Ahmed draws on the intellectual history of happiness, from classical accounts of ethics as the good life, through seventeenth-century writings on affect and the passions, eighteenth-century debates on virtue and education, and nineteenth-century utilitarianism. She engages with feminist, antiracist, and queer critics who have shown how happiness is used to justify social oppression, and how challenging oppression causes unhappiness. Reading novels and films including Mrs. Dalloway, The Well of Loneliness, Bend It Like Beckham, and Children of Men, Ahmed considers the plight of the figures who challenge and are challenged by the attribution of happiness to particular objects or social ideals: the feminist killjoy, the unhappy queer, the angry black woman, and the melancholic migrant. Through her readings she raises critical questions about the moral order imposed by the injunction to be happy.
Sara Ahmed is Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is the author of Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, also published by Duke University Press; The Cultural Politics of Emotion; Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality; and Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism.
In prose sometimes somber, often high-spirited, and always accessible and moving, Touching Feeling interrogates—through virtuoso readings of works by Henry James, J. L. Austin, Judith Butler, the psychologist Silvan Tomkins and others—emotion in many forms. What links the work of teaching to the experience of illness? How can shame become an engine for queer politics, performance, and pleasure? Is sexuality more like an affect or a drive? Is paranoia the only realistic epistemology for modern intellectuals? Ultimately, Sedgwick's unfashionable commitment to the truth of happiness propels a book as open-hearted as it is intellectually daring.
Ahmed proposes that a queer phenomenology might investigate not only how the concept of orientation is informed by phenomenology but also the orientation of phenomenology itself. Thus she reflects on the significance of the objects that appear—and those that do not—as signs of orientation in classic phenomenological texts such as Husserl’s Ideas. In developing a queer model of orientations, she combines readings of phenomenological texts—by Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Fanon—with insights drawn from queer studies, feminist theory, critical race theory, Marxism, and psychoanalysis. Queer Phenomenology points queer theory in bold new directions.
Closely engaging with literary texts, Edelman makes a compelling case for imagining Scrooge without Tiny Tim and Silas Marner without little Eppie. Looking to Alfred Hitchcock’s films, he embraces two of the director’s most notorious creations: the sadistic Leonard of North by Northwest, who steps on the hand that holds the couple precariously above the abyss, and the terrifying title figures of The Birds, with their predilection for children. Edelman enlarges the reach of contemporary psychoanalytic theory as he brings it to bear not only on works of literature and film but also on such current political flashpoints as gay marriage and gay parenting. Throwing down the theoretical gauntlet, No Future reimagines queerness with a passion certain to spark an equally impassioned debate among its readers.