Orgies of Feeling

Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom

Orgies of Feeling

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 14 illustrations Published: August 2014

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Politics > Political Theory

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.


“Anker’s bookis a powerful, insightful examination of the ways that melodrama shapes contemporary articulations of political subjectivity and sovereignty…. [Her] bold and creative analysis will significantly shape readers' understanding of contemporary political discourse…. Highly recommended.” — R. W. Glover, Choice

Orgies of Feeling remains, on the whole, a nuanced and incisive text…. I have no doubt that this book will be of great interest to scholars across the fields of politics studies, cultural studies, literary and film studies, American studies and affect and emotion studies.” — Carolyn Pedwell, Theory & Event

 "In Anker’s persuasive argument, melodramas of failure offer the possibility of new modes of social critique and new imaginaries of freedom." — Judie Newman, Journal of American Studies

"Orgies of Feeling [is] a deeply compelling and smart work that itself defies genre convention, standing between political theory, cultural studies, and media studies.... This is a largely successful book, one that will surely have a significant impact on the field." — Vincent Lloyd, American Studies

"This book is a powerful and important book, unravelling familiar events and ideas from a new perspective. It engages the reader in manifold sensitive methods with the political binaries with which we are offered to construct our political lives and the techniques by which they are constructed."  — Dana Mills, Political Theory

"Anker’s book is powerful, well researched, and important for scholars interested in American culture, political theory, and September 11, 2001."  — Susan Jeffords, Journal of American History

"Important, imaginative, at times dazzling, [Orgies of Feeling] offers a major interpretation of recent politics and an inspiring example of what political theory can be now. . . . Elizabeth Anker has given us a work to think with and learn from for years to come." — Mark Reinhardt, Perspectives on Politics

"Orgies of Feeling provides a critical, original, and important contribution to the fields of political and literary theory and cultural studies, and should be widely read." — Tyler J. Pollard, symploke

"... timely, well-composed. . . . [A] major contribution by solidly establishing the ideological work accomplished by familiar feelings.This work teaches us to recognize and assess conventional feelings produced by narratives of a heroic critical resistance to stale orthodoxy and treat with some skepticism claims to have discovered a triumphant freedom—including freedom lying beyond the shores of critique." — Caren Irr, American Literature

"The greatest triumph of [Orgies of Feeling], then, is that it not only explains the support behind state-sanctioned warfare after 9/11 but helps us understand the ramifications of political melodrama in our present moment." — Koel Banerjee, Cultural Critique

"Anyone who thinks that melodrama is inherently politically progressive is advised to read this book, the first to systematically apply the role of the American melodramatic mode to the politics of American heroic sovereignty. Perhaps the boldest part of Elisabeth R. Anker's thesis is not simply the general argument that Americans often cast their politics into narratives of victimization and vengeance, but the historical argument that a new kind of melodrama has emerged 'with a vengeance' after the end of the Cold War and especially after 9/11. I am in awe at this book's boldness and acuity."
  — Linda Williams, author of On The Wire

"Story tokens lodged in the cultural unconscious provide containers within which difficult events are grasped, grievances are defined, and political expectations are generated. In this impressive, beautifully crafted book Elisabeth R. Anker excavates the politics of melodrama; she offers strategies to transcend it on some occasions and to creatively redeploy it on others. A subtle, commanding study, helping to reconfigure our understandings of freedom, sovereignty and critical action." — William E. Connolly, author of The Fragility of Things: Self-Organizing Processes, Neoliberal Fantasies, and Democratic Activism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elisabeth R. Anker is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Political Science at George Washington University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction. Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom 1
1. The Venomous Eye: Melodrama, Media, and National Identity after 9/11 31
2. The Melodramatic Style of American Politics: A Transnational History 65
3. Felt Legitimacy: Victimization and Affect in the Expansion of State Power 110
4. Orgies of Feeling: Terror, Agency, and the Failure of the (Neo)Liberal Individual 149
5. Heroic Identifications; or, You Can Love Me Too—I Am So like the State 180
6. Left Melodrama 203
Conclusion. Melodramas of Failed Sovereignty: The War on Terror as a Women's Weepie 225
Notes 259
Bibliography 307
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Finalist, 2015 Lora Romero First Book Prize, presented by the American Studies Association

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