An Aesthetics of Impossibility

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: Published: August 2016

Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Media Studies > Film

Offering a new queer theorization of melodrama, Jonathan Goldberg explores the ways melodramatic film and literature provide an aesthetics of impossibility. Focused on the notion of what Douglas Sirk termed the "impossible situation" in melodrama, such as impasses in sexual relations that are not simply reflections of social taboo and prohibitions, Goldberg pursues films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes that respond to Sirk's prompt. His analysis hones in on melodrama's original definition--a form combining music and drama--as he explores the use of melodrama in Beethoven's opera Fidelio, films by Alfred Hitchcock, and fiction by Willa Cather and Patricia Highsmith, including her Ripley novels. Goldberg illuminates how music and sound provide queer ways to promote identifications that exceed the bounds of the identity categories meant to regulate social life. The interaction of musical, dramatic, and visual elements gives melodrama its indeterminacy, making it resistant to normative forms of value and a powerful tool for creating new potentials. 


"Apropos of his homo-topics, Goldberg writes beautifully, in prose vulnerable and oppositional that elevates academic vernacular to a higher aesthetic plane.... Lucky for us, Goldberg’s decided we can’t have our Hitchcock without our Highsmith, and aren’t they a lovely pair. He writes about music in Hitchcock (something rarely considered) and explores how Highsmith thematizes music in her novels.... [Y]ou will trust Goldberg’s fast-paced, suspenseful ekphrasis and delight in reliving these extraordinary reversals on the page."
  — Maxe Crandall, Lambda Literary Review

"Goldberg achieves a greater, more nuanced understanding of melodrama’s potential for artistic and philosophical expression, as well as its unique importance for the study of media, gender, race, and sexuality." — Matthew J. M. Grant, Film Criticism

"Students of melodrama have long been drilled in the term’s literal meaning: music + drama. But before Jonathan Goldberg’s Melodrama, few have had the chance to take the music seriously. With a rare combination of musical expertise and critical acumen, Goldberg puts the pieces together in this book. . . . Exceptional. . . ." — Ned Schantz, Crticism

"Melodrama offers a distinctively queer theoretical contribution to the extensive scholarly work on melodrama in film and literary studies. The book is also a form of critical address that seeks to think with works of art the author clearly identifies with and also identifies as practicing a homo-aesthetics that traverses genres, media, and time." — Victoria Hesford, GLQ

"Melodrama is a major work that offers a superbly original way of thinking queerness, impossibility, and melodrama together. Exploring the insistence of nonidentity in the melodramatic mode, Jonathan Goldberg reads texts by Beethoven, Sirk, Fassbinder, Haynes, Hitchcock, Highsmith, Cather, and Davies to show how melodrama, by confronting limitation, reveals that nothing is only what it seems: other readings are always available; other potentialities always inhere. Beautifully elaborated, theoretically pointed, and intellectually provocative, Melodrama gives thought in constant motion a chance to take center stage." — Lee Edelman, author of No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive

"Jonathan Goldberg is always interesting and always incisive. In this wide-ranging and powerfully revisionist study he tracks the melodramatic form across music, film, fiction, and television, from Fidelio to The Wire. His suggestive readings show how melodrama’s rhetoric of moral peril generates queer energy and brings about 'an aesthetics of the impossible situation.'" — Michael Warner, author of Publics and Counterpublics


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jonathan Goldberg is Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English at Emory University and the author of several books, most recently Strangers on a Train: A Queer Film Classic. He is also the author of Willa Cather and Others and editor of Queering the Renaissance, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface  ix

Acknowledgments  xvii

Part I. The Impossible Situation

1. Agency and Identity: The Melodrama in Beethoven's Fidelio  3

2. Identity and Identification: Sirk—Fassbinder—Haynes  23

Part II. Melos + Drama

3. The Art of Murder: Hitchcock and Highsmith  83

4. Wildean Aesthetics: From "Paul's Case" to Lucy Gayheart  133

Coda  155

Notes  169

Bibliography  187

Index  197
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6191-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6175-6
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