“One does not write for slaves”: Wynter, sartre, and the poetic phenomenology of invention

William Michael Paris*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This article interrogates how Sylvia Wynter and Jean-Paul Sartre phenomenologically describe the relationship between freedom and invention. It is argued that from both thinkers a poetic phenomenology of invention can be derived. But the difference between Wynter and Sartre is that Sartre presupposes that literature can only be addressed to already “free” subjects who must take responsibility for their freedom in order to combat alienation. Thus, Sartre claims, “One does not write for slaves.” What is left undertheorized is the epistemic content of “freedom.” In contrast, Wynter reads the Black Aesthetics movement as providing an example of how literature must be addressed to those who are not free. In doing so they can invent new understandings of what it means to be free. The question of whether freedom precedes invention, à la Sartre, or invention must precede freedom, as Wynter claims, will affect how one conceptualizes subjectivity and liberation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-421
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Speculative Philosophy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2019


  • Black Aesthetics
  • Humanism
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Phenomenology
  • Sylvia Wynter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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