black Skins, White Masks (Threshold), reproaching him for his ambivalence and his reduction of the colonial situation to a psychology of roles renewing the superiority of the colonist. on the colonized. The accusation was all the fiercer in that Fanon relied on the Lacanian conception of the mirror stage to reject any form of psychologization of the relationship between colonized and colonizer.
The decolonization of himself
For several years, bruised by these attacks, Mannoni did not stop denying this work, however rehabilitated in the English-speaking world, in 1956, by Philip Mason (1906-1999), a specialist in colonial questions, who claimed on the contrary the universal character of psychological relations. of dominance. Ten years later, Mannoni published an astonishing article, “The Decolonization of Myself”, in which he explained that this book had allowed him to pass from the status of a civil servant in the colonial administration to that of a psychoanalyst, a way of detaching himself from the dialectic of dependence and domination.
It was not until 1984 that a new French edition of the book appeared, under the title Prospéro et Caliban (University Editions). In 1997, the book was republished under a third title, Le Racisme revisité. Madagascar 1947 (Denoel). Thus, the same book had been transformed twice, to become, after the death of Mannoni, an anti-racist manifesto intended to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Malagasy insurrection against French colonization. And now, for this new edition of 2022 – icing on the cake – it is presented as occupying the place of a “postcolonial classic”.
Thanks to this new edition, we say to ourselves that it is time to finally read this book for what it is, beyond its obsolete psychologism and the furious interpretations which constantly make it a cursed object. It is neither an apology for colonization, nor a manifesto in favor of a rebellion, nor the work of a theoretician of the colonial question, but rather, against the backdrop of permanent self-analysis and reflection on racism, a journal of ethnographer, stuffed with literary references, tasty anecdotes and stories of wizards. In short, Mannoni delivers, in 1950, the nostalgic and joyful description of a colonial world haunted by its greatness already lost and sucked in by its torments to come.