As the recent revival of Sylvia Wynter's scholarship has commanded the attention of a younger generation of scholars, the special section of Small Axe dedicated to her “forgotten” work provides an occasion to reconsider the prehistory to her theory of the human. Rather than simply chart Wynter's intellectual journey and rehearse the progression from a cultural concern to a seemingly more profound interrogation of the human, this essay suspends this narrative transition in order to traverse the conceptual field from which Wynter's “Black Metamorphosis” emerges. Focusing on Wynter's sustained engagement with racial subjection and/as the morphological production of blackness, the essay argues that the “underlife” Wynter traces from the provision grounds of the colonial plantation to the black urban ghettos in the United States effectively displaces her future critique of Western humanism with a source of vitality that undercuts the mechanization of black life. Ultimately, what gets lost in the anticipation of critique is a certain appreciation of black social living.

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