In Hope Draped in Black Joseph R. Winters responds to the enduring belief that America follows a constant trajectory of racial progress. Such notions—like those that suggested the passage into a postracial era following Barack Obama's election—gloss over the history of racial violence and oppression to create an imaginary and self-congratulatory world where painful memories are conveniently forgotten. In place of these narratives, Winters advocates for an idea of hope that is predicated on a continuous engagement with loss and melancholy. Signaling a heightened sensitivity to the suffering of others, melancholy disconcerts us and allows us to cut against dominant narratives and identities. Winters identifies a black literary and aesthetic tradition in the work of intellectuals, writers, and artists such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and Charles Burnett that often underscores melancholy, remembrance, loss, and tragedy in ways that gesture toward such a conception of hope. Winters also draws on Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno to highlight how remembering and mourning the uncomfortable dimensions of American social life can provide alternate sources for hope and imagination that might lead to building a better world.
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Joseph R. Winters is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University.
"In this thought-provoking, demanding, and courage-inspiring book, Joseph R. Winters urges his readers to embrace narratives of progress that force them to confront loss. In so doing, he opens us up to more realistic and more human possibilities for identity and community. Winters's ethical passion is lovely to behold." (Dana D. Nelson, author of Commons Democracy: Reading the Politics of Participation in the Early United States)
"Joseph R. Winters argues that the tragicomic dimension of African American life manifests as a kind of 'melancholic hope.' He traces this uncanny desire to hear the anguished cries of the ancestors, to revisit the site of historical trauma, across multiple domains: from the foundational scholarship of Du Bois to politics in the age of Obama. Drawing on the spiritual/blues/jazz impulse in black culture and Walter Benjamin, Winters reveals the capaciousness and paradoxical productivity of hope draped in melancholy." (William David Hart, author of Afro-Eccentricity: Beyond the Standard Narrative of Black Religion)
"In lucid prose and with a fluid grasp of diverse cultural text ... Winters demonstrates how a central strain of the black cultural tradition has been to disrupt the narrative of progress.... Against historians who simply cast racial progress as historically inaccurate and posit more cyclical theories of history (that the past recurs in unexpected ways), Winters powerfully contends that progress-talk helps keep injustice in place, creating the justification for collective moral apathy toward racial violence and a disregard for radical racial disparities—all in the name of their eventual eradication." (Alex Zamalin Political Theory 2017-10-01)
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