Political Disappointment: A Cultural History from Reconstruction to the AIDS Crisis


Product Details

Belknap Press
Publish Date
5.98 X 9.29 X 1.1 inches | 1.45 pounds

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About the Author

Sara Marcus is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame and the author of Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, a finalist for the National Award for Arts Writing.


Political Disappointment is an abundant text, overflowing with Sara Marcus's considerable gifts. She is adept at presenting history and narrative with equal clarity; her writing is urgent but also optimistic. This is a book that is sometimes painful but never sacrifices hope or beauty.--Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America
Sara Marcus beautifully and convincingly argues that the embrace of loss is the political technique of disappointment, while the possibility for dawn's break in concert with our kindred--chosen or inherited, living or dead--is its gift. Political Disappointment is an incredible contribution, a needed tool, and a skillful act of caretaking.--Shana L. Redmond, author of Everything Man: The Form and Function of Paul Robeson
Sara Marcus captures a polyphonic chorus of disappointed voices from American radical history in order to illuminate the transformations that such disappointment made possible. In a time of frustrated grief, her work offers grounds for the kind of optimism we need now-one based in a rigorous examination of failure.--Sarah Jaffe, author of Necessary Trouble and Work Won't Love You Back
In an elegant but earned reversal of conventional wisdom, Sara Marcus presents a new reading of American political culture in which disappointment, not hope, assumes its pride of place. Striking chords much deeper than most contemporary critiques of 'toxic optimism, ' Marcus's musical writing plays the changes on all our political losses, moving us to the wordless place beyond them.--Tavia Nyong'o, author of Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life
Disappointment haunts the American left. In this tour de force, Sara Marcus stares it down and discovers the generative possibilities that emerge from defeat. Whether it's an Audre Lorde poem, a David Wojnarowicz painting, or the 'sonic burrs' in a Leadbelly song, Marcus reveals the solidarities generated by defeat and how they animated the freedom dreams of some of the twentieth century's most enduring artists and activists. A stunning and timely cultural history.--Alice Echols, author of Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975
In the perilous times we inhabit, both utopian and dystopian visions are resurgent in art and criticism alike. Drawing energies from both, Sara Marcus's generous, capacious study also points beyond them, to how artistic work from Reconstruction's failure forward spoke eloquently of disappointment--and thus of a stance able to face a moment's limitation squarely as a means of envisioning next moves. In this book's inspired retelling, music--both literal and literary--becomes central to US political history, for its unparalleled ability to body forth expressions of the very shape of time.--Jennifer L. Fleissner, author of Maladies of the Will: The American Novel and the Modernity Problem
[This] book has the power to rouse readers out of their disenchantment long enough to consider how a variety of writers and artists since Reconstruction repurposed their sense of failure and frustration into new forms of artistic expression.--Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen "Yale Review" (6/12/2023 12:00:00 AM)
Marcus's dazzling close readings go a long way toward supporting the idea that political disappointment quite literally 'found form' in art, literature, and music, meaning as a place for these sentiments to lodge themselves. Marcus goes beyond merely placing the works in their historical contexts; she harvests historical contexts from within the works themselves.--Lynne Feeley "The Nation" (7/31/2023 12:00:00 AM)
Marcus shows the ways in which Black activists and writers, in particular, have continued to express their political desires. In doing so, she draws our attention to the centrality of disappointment in American political life.--Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor "New Yorker" (8/11/2023 12:00:00 AM)