The first live recording of the Podcast for Social Research, episode fifteen takes up the forms and feelings of American electoral politics in light of the least popular election in recent American history. Audrey, Ajay, Jude, Tony, and Rebecca consider the historical background of presidential politics, the apocalyptic rhetoric surrounding the current election, affect in the American political scene, sleek sharks in tailored suits, mythical civilities of the Enlightenment, and recent arguments advanced by Nancy Fraser, Andrew Arato, Arun Gupta, and Lauren Berlant. This episode, recorded just before a screening of the third and final presidential debate of 2016, also includes a live Q&A session.
Audrey’s note: For those interested in the affective dimension of American politics, which we brushed on during the podcast but did not linger on, I recommend reading Laurent Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (Duke University Press, 2011), which lays out some useful ways to talk about genre and narrative form in political discourse. I would also highly recommend reading Elizabeth Anker’s Orgies of Feelings: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom (Duke University Press, 2014), in which the author argues that melodrama is the dominant genre structuring post-9/11 American political life.
Finally, Wendy Brown’s Walled State Waning Sovereignty (MIT Press, 2010) is a great book to contextualize Donald Trump’s obsession with building a wall on the Mexican border. In this book, Brown argues that the aggressive assertion of borders through wall building in the US and elsewhere is symptomatic, perhaps counterintuitively, of the erosion of state sovereignty and the waning relevance of the nation-state as political form.
[n.b. all Audrey’s recommended texts are linked in the sidebar]
Rebecca’s note: Leftist melancholia (or left-wing melancholy or simply left melancholy) derives from Walter Benjamin’s damning 1931 review of the work of the poet Erich Kästner (linked below). Left melancholy emerges as “the attitude to which there is no longer, in general, any corresponding political action . . . [t]he metamorphosis of political struggle from a compulsory decision into an object of pleasure, from a means of production into an article of consumption.” Benjamin asks
[w]hat, then, does the “intellectual elite” discover as it begins to take stock of its feelings? Those feelings themselves? They have long since been remaindered. What is left is the empty spaces where, in dusty heart-shaped velvet trays, the feelings—nature and love, enthusiasm and humanity—once rested. Now the hollow forms are absentmindedly caressed. A know-all irony thinks it has much more in these supposed stereotypes than the things themselves; it makes a great display of its poverty and turns the yawning emptiness into a celebration. For this is what is new about this objectivity—it takes as much pride in the traces of former spiritual goods as the bourgeouis do in their material goods. Never have such comfortable arrangements been made in such an uncomfortable situation.
Is there anything sadder than a dry afternoon out of eternity spent in arranging and rearranging a set of empty, dusty, heart-shaped velvet trays? One might distract oneself from the cat’s cradle of affective tautologies with Wendy Brown’s essay “Resisting Left Melancholy” (also linked below), which is a beginning—more difficult than you’d think, actually, to learn to love a beginning—if not an end.
Technical Details: Recorded at Brooklyn’s 61 Local on October 19th, 2016 with a Studio Projects B1, a Shure SM-58, a Shure VP64A, a SONY-PCM-M10, a Behringer mixer, a borrowed PA system, a live audience, a cornucopia of 61’s culinary delights, and a decorous little river of alcohol. This episode of the Podcast for Social Research was edited by Susan Lee.