Melodrama is not just a film or literary genre but a powerful political discourse that galvanizes national sentiment to legitimate state violence. Finding virtue in national suffering and heroism in sovereign action, melodramatic political discourses cast war and surveillance as moral imperatives for eradicating villainy and upholding freedom. In Orgies of Feeling, Elisabeth R. Anker boldly reframes political theories of sovereignty, freedom, and power by analyzing the work of melodrama and affect in contemporary politics. Arguing that melodrama animates desires for unconstrained power, Anker examines melodramatic discourses in the War on Terror, neoliberal politics, anticommunist rhetoric, Hollywood film, and post-Marxist critical theory. Building on Friedrich Nietzsche's notion of "orgies of feeling," in which overwhelming emotions displace commonplace experiences of vulnerability and powerlessness onto a dramatic story of injured freedom, Anker contends that the recent upsurge in melodrama in the United States is an indication of public discontent. Yet the discontent that melodrama reflects is ultimately an expression of the public's inability to overcome systemic exploitation and inequality rather than an alarmist response to inflated threats to the nation.
Elisabeth R. Anker Duke University Press, 2022 Library of Congress JC585.A534 2022
In Ugly Freedoms Elisabeth R. Anker reckons with the complex legacy of freedom offered by liberal American democracy, outlining how the emphasis of individual liberty has always been entangled with white supremacy, settler colonialism, climate destruction, economic exploitation, and patriarchy. These “ugly freedoms” legitimate the right to exploit and subjugate others. At the same time, Anker locates an unexpected second type of ugly freedom in practices and situations often dismissed as demeaning, offensive, gross, and ineffectual but that provide sources of emancipatory potential. She analyzes both types of ugly freedom at work in a number of texts and locations, from political theory, art, and film to food, toxic dumps, and multispecies interactions. Whether examining how Kara Walker’s sugar sculpture A Subtlety, Or the Marvelous Sugar Baby reveals the importance of sugar plantations to liberal thought or how the impoverished neighborhoods in The Wire blunt neoliberalism’s violence, Anker shifts our perspective of freedom by contesting its idealized expressions and expanding the visions for what freedom can look like, who can exercise it, and how to build a world free from domination.