If men wish to be free, it is precisely sovereignty they must renounce.
—Hannah Arendt, “What Is Freedom?”
It matters how the story is told and retold.
—Bonnie Honig, Emergency Politics
Melodrama and the Pursuit of Freedom
Orgies of Feeling has examined how melodrama, as a po liti cal discourse, en-
ables public support for antidemo cratic and violent forms of state power,
including military occupation, securitization, and disenfranchisement. Th e
book moves beyond conventional readings of this public support, which as-
sume that people trade freedom for security, to argue that a desire for free-
dom, cultivated by melodramatic po liti cal discourse, paradoxically under-
girds it. Melodramatic genre conventions— including a moral economy of
good and evil, intensifi ed pathos, the righ teousness of overpowered subjects,
and plotlines that travel from injury to freedom— circulate as po liti cal dis-
courses that promise Americans that their legitimation of violent state
power both marks their virtue and restores their imperiled freedom. Melo-
drama has become so prominent in the twenty- fi rst century because its con-
ventions promise that heightened aff ects and dramatic acts of power can
revive individual and state sovereignty, in an era when both seem debilitated
by global powers beyond their control.
MELODRAMAS OF FAILED SOVEREIGNTY
Th e War on Terror as a Women’s Weepie