Volume 9, Issue 1, Winter 2019
Unsettling the Coloniality of the Affects: Transcontinental Reverberations between Teresa Brennan and Sylvia Wynter
This article interprets Teresa Brennan’s (2004) work on the forgetting of affect transmission in conjunction with Sylvia Wynter’s (2003) argument concerning the rise of Western Man through the dehumanization of native and African peoples. While not directly in dialogue, Wynter’s decolonial reading of Foucault’s (1994) epistemic ruptures enriches Brennan’s inquiry into this “forgetting,” given that callous, repeated acts of cruelty characteristic of Western imperialism and slavery required a denial of the capacity to sense suffering in others perceived as differently human. Supplementing Brennan with Wynter, we can better describe the limits of sympathy discourses as resting on identification and perceived sameness. In turn, Brennan (posthumously) comes to Wynter’s defense in her call for a new science of plural cultures to redefine the human, which some have interpreted as a positivist misreading of Frantz Fanon (2008). Brennan and Wynter alike have been criticized for their appeals to science; yet, I defend their respective proposals for social-scientific inquiry with support from Brennan’s response to the 1996 Sokal Hoax: the influence of the social on the biological body is, indeed, difficult to study, but this does not invalidate the inquiry as such.