In The Communist Horizon (again, about which more later) , Jodi Dean gives an account of Wendy Brown’s piece on left melancholy. According to Dean, Brown argues that the left suffers from melancholy because it steadfastly continues to regurgitate its well-worn critique of the powers that be. This critique becomes the sad pony’s only trick, and any creative thinking about alternatives is left to the side. This left tends to be backward-looking, self-punishing, and attached to its own failure. It refuses to let go of a revolutionary model based on unified movements, social totalities, and class politics. Faced with the abject failure of its politics, this left transfers blame onto any number of new-left initiatives like identity politics, discourse analysis, and post-modern literary critique.
Brown seems to nail the problem entirely, which is weird because in my experience with her (a talk at UW and her piece in Democracy in What State?) she seems to suffer from a version of this melancholia quite clearly. Then again, there were some good things in this piece, which I wrote a bit about. So I think my jury remains out on Brown.
For Dean, unfortunately, no such luck. She disagrees with Brown and goes on to 1) reblame the new left for the failure of the left and 2) argue for doubling down (more or less) on the unity-party-state-class-discipline-violence model. Sigh.