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Fri, 05.11.1928

Sylvia Wynter, Novelist and Philosopher born

Sylvia Wynter

*Sylvia Wynter was born on this date in 1928. She is a Black novelist, dramatist, critic, philosopher, and essayist.

Sylvia Wynter was born in Cuba to Jamaican parents, actress Lola Maude (Reid) Wynter, and tailor Percival Wynter. At the age of two, she and her brother Hector and their parents returned to their home country of Jamaica. Wynter attended the Ebenezer primary school in Kingston and, at 9, won a scholarship to attend the St Andrew High School for Girls, also in Kingston.

In 1946, she won the Jamaica Centenary Scholarship for Girls, which took her to King's College London to read for her B.A. in modern languages (Spanish) from 1947 to 1951. She was awarded the M.A. in December 1953. In 1956, Wynter met the Guyanese actor and novelist Jan Carew, who became her second husband. After separating from Carew, Wynter returned to academia. In 1958, she completed Under the Sun, a full-length stage play, which the Royal Court Theatre in London bought. In 1962, Wynter published her only novel, The Hills of Hebron

In the mid– to late–1960s, Wynter began writing critical essays addressing her interests in Caribbean, Latin American, and Spanish history and literature. In 1968 and 1969, she published a two-part article proposing transforming scholars' approach to literary criticism, "We Must Learn to Sit Down Together and Talk About a Little Culture: Reflections on West Indian Writing and Criticism." Wynter has since written numerous essays in which she seeks to rethink the fullness of human ontologies, which, she argues, have been curtailed by what she describes as an over-representation of (western bourgeois) Man as if it/he were the only available mode of complete humanness.

She suggests how multiple knowledge sources and texts might frame our worldview differently. In 1963, he was appointed assistant lecturer in Hispanic literature at the Mona University of the West Indies until 1974. During this time, the Jamaican government commissioned her to write the play 1865–A Ballad for a Rebellion, about the Morant Bay rebellion and a biography of Sir Alexander Bustamante, the first prime minister of independent Jamaica. In 1974, Wynter came to the University of California at San Diego to be a Comparative and Spanish Literature professor and lead a new program in Third World literature. She left UCSD in 1977 to become chairperson of African and Afro-American Studies and professor of Spanish in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Stanford University, where she worked until 1997.

Her work combines insights from the natural sciences, the humanities, art, and anti-colonial struggles to unsettle the "overrepresentation of Man."  Black studies, economics, history, neuroscience, psychoanalysis, literary analysis, film analysis, and philosophy are some of the fields she draws on in her scholarly work. She is highly poetic, expository, and complex, attempting to elucidate the development and maintenance of colonial modernity and the modern man. She interweaves science, philosophy, literary theory, and critical race theory to explain how the European man came to be considered the epitome of humanity, "Man 2" or "the figure of a man."

Wynter's theoretical framework has changed and deepened over the years. In her essay "Towards the Sociogenic Principle: Fanon, Identity, the Puzzle of Conscious Experience, and What It Is Like to be 'Black,' " Wynter developed a theoretical framework she refers to as the "sociogenic principle," which would become central to her work. Wynter derives this theory from analyzing Frantz Fanon's notion of "society." Wynter argues that Fanon's theorization of society envisions human beings (or experiences) as not merely biological but also based on stories and symbolic meanings generated within culturally specific contexts. Sociogeny as a theory therefore overrides, and cannot be understood within, Cartesian dualism for Wynter.

The social and the cultural influence the biological. In "Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument," Wynter explains that the West uses race to attempt to answer the questions of who and what we are—particularly after the enlightenment period that unveils religion as incapable of answering those questions. She is now Professor Emerita at Stanford University. In 2010, Sylvia Wynter received the Order of Jamaica (O.J.) for education, history, and culture services.

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