Decolonizing the Human: an Introduction to Sylvia Wynter
Across a stunning oeuvre that includes fiction, drama, theory, and criticism, the Jamaican writer Sylvia Wynter attempts nothing less than a whole-scale rethinking of the human. For Wynter, the notion of “Man” that has developed since the enlightenment is everywhere and yet exclusive. It projects a narrow Western middle and upper class ideal, fundamentally racist, violent, and constitutive of global exploitation. Drawing on work by Franz Fanon, W. E. B. DuBois, and Aimé Césaire, Wynter prods us, in Katherine McKittrick’s words, to consider “the possibility of undoing and unsettling—not replacing or occupying—Western conceptions of what it means to be human.” For Wynter, this means decolonizing cultural, literary, and political histories of the Caribbean, as well as a promiscuous combination of science studies, migratory politics, Black studies, and myth-making to generate a new understanding of the human as part of political practice. How, for Wynter, did the Western European become “the figure of man”? And what might it mean to “decolonize” being, power, truth, freedom, and the human?
This course will serve an introduction to Sylvia Wynter’s rich body of work. We will read key texts to examine how she develops Fanon’s concept of sociogeny, how she analyzes the racial and religious demarcation of humanness historically, and how she understands the importance of storytelling and myth-making. We will ask: How have the legacies of Caliban and capitalism constrained the possibilities of the human? How does Wynter’s work open up a new science of human discourse? In what ways has race displaced religion as a framework for human understanding What does Wynter mean when she says, “the rule is love” and how might such a “rule” reshape how we share time and space together? What are the poetic and mythic dimensions of such a praxis-oriented human? In addition to Wynter, we will read select secondary texts, including work by Franz Fanon, Katherine McKittrick, Walter Mignolo, and others.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
January 26 — February 16, 2021
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