Indifference and repetition: occupation testimonies and left-wing despair

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1 Scopus citations


As despair is increasingly seeping into leftist politics in many parts of the world, its long-held image as a hindrance to political activism still prevents the thriving literature on the politics of feeling from adequately theorizing this collective posture. This article seeks to probe the public manifestations of left-wing despair by looking at the despairing dispositions that have evolved in the Israeli Left in response to its failure to undermine Israel’s regime of occupation, using the coping modes this failure has sparked as a conduit for complicating the negative image of despair in politics. The analysis draws on two documentaries that showcase soldiers’ testimonies–Z32 and Censored Voices–in which the compulsive but fruitless repetition of witnessing is brought to the fore and serves as a platform for the enactment of despair as a distinctively public disposition. In dialogue with Wendy Brown’s notion of left melancholy and Lauren Berlant’s notion of cruel optimism, the article propounds despair–understood not as an affect, a feeling, or an emotion, but as a recursively performed posture–as an alternative analytic grid for grasping the contemporary agonies of the Left. Drawing on the Israeli documentaries, it demonstrates that despair may be propelled and perpetuated by two kinds of crises–a crisis of movement and a crisis of belonging. Taking both modalities as evidence that despair does not necessarily involve a withdrawal into the self and may transpire through public acts of care, the article claims, using Bonnie Honig’s work on public things, that the ground for the assessment of despair should be shifted from its presumed impact on political actors to the tangible imprints it leaves in the public settings in which action takes place.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-631
Number of pages37
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - 4 Jul 2019


  • Despair
  • hope
  • left melancholy
  • testimony
  • the Israeli occupation
  • witnessing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (all)


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