The CLR James Journal

Volume 28, Issue 1/2, Fall 2022

Brendan John Brown
Pages 33-60

The Black Cogito and the History of Unreason
Wynter on the Foucault and Derrida Debate

This essay seeks to unsettle the overrepresented, Eurocentric grounds of a pivotal debate in the history of Western philosophy. The debate between Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida on the topic of madness has had central significance for twentieth-century continental thought due to its lasting impact on the development, reception, and stakes of the respective thinker’s methodologies. While heavily written on and analyzed from the perspective of Western academic philosophy, little attention has been paid to the racialized, ‘Third World’ origins and structures of the debate and its content. I contend that the work of Sylvia Wynter addresses, critiques, and ameliorates these structures in heretofore previously unacknowledged ways. Specifically, Wynter’s work in “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom”, her diptych on the Ceremony (Must Be) Found, and her critical engagements with the submerged “abducting logic” of Western thought marks an incisive critique of both Foucault and Derrida’s interpretation of reason and madness in Western philosophy. As I argue, Wynter is committed to deconstructing the binary of madness/reason so as to unsettle the overrepresentation of Western logos. She does so through the liminal figure of the “black cogito” which disrupts and shakes the foundations of the debate, nor can either conflicting interpretation neatly assimilate this figure. That is, by deconstructing the debate on the history of madness Wynter demonstrates the paucity of their arguments about, on the one hand, the history of reason and the exclusion of madness, and, on the other, the metaphysical ambiguity of the Cartesian cogito. This essay aims to set out on an alternative history of the deconstruction of Western metaphysics initiated from the demonic grounds of being.