Shannon Winnubst: Way Too Cool

Until we’re able to speak about this racism as something that’s coming out of ‘us’ — and here I’m speaking particularly as a white person — out of our culture more broadly, then we don’t have a chance of really trying to handle what this persistent racism is.

Shannon Winnubst discusses her book Way Too Cool: Selling out Race and Ethics with Chris Richardson. She is Professor & Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University. In addition to Way Too Cool, she has also written Queering Freedom (Indiana UP: 2006) and many essays on a range of themes in the fields of queer theory, race theory, feminist theory, and twentieth century French philosophy (especially Bataille, Foucault, Irigaray, and Lacan).  She has also edited Reading Bataille Now (Indiana UP: 2006) and co-edited “Foucault and Queer Theory” for Foucault Studies (2012) as well as philoSOPHIA: A Journal of Continental Feminist Philosophy (2013-18).


Written in 1987, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” shakes the ground of dominant concepts of race, gender, and sexuality. Spillers writes from the split subjectivity of a black woman to trace how the concept of “gender” emerges in the transit of the ships of the transatlantic chattel slave trade. Detailing the practices of accounting on the ships, whereby “male” and “female” bodies were only distinguished by how much space they took up as cargo, Spillers shows how “gender” is a tool of Euro-North American colonial violence. With exquisitely detailed arguments about the foundational matricides that animate colonial modernity, this essay continues to provoke a profound rewiring of how we all think of race, gender, and sexuality —- including the ways these concepts function in theories of intersectionality.

Richard Dyer provides one of the most compelling frameworks for understanding the alleged invisibility of whiteness that I have ever encountered. The work on the iconography of Christ as a central structure of white masculinity continues to astonish me with its sheer explanatory force of heteronormative whiteness and its structural, layered disavowals. While also tracking some of the pitfalls of studying “whiteness” that are still relevant today, Dyer’s brilliant reading of films will likely alter how readers (especially white readers) view race and gender in visual media.

Following her brilliant Scenes of Subjection, Saidiya Hartman recounts her journey along a slave route in Ghana to offer a profound meditation on living as a descendant of slaves. Cast as an attempt to regain her roots, Hartman shares her revelations about the impossibilities of any such recovery with a moving honesty and vulnerability. The literary attention to details of places, encounters and events, as well as the nuances of hopes, losses, desires, disappointments, and anger, make this an incredibly powerful book. Lose Your Mother is a stunning meditation on the intertwining of temporalities, memories, and desires that continue to spin out of the foundational violence of 15th century colonialism and the emergent slave trade. I adamantly recommend this to anyone wanting to rewire the canonical European-North American understandings of modernity.

Bringing her exquisite film-making eye to contemporary scenes of U.S. imperialism, Trinh Minh-ha offers a lyrical and powerful meditation on the global state of endless war. With examples drawn from U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, the French colonization of Vietnam, the Vietnam War, and China’s occupation of Tibet, Trinh attunes us to the quotidian acts of resistance in the midst of this endless violence.  Bringing such mundane scenes to life, she offers many paths through the contemporary global epidemic of lovecidal. The book inspires me (a long, long time reader of Foucault!) to reconsider habituated relations to power and violence, valorizing creative acts of everyday resistance as the plane on which we can sustain ourselves.

Touted by The Guardian as one of the best books of 2016, In the Wake brings the afterlives of slavery fully into view. Sharpe weaves personal and cultural narratives seamlessly to show how the past of slavery is never past. In so doing, she generates powerful new conceptual frameworks for theorizing the ongoing, pervasive violence that animates anti-Blackness and white supremacy: the wake, the ship, the hold, the weather. Without the totalizing and abstracting effects that hinders a great deal of Afropessimist theory, Sharpe stays with the power of everyday grief and beauty to show how pleasures can become critical sites of care, including self-care, for Black living in the persistent wake of slavery. These meditations on death, loss, violence, and pleasure are unlike any we can glean from the canon of European philosophy and literature.