Uncommon Sense: Jeremy Bentham, Queer Aesthetics, and the Politics of Taste [Book Review]

British Journal of Aesthetics 63 (4):608-611 (2023)
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It would be an almost comical understatement to say that, throughout my graduate study in philosophy and subsequent years of teaching and writing, I found myself engaging with the works of Jeremy Bentham somewhat infrequently. Beyond flavorful anecdotes about mummified heads and jabs about stilted nonsense in my undergraduate Intro to Ethics courses—as we segued into extended discussion of John Stuart Mill, of course—Bentham’s direct and recognized role in my philosophical activities has been pretty much nonexistent. With all that said: as a sexual- and gender- nonconforming aesthetician and LGBTQIA+ educator and wellness professional living in what is now a post-Roe United States, I found Carrie D. Shanafelt’s Uncommon Sense: Jeremy Bentham, Queer Aesthetics, and the Politics of Taste (2021) to be rich, captivating, and at times, even genuinely comforting. Shanafelt’s short book is equal parts history of philosophy, philosophical history, biography, and queer manifesto, written in an accessible manner that successfully balances scholarship with readability. I could easily see Uncommon Sense engendering rich discussion in graduate seminars as well as undergraduate courses of various sorts—though I can just as easily see portions of the book’s content generating various rumbles of controversy, at least at some of the institutions I’ve taught at before. (See, for example, Chapter Four, titled ‘Bentham’s Queer Christ.’) Any anticipatory worries of short-sighted reactionary takes aside, the book would absolutely serve well as the central focus on an entire course, supplemented by a range of literature and scholarly material from philosophical aesthetics, queer studies, political theory, and more. Honestly, I would love to teach that class.



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Wesley Cray
Ohio State University

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