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CR: The New Centennial Review 3.3 (2003) 257-337

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Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom
Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument

Sylvia Wynter
Stanford University


Guide-Quotes 1

One thing in any case is certain: man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed for human knowledge. Taking a relatively short chronological sample within a restricted geographical area—European culture since the sixteenth century—one can be certain that man is a recent invention within it. . . . In fact, among all the mutations that have affected the knowledge of things and their order, the . . . only one, that which began a century and a half ago and is now perhaps drawing to a close, has made it possible for the figure of man to appear. And that appearance . . . was the effect of a change in the fundamental arrangements of knowledge. . . . If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared . . . one can certainly wager that man would be erased.
—Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of The Human Sciences [End Page 257]
The reality in highly indebted countries is grim. Half of Africa's population—about 300 million people—live without access to basic healthcare or a safe water source. In Tanzania, where 40 percent of the population dies before age 35, the government spends nine times more on foreign debt payments than on healthcare. In 1997, before Hurricane Mitch, Nicaragua spent more than half its revenue on debt payments. Until recently, it has taken countries in structural adjustment programs six or more years to get debt relief. For lenders this seems like common sense—making sure the country has its economic house in order before canceling debts—but the human cost is tremendous. Six years is a child's entire elementary school education. If governments are forced to cut subsidies for public education and charge fees that make schooling too expensive for the poor, it cheats a whole generation of children.
—Robert W. Edgar, "Jubilee 2000: Paying Our Debts"
Step up to the White House, "Let me in!"
What's my reason for being? I'm your next of kin,
And we built this motherfucker, you wanna kill me 'cause o' my hunger?
. . . I'm just a black man, why y'all made it so hard?
Damn, nigga gotta go create his own job,
Mr. Mayor, imagine this was yo backyard,
Mr. Governor, imagine it's yo kids that starve,
Imagine yo kids gotta slang crack to survive,
Swing a Mac to be alive, . . .
Extinction of Earth? Human cutdown? . . .
Tax-payers pay for more jails for black and latin faces"
—Nas, "CIA"
Definitions of the intellectual are many and diverse. They have, however, one trait in common, which makes them also different from all other definitions: they are all self-definitions. Indeed, their authors are the members of the same rare species they attempt to define. . . . The specifically intellectual form of the operation—self-definition—masks its universal content which is [End Page 258] the reproduction and reinforcement of a given social configuration, and—with it—a given (or claimed) status for the group.
—Zygmunt Bauman, Legislators and Interpreters:
On Modernity, Post-Modernity and Intellectuals
What is known as the Gregorian reform was actually an effort of modernization initiated and carried out by the Church from about 1050 until 1215 (the year of the Fourth Lateran Council). The reform first of all established the independence of the Church from secular society. And what better barrier could have been erected between clergy and laity than that of sexuality? Marriage became the property of lay men and women; virginity, celibacy, and/or continence became the property of priests, monks, and nuns. A wall separated the pure from the impure. Impure liquids were banished from the realm of the pure: the clergy was not allowed to spill sperm or blood and not permitted to perpetuate original sin through procreation. But in the realm of the impure the flow was not stanched...