Sylvia Wynter is a radical Jamaican theorist influenced, among others, by Frantz Fanon. This well known interview is often considered to be the best introduction to her thinking about the question of human in the aftermath of 1492 and the consequent racialisation of humanity.
Wynter rethinks dominant concepts of being human, arguing that they are based on a colonial and racialized model that divides the world into asymmetric categories such as "the selected and the dysselected", center and periphery, or colonizers and colonized. Against this Wynter proposes a new humanism. According to Katherine McKittrick Wynter develops a "counterhumanism", that breaks from the classification of humans in static, asymmetric categories.
Comment: Sylvia Wynter is a Jamaican novelist, playwright, and academic who draws on a huge breadth of academic literature, including amongst others anthropology, critical race theory, postcolonialism, and feminism, in her prolific academic writings that cover an equally diverse set of themes. One important strand of her work involves “unsettling” what she sees as the dominant (Western/European) understanding of “Man”, which she argues is responsible for enabling the brutal and harrowing treatment of non-whites by the European colonisers. Indeed, one of the goals of Wynter’s project is to theorise a new kind of humanism that does not collapse into violence and exclusion, as the current dominant Western paradigm has, but rather one that is truly “comprehensive and planetary” (p.121) in scope. The reading for this week is a long-form interview Wynter did with David Scott, the editor of Small Axe, and covers a huge breadth of her work. The preface of the interview offers a helpful contextualisation of Wynter’s work, while the section we will be reading offers an overview into Wynter’s thinking about the ways in which humanist discourse has functioned to exclude non-whites.