Written by Marchu Girma and Dauda Barry
It’s a Saturday, and yet the infamous Pearson Lecture Theatre at UCL (named after Karl Pearson, the ‘father’ of Eugenics) was filled with excitement. The long awaited conference and workshop on Frantz Fanon organised by the UK Sartre Society and Rethinking Existentialism project, was about to begin.
We were a widely diverse group from all walks of life and from near and far. To my right sat a sister who travelled all the way from Amsterdam just for this conference, while to my left was a brother and a student from the University of Leeds. We made this journey and sacrificed our Saturday to hear something new about Fanon.
The honoured guest, Professor Lewis Gordon, an expert on Fanon, was a very down-to- earth, softly spoken academic, wearing a t-shirt that said: “If you do not stand for something you will fall for anything.” He stood in the centre of the room, shoe-less, and spoke to us as if we were long lost friends.
The main topic of his lecture was Fanon’s thoughts on violence. At the age of 14, Fanon witnessed an autopsy of a dead woman. This became a defining moment in his life. For Fanon, it was not a corpse that was being dissected but a woman who was being violated. Later, when attending medical school, he found the act of performing an autopsy difficult. His professor’s advice was to think of it as if it were ‘a dead cat’.