There is a striking level of similarity between Fanon’s writing in this Introduction and the voice-over of Travis Bickle throughout the film, though it would be a tremendous mistake to suppose that this means they experience the same sort of alienation.
Rather, I would suggest that Travis Bickle is the antithesis of the Black man victimized by the neurosis of white supremacy, that Bickle is a personification of how white supremacy negatively impacts those who are not Black and Brown.
Fanon our guide, then, plans to take us through the layers of mediation offered to the black. As such, he functions as Virgil guiding us through a world that many of us, being “imbeciles,” need but often refuse to see. So, utilizing Fanon’s observation of the sociogenic dimensions of this structural denial, the argument takes the following turn (Gordon Location 625).
- Sociogenic is defined by Gordon as “a form of existential phenomenological social analysis that recognizes both the impact of the social world on the emergence of meaning and human identities and how individual situations relate to the development and preservation of social and political institutions” (Location 209).
- Existential means a philosophy that critiques and contemplates the meaning of one’s being, their existence, and asks if this existence has any meaning.
- Phenomenological means a study of occurrences, structures, and presences from a first-person perspective.
- Therefore an “existential phenomenological social analysis” is an analysis of society, its existence, and the phenomena that occur within it.
He continues “Black Skin, White Masks thus describes a quasi-anonymous Black hero’s efforts to shake off these leeches [of racism] and live an adult human existence” (Location 631). As such, Travis Bickle as a character in the “excremental city” he loathes is on an equal and opposite trajectory as he journeys through similar layers of mediation that benefit him as a white man but which he cannot fully integrate with due to his war veteran mentality. He repeatedly attempts to “live an adult human existence” and fails. Ethan Edwards by contrast continuously seems to be indifferent to such an effort.
It is unclear if Schrader or Scorsese were personally familiar with any of the author’s writings in 1976. Black Skin, White Masks was published in France in 1952 and by the American Grove Press in 1967, almost simultaneous with the evolution of the civil rights movement into the more militant Black Power period that cited Fanon as a major intellectual.
However, it is irrefutable that the two were directly influenced by French New Wave directors who dealt with Fanon. The shot where Travis drops effervescent tablets into a glass of water and watches them dissolve is a quote from Jean-Luc Godard’s 2 OU 3 CHOSES QUE JE SAIS D’ELLE (1967). Another influence on the director cited by Grist is Alain Resnais, director of MURIEL OU LE TEMPS D’UN RETOUR (1963). That picture dealt with the Franco-Algerian war of the 1950’s and has previously been cited for its connections to Fanon’s writings on that conflict, particularly his essay “Algeria Unveiled” which opens his volume A Dying Colonialism. Ergo some loose connections can be teased out, particularly when noting editorial similarities between Scorsese and the Resnais film and the fact both include a young, recently repatriated colonial war veteran who shows a lack of ease in social situations, though Bernard (Jean-Baptiste Thierrée) is nowhere near as alienated from society as Travis.