In the final of four talks presented in conjunction with Cameron Rowland’s exhibition 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73
, writer and cultural historian Saidiya Hartman is joined by fellow scholar Anthony Bogues and Rowland to discuss “Black Metamorphosis,” a highly influential but as yet unpublished text from the 1970s by Caribbean theorist Sylvia Wynter.
Currently accessible only as a 900-page manuscript housed at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, “Black Metamorphosis” is nonetheless considered as a vital text for its articulation of ‘plantation societies’ in the Americas from the 17th century onwards as fundamental to the emergence of capitalism and the making of the modern world. Reaching through and beyond this historical process, Wynter’s expansive text seeks “to explore… the socio-economic sea-change, the cultural metamorphosis by which the multi-tribal African became the native of that area of experience we term the New World.” While articulating the violent production of black ‘non-norms’ and the negation of black humanity, Wynter simultaneously locates the generation of rebellious cultural action and participation that marks the affirmation of black life.
Plotting the importance of this work and its marking of the limits of Marxism, “Black Metamorphosis” posits the ways in which black cultural production reimages the possibilities of new forms of revolt and living. This conversation between Hartman, Bogues and Rowland will focus on intersections between their individual areas of research and practice, and Wynter's text.
Saidiya Hartman is a Columbia University professor of English and Comparative Literature. She is the former director of the Institute for Research on Gender and Sexuality at Columbia University and was a Whitney Oates Fellow at Princeton University (2002), a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library (2016 – 2017), a Critical Inquiry Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago (2018), and a Guggenheim Fellow (2018-19). She is the author of Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford University Press, 1997), Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007) and Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (W. W. Norton & Company, 2019). In 2019 Hartman was awarded a prestigious MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant.
Anthony Bogues is a scholar, writer and curator. He is the Asa Messer professor of Humanities and Critical Theory, Professor of Africana studies and affiliated professor of Art at Brown University where he is the inaugural director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. He is the author / editor of nine books in the fields of intellectual and cultural history, political thought and Caribbean art with a focus on Haitian art. He is a member of the Scientific Council of the Centre D’Art, in Port Au Prince, Haiti, and has curated art and historical exhibitions in the USA, Caribbean and South Africa. He is currently the co-convener and co-curator with the Smithsonian National African Museum of History and Culture of an international exhibition titled, In Slavery’s Wake. He edited the volume After Man Towards the Human: Critical Essays on Sylvia Wynter (2005), and is currently co-editing a volume of Wynter’s unpublished works, alongside working with a team of graduate students on the editing of Wynter’s “Black Metamorphosis” for publication.