Sylvia Wynter awarded the Order of Jamaica
Below is the Hon Professor Wynter's response to the letter of congratulations on her award sent by Professor Brian Meeks on behalf of the CCT.
Thank you, as well as all at the Centre for Caribbean Thought, for your most gracious letter of congratulations. I truly appreciate it, as I appreciated the honor that the Centre did me by hosting the seminar in which I first proposed the idea of "After Man, Toward the Human." The premise, that is, that I had and have increasingly continued to see as one specific to our Caribbean perspective. The perspective, therefore, of what was to be, after 1492, not only an essentially new, but an essentially world-historical people. One now confronted by what I see as the imperative of the effecting of a profound mutation in what is now the globally hegemonic Western European, secular, and thereby naturalized understanding of being human.
As such a mutation which is indeed even more far-reaching than that which had been effected by the post-medieval Renaissance humanists of Europe on the basis of their "invention of Man" as a separate notion from "Christian"; in effect, their epochally desupernaturalizing reconception of being human. Which was itself the very reconception that was to bring our societies into being. This reconception, however, was to lead to what I have come to define as the "hitherto irresolvable aporia of the secular." An aporia whose far-reaching humanly emancipatory aspects were to be, Janus-facedly, correlated with its no less far-reachingly humanly devalorizing and degrading aspects; the emancipatory and the devalorizing/degrading therefore being non-negotiable conditions each of the effecting of the other. This contradiction being itself one which, we know all too well, is nowhere more iconically enacted than in our Caribbean societies from then until today. I therefore believe that it is the resolution of this hitherto irresolvable aporia of the secular, whose naturalized, now biologized, globally homogenized, homo oeconomicus understanding of being human now dialectically confronts us as Caribbean societies, with the imperative of its deconstruction.
That is, with its displacement by a new conception that is now ecumenically human, the enactment of whose “referent we” will no longer call for our present, in Badiou’s terms, “murderous division of the world into two”—this as expressed in our now internet-integrated planet of the middle class suburbia/exurbia/gentrified inner city “referent we,” on the one hand, and on the other, that of the rapidly urbanizing “planet of slums.” One recalls here this division as expressed by the recent tragic events in Jamaica’s own Tivoli Gardens.
This new conception will instead call for the world-systemic enactment of a new “referent we”; that is, one which as the “referent we” now in the “horizon of humanity” (Derrida’s term) would necessarily, inter-altruistically, kin-recognizingly, have to be. That is, beyond the limits of our present biocentric Darwinian-Malthusian homo oeconomicus understanding of being human; that is, Man overrepresented as isomorphic with the being of being human itself. In effect, while building on all the emancipatory possibilities that the naturalized Western understanding of being human over the last five hundred years had made possible, this new conception will now necessarily move beyond the limits of that understanding.
If we are to deal with the interconnected series of dangers and disasters, including centrally that of increasing poverty and dispossession as well as real-life effects—in Barney’s terms, those of the interconnected, interacting series of accumulated ills, including global warming-induced climate instability, that are our “global problematique”—with which both as a Caribbean people, and as a species, we are now confronted. I believe that the unique origins and contemporary situation of the Caribbean call on us as its intellectuals to attempt to realize a now ecumenical—therefore, post-Western European, that is, post-monohumanistic, and complementarily post-monotheistic—conception of being human. In Fanonian (i.e. Black Skin, White Masks) terms, which defines the human as ontogeny on one hand, and sociogeny on the other; in effect, in my own adapted terms, one now meta-Darwinianly redefined as, from its origins, a storytelling (Arsuaga), and thereby hybridly auto-instituting species, both bios and mythos, Gene and Word. Yet one of whose recognition as such we have been hitherto unaware.
Because of my health conditions at the moment, I shall unfortunately not be able to travel to Jamaica to accept the award. My son will accept it on my behalf. So I shall miss being able, for the time being, to continue my face-to-face discussion with you and your colleagues at the Centre, as I had been able to do almost a decade ago at that memorable seminar.
Once again, my appreciation for that long ago event, and I very much hope that whatever is of use of my work will form a part of your generation’s already well established intellectual and imaginative explorations towards the realization of our world historical role.
With every good wish,