Left-Wing Melancholia

Marxism, History, and Memory

Enzo Traverso

Columbia University Press

Left-Wing Melancholia

Google Preview

Pub Date: January 2017

ISBN: 9780231179423

312 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£30.00

Pub Date: January 2017

ISBN: 9780231543019

312 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£30.00

Left-Wing Melancholia

Marxism, History, and Memory

Enzo Traverso

Columbia University Press

The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War but also the rise of a melancholic vision of history as a series of losses. For the political left, the cause lost was communism, and this trauma determined how leftists wrote the next chapter in their political struggle and how they have thought about their past since. Throughout the twentieth century, argues Left-Wing Melancholia, from classical Marxism to psychoanalysis to the advent of critical theory, a culture of defeat and its emotional overlay of melancholy have characterized the leftist understanding of the political in history and in theoretical critique.

Drawing on a vast and diverse archive in theory, testimony, and image and on such thinkers as Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, and others, the intellectual historian Enzo Traverso explores the varying nature of left melancholy as it has manifested in a feeling of guilt for not sufficiently challenging authority, in a fear of surrendering in disarray and resignation, in mourning the human costs of the past, and in a sense of failure for not realizing utopian aspirations. Yet hidden within this melancholic tradition are the resources for a renewed challenge to prevailing regimes of historicity, a passion that has the power to reignite the dialectic of revolutionary thought.

Left-Wing Melancholia is well-written, timely and original.

Eli Zaretsky, The New School for Social Research

Left-Wing Melancholia is a path breaking work that combines history and political theory with a concise, richly analytical, exciting narrative. Enzo Traverso redefines our understanding of the current regimes of temporality—a sorrowful transition from the twentieth to the twenty-first century—and challenges historians and critical theorists alike to think beyond the standard binaries between history and memory, revolution and defeat, and melancholy and politics. In other words, this book is a gem.

Federico Finchelstein, The New School for Social Research

Marvelously learned and gorgeously poetic, Left-Wing Melancholia is a transcendent masterpiece of the Marxist imagination. Each engrossing chapter provides a tour-de-force of trenchant observations and lucid argumentation about the melancholic landscape of socialist memory. Intricately constructed with acrobatic prose, electric compressions, and magisterial assuredness, Traverso's scholarly milestone synthesizes an ambitious spectrum of interventions into the revolutionary aspirations and defeats of the twentieth century that is historically engaging, eminently readable, and pressingly pertinent.

Alan Wald, H. Chandler Davis Collegiate Professor of English Literature and American Culture, University of Michigan

According to Freud, mourning is differentiated from melancholia in its working through grief by acknowledging the irreparable loss of a love object. If so, should the contemporary Left finally concede the failure of its dreams of revolutionary redemption? Or, and this is the gamble of Enzo Traverso's provocative new book, is it better to remain defiantly melancholic in the hope that those dreams may still be realized? Drawing on a lifetime of immersion in the history of modern European culture and politics, he provides future progressive movements a glimmer of hope that the dialectic of defeat may not yet be history's final word.

Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley

With Left-Wing Melancholia, Enzo Traverso provides us with a timely and learned meditation on the politics of grief, mourning, and historical loss. Yet, in the tradition of Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch, Traverso also instructs us on how the experience of loss can simultaneously generate heretofore untapped repositories of social hope. Left-Wing Melancholia is both an exhilarating work of intellectual synthesis as well as a pathbreaking study in cultural history.

Richard Wolin, author of Walter Benjamin: An Aesthetic of Redemption

In this wide-ranging, conceptually rich, nuanced and thoughtful meditation, Enzo Traverso takes stock of the current historical moment as marking a fundamental historical and cultural crisis for the Left. The overarching trajectory of struggles oriented toward an emancipatory future that characterized and motivated movements in the past two centuries has been fundamentally broken, resulting in a profound melancholia. Taking inspiration from heterodox critical responses to the darkness enveloping Europe in 1940, Traverso seeks to uncover trace elements of a new utopian imaginary, as a leap without guarantees, a melancholy wager.

Moishe Postone, University of Chicago
List of Illustrations
Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Haunting Pasts Without Utopias
1. The Culture of Defeat
2. Marxism and Memory
3. Melancholy Images
4. Bohemia: Between Melancholy and Revolution
5. Marxism and the West
6. Adorno and Benjamin: Letters at Midnight in the Century
7. Synchronic Times: Walter Benjamin and Daniel Bensaïd
Notes
Index

About the Author

Enzo Traverso is Susan and Barton Winokur Professor of the Humanities at Cornell University. His books include The End of Jewish Modernity (2016); Fire and Blood: The European Civil War, 1914–1945 (2015); The Origins of Nazi Violence (2003); and Understanding the Nazi Genocide: Marxism After Auschwitz (1999).