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From content warning to censorship
Jack Halberstam

This chapter discusses trigger warnings in university classrooms and explores notions of vulnerability, harm and danger in relation to emergent and contradictory strands of feminism. Some feminist writers, like Laura Kipnis, claim that university campuses have become home to sex panics and paranoia, evident in the calls for trigger warnings. Other feminists, like Sara Ahmed, register the university campus as a site of sexual violence and administrative indifference to which students react by asking for warnings. What kind of feminism is needed at a time that indicates a new level of sensitivity to explicit materials in classrooms and online? The chapter argues that trigger warnings should be opposed. While some content warnings are reasonable, given how much explicit material circulates on screens nowadays, the relations between explicit representations and trauma need to be questioned. Instead of defending viewers and students from difficult material, the trigger warning boils all explicit material down to assaultive imagery while at the same time it reduces the viewer to a defenceless, passive, and inert spectator.

in The power of vulnerability
Translatina world-making in The Salt Mines and Wildness
Laura Horak

This chapter discusses issues of trans social justice politics and ambivalences of transgender representation, focusing on two documentaries about translatina communities: The Salt Mines (US, Susana Aikin and Carlos Aparicio, 1990) and Wildness (US, Wu Tsang, 2012). The concept of vulnerability has become central to trans activism, in terms of both the political work of trans survival in the face of structurally enforced vulnerability and political organising that centres the experiences and leadership of the most vulnerable people. Trans media visibility is often hailed as an unalloyed good, but it can also contribute to the vulnerability of trans women of colour. The author argues that both documentaries provide potent examples of how cinema can contribute to the political project of trans of colour survival and imaginative world-making, even as they demonstrate the potential dangers of documentary representation.

in The power of vulnerability
Anu Koivunen, Katariina Kyrölä, and Ingrid Ryberg

This chapter introduces the main questions addressed in the book and thoroughly accounts for the concept of vulnerability, its various theoretical legacies and uses in feminist, anti-racist, and queer scholarship, and key role in present-day discussions about power, agency, and the media. Vulnerability is addressed both as a concept and as a political language. The authors highlight four aspects of how this language operates: as a human rights discourse, as a language easily appropriated by dominant groups, as a contested language invoking long-running debates in queer, feminist, and anti-racist media cultures, and as a language translated into cultural policymaking. The #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter campaigns exemplify how the public articulation of experiences of injury, trauma, and hurt can turn into powerful movements. However, in neo-liberal media culture, vulnerability operates as a political language not only for disadvantaged, but also for privileged groups. Claims of vulnerability can translate to claims to agency and voice, but these claims can have completely oppositional political consequences, depending on who is making them. Drawing from Lauren Berlant and Judith Butler, the chapter sheds light on this and other paradoxes that the concept of vulnerability evokes, and asks: what does the language of vulnerability do?

in The power of vulnerability
Johanna Gondouin, Suruchi Thapar-Björkert, and Ingrid Ryberg

This chapter analyses the racial and emotional dynamics in the acclaimed crime series Top of the Lake: China Girl (Australia, Jane Campion, 2017), set in Sydney where Inspector Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) leads the murder case of an unidentified young Asian woman. Revolving around charged issues such as surrogacy, adoption and migrant sex workers, the series offers a rich and complex reflection on the current debate about the global division of reproductive work across axes of gender, race, nationality, migrant status and class. The authors show how the series sets conflicting notions of vulnerability in motion, evoking diverging positions in the current debate: a Western liberal notion of reproductive rights on the one hand, and a postcolonial critical notion of reproductive justice on the other. China Girl, they argue, privileges the Western notion of reproductive rights by amplifying the emotional vulnerability of the white intended parents at the cost of the illegally contracted Thai surrogates in the series.

in The power of vulnerability
Open Access (free)
Encounters in America
Dagmawi Woubshet

This essay draws on James Baldwin’s ideas on race, immigration, and American identity to examine the experience of contemporary African immigrants in the United States. More Africans have come to the U.S. since 1965 than through the Middle Passage, and only now is their experience gaining the full creative and critical attention it merits. Since becoming American entails adopting the racial norms and sentiments of the U.S., I explore how African immigrants contend with the process of racialization that is part and parcel of the American experience. Drawing on Baldwin’s idea of blackness as an ethical category, I also consider the limits of the concept of Afropolitanism to characterize the new wave of African immigrants in the U.S.

James Baldwin Review
James Baldwin in Conversation with Fritz J. Raddatz (1978)
Gianna Zocco

This is the first English-language publication of an interview with James Baldwin conducted by the German writer, editor, and journalist Fritz J. Raddatz in 1978 at Baldwin’s house in St. Paul-de-Vence. In the same year, it was published in German in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, as well as in a book of Raddatz’s conversations with international writers, and—in Italian translation—in the newspaper La Repubblica. The interview covers various topics characteristic of Baldwin’s interests at the time—among them his thoughts about Jimmy Carter’s presidency, his reasons for planning to return to the United States, his disillusionment after the series of murders of black civil rights activists in the 1960s and 1970s, and the role of love and sexuality in his literary writings. A special emphasis lies on the discussion of possible parallels between Nazi Germany and U.S. racism, with Baldwin most prominently likening the whole city of New York to a concentration camp. Due to copyright reasons, this reprint is based on an English translation of the edited version published in German. A one-hour tape recording of the original English conversation between Raddatz and Baldwin is accessible at the German literary archive in Marbach.

James Baldwin Review
Robert Z. Birdwell

Go Tell It on the Mountain sheds light on James Baldwin’s response to his Pentecostal religious inheritance. Baldwin writes protagonist John Grimes’s experience of “salvation” as an act of his own break with his past and the inauguration of a new vocation as authorial witness of his times. This break is premised on the experience of kairos, a form of time that was derived from Baldwin’s experience of Pentecostalism. Through John Grimes’s experience, Baldwin represents a break with the past that begins with the kairotic moment and progresses through the beginnings of self-love and the possibility of freedom enabled by this love. This essay contributes a new perspective on discussions of Baldwin’s representation of time and his relationship to Christianity.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
James Baldwin and the Ethics of Trauma
Mikko Tuhkanen

This essay proposes that we turn to James Baldwin’s work to assess the cost of, and think alternatives to, the cultures of traumatization whose proliferation one witnesses in contemporary U.S. academia. Beginning with some recent examples, the essay briefly places these cultures into a genealogy of onto-ethics whose contemporary forms arose with the reconfiguration of diasporic histories in the idioms of psychoanalysis and deconstructive philosophy in 1990s trauma theory. Baldwin speaks to the contemporary moment as he considers the outcome of trauma’s perpetuation in an autobiographical scene from “Notes of a Native Son.” In this scene—which restages Bigger Thomas’s murderous compulsion in Native Son—he warns us against embracing one’s traumatization as a mode of negotiating the world. In foregoing what Sarah Schulman has recently called the “duty of repair,” such traumatized engagement prevents all search for the kind of “commonness” whose early articulation can be found in Aristotle’s query after “the common good” (to koinon agathon). With Baldwin, the present essay suggests the urgency of returning to the question of “the common good”: while mindful of past critiques, which have observed in this concept’s deployment a sleight-of-hand by which hegemonic positions universalize their interests, we should work to actualize the unfinished potential of Aristotle’s idea. Baldwin’s work on diasporic modernity provides an indispensable archive for this effort.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
Self-examining White Privilege and the Myth of America
Keely Shinners

James Baldwin, in his landmark essay “My Dungeon Shook,” says that white Americans are “still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.” This open letter explores this history on a personal level. Taking notes from Baldwin’s indictments of whiteness in Another Country and The Fire Next Time, this essay explores how white people, despite claims of deniability, become culpable, complicit, and ensnared in their racial privilege. By reading Baldwin’s work through a personal lens, it implores fellow white readers and scholars of Baldwin to begin examining the myths of America by first examining themselves.

James Baldwin Review
James Baldwin Review