Resilience & Melancholy
Neoliberalism co-opts noisy riots like feminism and hardcore music--can melancholic siren songs fight back?
While most people think that the idea “little girls should be seen and not heard” is conservative while a noisy, riotous scream can be revolutionary, that’s not the case anymore. (Cis/Het/White) Girls aren’t supposed to be virginal, passive objects, but Poly-Styrene-like sirens who scream back in spectacularly noisy and transgressive ways as they “Lean In.” Resilience is the new, neoliberal feminine ideal: real women overcome all the objectification and silencing that impeded their foremothers. Resilience discourse incites noisy damage, like screams, so that it can be recycled for a profit. It turns the crises posed by avant-garde noise, feminist critique, and black aesthetics into opportunities for strengthening the vitality of multi-racial white supremacist patriarchy (MRWaSP).
Reading contemporary pop music – Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Calvin Harris – with and against political philosophers like Michel Foucault, feminists like Patricia Hill Collins, and media theorists like Steven Shaviro, /Resilience & Melancholy/ shows how resilience discourse manifests in both pop music and in feminist politics. In particular, it argues that resilient femininity is a post-feminist strategy for producing post-race white supremacy. Resilience discourse allows women to “Lean In” to MRWaSP privilege because their overcoming and leaning-in actively produce blackness as exception, as pathology, as death.
The book also considers alternatives to resilience found in the work of Beyonce, Rihanna, and Atari Teenage Riot. Updating Freud, James calls these pathological, diseased iterations of resilience “melancholy.” Melancholy makes resilience unprofitable, that is, incapable of generating enough surplus value to keep MRWaSP capitalism healthy. Investing in the things that resilience discourse renders exceptional, melancholic siren songs like Rihanna’s “Diamonds” steer us off course, away from resilient “life” and into the death.
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What does electronic dance music have to do with the ways that sexism and racism take on new forms in our "post-racial" and "post-feminist" society? Robin James draws the connections in this remarkable book. She is equally brilliant in unmasking the new forms of domination that oppress us today, and in analyzing how certain works of pop music – Rihanna's recent album, for instance – don't just illuminate and encapsulate these forms, but may even help to show us a way out. ~ Steven Shaviro
At the heart of this book is a clever trick: it unmasks the seemingly frothy, passing and marginal as representative and emblematic of deeper, sinister neoliberal phenomena. The trick is that it does this without artifice, unnecessary earnestness or hyperbole. It does it through attention to detail – James takes her subjects seriously, neoliberal harms seriously, and the book is as important as a lesson in method as in its content. A significant achievement. ~ David Webster, University of Glouchestershire, Author of Cross the Water Blues & Dispirited