Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

On the Obsolescence of the Disciplines Frantz Fanon and Sylvia Wynter Propose a New Mode of Being Human

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

On the Obsolescence of the Disciplines Frantz Fanon and Sylvia Wynter Propose a New Mode of Being Human

Article excerpt

But they don't want to get to the fundamental issue. Once [Fanon] has said ontogeny-and-sociogeny, every discipline you 're practicing ceases to exist.

--Sylvia Wynter (2006b: 33)

This article discusses the difficult but necessary task of letting go of our current disciplinary boundaries in order to even begin to understand the who, what, why, when and how in which human beings work as humans beings. Sylvia Wynter argues that when Frantz Fanon made the little statement "beside phylogeny and ontogeny stands sociogeny" in Black Skin, White Masks (1967) he effectively ruptured our present knowledge system that our academic disciplines serve to maintain, by calling into question "our present culture's purely biological definition of what it is to be, and therefore of what it is like to be, human" (Wynter 2001: 31). This rupture that Fanon caused remains the space, Wynter argues, that will necessarily move us out of our present Western/European/ bio-economic conception of being human whereby the Self requires an Other for its definition, toward a hybrid nature-culture (2006a: 156) conception that needs no Other in order to understand Self (1976: 85).

If we do not move beyond, as we have already moved through, our present disciplines, the maintenance of which functions to insure our present world order, then we will never be able to properly deal with all the local and global crises that we confront and the study of which sociologists make our life's work until we first see these struggles as different facets of the "central ethno-class Man vs. Human" struggle (2003: 2601). These crises, Wynter notes, not the least of which includes the possibility of our species extinction, the sharply unequal distribution of the earth's resources, poverty, AIDs, and the like, must be seen as the direct effects of the sharp imbalance between the two cultures (Snow 1993 [1959]) or two languages (Pocock 1971: 6) between the natural sciences, on the one hand, and the humanities and the social sciences, on the other (Wynter 1995: 2).

That we have been unable to reach "another landscape"--as proposed by Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) in the 1960s--in order to "exoticize" Western thought to make visible its laws whereby we would be able to unfix the sign of blackness from the sign of evil, ugliness, and the negation of whiteness, has been for two reasons. These are, according to Wlad Godzich (1986) as quoted by Wynter, first, "the imperviousness of our present disciplines to phenomena that fall outside their pre-defined scope" and, second, "our reluctance to see a relationship so global in reach--between the epistemology of knowledge and the liberation of the people--a relationship that we are not properly able to theorize" (Wynter 2006a: 113).

The shift out of our present conception of Man, (1) out of our present "World System"--the one that places people of African descent and the ever-expanding global, transracial category of the homeless, jobless, and criminalized damned as the zero-most factor of Other to Western Man's Self--has to be first and foremost a cultural shift, not an economic one. Until such a rupture in our conception of being human is brought forth, such "sociological" concerns as that of the vast global and local economic inequalities, immigration, labor policies, struggles about race, gender, class, and ethnicity, and struggles over the environment, global warming, and distribution of world resources, will remain status quo. The rise of the disciplines would come to ensure the maintenance of the Master Conception of the Western epistemological order; in the present day, this order would in turn produce the classificatory system whereby jobless Black youth would be categorized as "No Humans Involved." The role of academics in reproducing this system is perhaps best articulated in Wynter's brilliant article by this title--as an open letter to her colleagues (1992).

The "rise of the West" by way of its contact with a "New World" outside of Europe, and the "specific idea of order"--an order that was to be effected and reproduced at the deepest levels of human cognition--was the result of this new relationship. …

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