Problems of Pleasure and Desire

Increasingly, as shown above, sexuality for pleasure—for men and for women— is acknowledged as a social fact, and investigated as such by sociologists, anthro­pologists and historians. A direct focus, however, on pleasure and desire opens a wide field of investigations, the contributions in this volume showing a range of possible approaches.

Race and sexuality

Frantz Fanon and Simone de Beauvoir belong to the same historical age and the same intellectual environment. Some of their questions were parallel, as were some of their answers. De Beauvoir posed the question: ‘What is a woman?’ Frantz Fanon: ‘What is a black man?’ De Beauvoir’s statement: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” (1949/1997:295) could have been echoed by Fanon. According to Ratele, (himself a psychologist) who takes important inspi­ration from Fanon, black people got their colour when white colonialists con­quered and defined them:

There are no black men before the introduction of whiteness in this country [i. e. South Africa]

or anywhere else on the continent. In the early seventeenth century black men were other things: AmaZulu, AmaXosa, AmaNdebele, AmaSwazi, Basotho, Batswana, Khoi and San, and so on. Before that they were other things. They were bound together by explicitly cultural bonds (which themselves are fluid) rather than yet to be defined by blackness (Ratele 1998:38).

Blackness, according to Ratele, is constructed by discourse, and a very particular discourse, closely connected to the violent realities of colonialism. People in Af­rica became black when they were conquered and defined by European people, who in the same move defined themselves as white. In this process black people got not only their colour, but also, following Fanon, their sexuality: “For the ma­jority of white men the Negro represents the sexual instinct (in its raw state)” (Fanon 1952/1986:177). ‘Blackness’ in itself, and ‘blackness as sexual’ is the dou­ble outcome of the very processes of othering, discussed above: in defining the other you define yourself. The dynamics of othering have been succinctly ana­lyzed by Judith Butler (1990), as combined processes of disavowal and projection: in order to maintain his precious rationality, and in order to maintain the illu­sion—in accordance with Cartesian mind/body divisions—that he, the man, rep­resents pure mind, European/Western man “disavows [his] socially marked em­bodiment, and further, projects that disavowed and disparaged embodiment on to the female sphere, effectively renaming the body as female” (Butler 1990:16). The same move of disavowal/projection of body, feeling, sexuality is extended from women to Third World/colonized populations, as shown by Mohanty (1984/1991; cf. above).

In Enlightenment thought, rationality is constructed as opposite to passion, emotion, sexuality (a pattern which also surfaces in Mbeki’s speeches): civilized, rational man must master his feelings, passion must be subordinated to reason. Fanon himself subscribes to the same line of thought:

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