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american studies

Orgies of Feeling

Soundtracks of Asian America

Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom

Navigating Race through Musical Performance

elisabeth r . anker

gr ace wang

“Anyone who thinks that melodrama is inherently politically progressive

“Soundtracks of Asian America is smart and informed, capacious and beauti-

is advised to read this book, the first to systematically apply the role

fully written. Arguing that the racialized imagination works similarly across

of the American melodramatic mode to the politics of American heroic

musical genres, Grace Wang explores senses of Asian and Asian American

sovereignty. Perhaps the boldest part of Elisabeth R. Anker’s thesis is not

belonging across the worlds of classical and popular music. From young

simply the general argument that Americans often cast their politics into

classical musicians’ parents as key sites of ideology formation to the

narratives of victimization and vengeance, but the historical argument that

‘reverse migration’ of young Asian Americans to East Asian popular music

a new kind of melodrama has emerged ‘with a vengeance’ after the end of

markets, her case studies are inspired and telling.”—DEBORAH WONG ,

the Cold War and especially after 9/11. I am in awe at this book’s boldness

author of Speak It Louder: Asian Americans Making Music

and acuity.”—LINDA WILLIAMS , author of On The Wire

In Soundtracks of Asian America, Grace Wang explores how Asian Melodrama is not just a film or literary

orgies of feeling

melodrama and the politics of freedom

elisabeth r. anker

Americans use music to construct narratives of self, race, class, and

genre but a powerful political

belonging in national and transnational spaces. She highlights how they

discourse that galvanizes national

navigate racialization in different genres by considering the experiences

sentiment to legitimate state violence.

of Asians and Asian Americans in Western classical music, U.S. popular

Finding virtue in national suffering

music, and Mandopop (Mandarin-language popular music). Her study

and heroism in sovereign action,

encompasses the perceptions and motivations of middle-class Chinese

melodramatic political discourses

and Korean immigrant parents intensely involved in their children’s clas-

cast war and surveillance as moral

sical music training, and of Asian and Asian American classical musicians

imperatives for eradicating villainy

whose prominence in their chosen profession is celebrated by some and

and upholding freedom. In Orgies

undermined by others. Wang interviews young Asian American singer-

of Feeling, Elisabeth R. Anker boldly

songwriters using YouTube to contest the limitations of a racialized U.S.

reframes political theories of sover-

media landscape, and investigates the transnational modes of belonging

eignty, freedom, and power by

forged by Asian American pop stars pursuing recording contracts and

analyzing the work of melodrama

fame in East Asia. Foregrounding musical spaces where Asian Americans

and affect in contemporary politics. Arguing that melodrama animates

are particularly visible, Wang examines how race matters and operates

desires for unconstrained power, Anker examines melodramatic dis-

in the practices and institutions of music making.

courses in the War on Terror, neoliberal politics, anticommunist rhetoric,

Grace Wang is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Hollywood film, and post-Marxist critical theory. Building on Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of “orgies of feeling,” in which overwhelming emotions displace commonplace experiences of vulnerability and powerlessness onto a dramatic story of injured freedom, Anker contends that the recent upsurge in melodrama in the United States is an indication of public discontent. Yet the discontent that melodrama reflects is ultimately an expression of the public’s inability to overcome systemic exploitation and inequality rather than an alarmist response to inflated threats to the nation.

Elisabeth R. Anker is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Political Science at George Washington University.

A M E R I C A N S T U D I E S/ P O L I T I C A L T H E O R Y

A S I A N A M E R I C A N S T U D I E S/ M U S I C

August 344 pages, 14 illustrations

January 288 pages, 4 photographs

paper, 978–0–8223–5697–4, $25.95/£16.99

paper, 978–0–8223–5784–1, $23.95/£15.99

cloth, 978–0–8223–5686–8, $94.95/£62.00

cloth, 978–0–8223–5769–8, $84.95/£55.00

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Fall & Winter 2014 Catalog  

The Fall & Winter 2014 catalog from Duke University Press.

Fall & Winter 2014 Catalog  

The Fall & Winter 2014 catalog from Duke University Press.