Hope Draped in Black

Race, Melancholy, and the Agony of Progress

Hope Draped in Black

Religious Cultures of African and African Diaspora People

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Book Pages: 316 Illustrations: Published: June 2016

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Religious Studies

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.


"Tracing lines developed by critical theory, Winters finds and lays claim to the resplendent life that traumatized and forgotten communities make for themselves on the underside of history." — Christian Century

"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

"Groundbreaking. . . . Sure to be referenced by scholars for many years to come." — Chanté Baker Martin, Journal of Southern History

"The power of Hope Draped in Black is its reenergizing of the critiques of progress narratives, racial uplift discourse, and black respectability." — Margo Natalie Crawford, American Literary History

"The variety of analytical tools used in this book makes it a must read for graduate students or faculty interested in film studies, politics, and, more importantly, religious studies and African American literature and history." — Omar Dieng, Spectrum

"Hope Draped in Black skillfully interweaves insightful arguments with theory, literature, and other aesthetic forms. . . . Strikingly relevant, and [an] important contribution to the American political imagination." — Bianca Borrero-Barreras, Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

"This is a very good book that is well worth reading. It does an excellent job of charting, in the words of the subtitle, 'the agony of progress.' . . . The concept of melancholic hope is jarring, anomalous, uncanny, and discomfiting. This, precisely, is its aim and virtue." — William David Hart, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Vibrant, analytically rich, and deeply rewarding to read. . . . At heart, Hope Draped in Black exhibits a rare type of intellectual integrity and bravery." — Jonathon S. Kahn, Callaloo

"This is a compelling book and I imagine thinkers will be enriched by its offering for Black, music, and religious studies for years to come." — Jamall A. Calloway, Reading Religion

"Winters has produced a book that speaks to the past century of black religious life in the United States, while refusing to reduce that complex history to a single, simple theme." — Marvin E. Wickware, Journal of Religion

"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


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Joseph R. Winters is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction  1

1. Unreconciled Strivings: Du Bois, the Seduction of Optimism, and the Legacy of Sorrow  31

2. Unhopeful but Not Hopeless: Melancholic Interpretations of Progress and Freedom  57

3. Hearing the Breaks and Cuts of History: Ellison, Morrison, and the Uses of Literary Jazz  85

4. Reel Progress: Race, Film, and Cinematic Melancholy  137

5. Figures of the Postracial: Race, Nation, and Violence in the Age of Obama and Morrison  187

Conclusion  237

Notes  253

Select Bibliography  287

Index  297
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Finalist, 2017 Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize

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