- Occupying the Terrain:Reengaging "Beyond Miranda's Meanings: Un/Silencing the 'Demonic Ground' of Caliban's Woman"
This terrain, when fully occupied, will be that of a new science of human discourse, of human "life" beyond the "master discourse" of our governing "privileged text," and its sub/versions.—Sylvia Wynter, "Beyond Miranda's Meanings"
The introduction to Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature (1994), "Women and Literature in the Caribbean: An Overview," made a critical argument that referenced Sylvia Wynter as one of those erased because of the inattention to women in the Caribbean literary corpus.1 Wynter's participation as the writer of the afterword, "Beyond Miranda's Meanings," has attained signature importance and in my view ushered in her widened recognition in the US intellectual community.2 As we engage some of this text's meanings, it is important to also address its intellectual history.
While still in the process of putting together Out of the Kumbla, I met Abdul JanMohamed at a forum at the University of California, Berkeley, and described the forthcoming book to him, as one does when asked in conversation about ongoing projects.3 His response was immediately affirmative and supportive. But, more important, he suggested that I contact Wynter and ask her to contribute something, particularly because she had been recently criticized for not taking a firm feminist stance at a conference in California.4 JanMohamed felt then that she was perhaps misunderstood and that this was a good opportunity to get her ideas into circulation to a different audience.
At first, I felt that Wynter would be beyond the reach of our project. Her novel The Hills of Hebron (1962) was one of the first books by a Caribbean woman writer I encountered in my local library in Trinidad during my girlhood. Significantly, during my days as an African studies graduate student at Howard University, I would sit in C. L. R. James's Panafricanism course with a dear friend, Kenneth Forde, who was a member of a loose group of leftist/ [End Page 837] Panafricanist students at Howard, all of whom were enamored, some disciples, of James. Studying African literature with related scholarly and political interests, I happily attended the James class whenever I could and particularly one day when Ken told me that there would be a guest speaker whom I should hear. It was Sylvia Wynter, and she became then the first Caribbean woman scholar of intellectual power I had ever encountered.
In the mid-1980s, after I started working at Binghamton University (SUNY), one of my colleagues, Bill Spanos, who was the editor of the postmodern journal boundary 2, asked me if I was familiar with her work. When I indicated I was, he shared a recently published essay "The Ceremony Must Be Found: After Humanism" with me.5 As with most Wynter essays, it demanded multiple readings, always with the accompanying feeling when first encountering a Wynter essay, that full meaning was just beyond one's grasp.
I consulted with my coeditor, Elaine Savory Fido, following JanMohamed's suggestion, with a great deal of excitement, and we immediately decided to ask Wynter if she would write the afterword to what then was the first edited collection of critical works on Caribbean women's writing. We felt that this would be a good contribution if she agreed, precisely because she was both creative writer and scholar, and so her position would be a fitting way to indicate our intent with such a collection. Wynter graciously accepted, and since we had received all the other essays, we submitted a selection to her as she requested and waited patiently on her contribution. Interestingly, during the question-and-answer period after her lecture "Why We Cannot Save Ourselves in a Woman's Manner" at the First International Conference on the Women Writers of the English-speaking Caribbean, at Wellesley College in 1988, Wynter mentions this collection as offering her considerable reengagement with the topic. For in many ways, this lecture covered the same ground as the essay she submitted to us. When the essay arrived, it was over ninety pages long and loaded with European...