Obama and Emotion

If you have negative thoughts in what is for many a happy moment, you are likely to be viewed with hostility. Who are you to rain on the long-awaited positive parade? These sorts of defensive and angry reactions to cautionary notes regarding Obama highlight the already obvious role of emotion in the 2008 election. What most people recount–and what I posted myself about on election night–was how it felt to have Obama win; relief, joy, tears, some deeply desired sense of political belonging are among the many feelings recounted on the Left. Because there has been so little opportunity to feel this way on the American Left since the 1960s, I think these feelings are particularly seductive and intoxicating for my generation.

Now a variety of Left thinkers have begun to write about the need to resist the euphoria that has accompanied the Obama election. One of the things that is interesting to me about these really compelling analyses is the role played by emotion in them. In many cases they overtly recommend thought over feeling, casting emotion as a dangerous element in the political process. As much as I heartily endorse many of the actual thoughts offered regarding the election, I wonder about casting the necessity for critique and caution as an example of the need for thought over feeling–surely there is a feeling attached to critique as well? If identification is an emotion, I would guess that disidentification is as well. I wonder if there might be something to do with the emotions people experienced besides dismantling them–perhaps along the lines recommended by htg in her most recent post. Certainly I think it’s worth remembering the number of crimes committed under the banner of rationality, as well as those under the banner of emotional catharsis. In any case, though, these two short essays in particular are well worth reading as warnings about an overly celebratory approach to the Obama presidency:

Judith Butler, Uncritical Exuberance?
Dylan Rodriguez, The Dreadful Genius of the Obama Moment


1 Comment

Filed under election 2008, race, Social Justice

One response to “Obama and Emotion

  1. jke4

    An emailed comment from JDR:

    “Butler’s seemed pretty innocuous; about what you’d expect.

    Rodriguez…well, it’s like, I think he’s basically right about America’s destructive violence. And while his critique of Obama’s liberalism and neoliberalism is spot on, there is something about it that does not ring entirely true. The critique is so totalizing that it leaves no room for conceiving of some incremental change, some ongoing, continuing, endless modification of the field of political possibility. Essentially he seems to be saying, or near to saying, that we would be better off with no Obama because at least with a Bush there is no falsifying figure of national multicultural unity standing in for and masking the ongoing process of genocide. Is it too reductive to think this sounds reductive? On the one hand, where would we be without Rodriguez and co., who else will pursue the radical critique of the prison industry, etc. etc.? On the other hand, it reads like political fantasy. The purity of its critique worries me. “

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