Academic journal article New Formations

The Mood of Defeat

Academic journal article New Formations

The Mood of Defeat

Article excerpt

   I'm in the mood for dancing, romancing    Ooh I'm giving it all tonight    I'm in the mood for chancing    I feel like dancing    Ooh so come on and hold me tight    (The Nolan Sisters, 'I am in the Mood, for Dancing', 1979)     I'm in the mood for love simply because you're near me    Funny but when you're near me, I'm in the mood for love.    Heaven is in your eyes, bright as the stars we're under,    Oh, is it any wonder, I'm in the mood for love.    (Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Field, 'I'm in the Mood for Love', 1935) 

The Nolan sisters are in the mood for dancing. Ella Fitzgerald is in the mood for love. Glen Miller is just in the mood. But if sexual yearning is the most common theme in popular music, the mood of defeat is as significant a point of register in contemporary culture. The slumped bodies of the losing team, the forced dignity of the politician ejected from office, the grainy shots of prisoners of war behind barbed wire are all familiar images with which we can connect, investing our own feelings of pain, exhaustion, and humiliation or, alternatively, triumph, scorn, and aggression. If the mood of love is felt physically, transforming itself into rhythm and movement, so too is the mood of defeat; but whereas the sensations of desire are visual 'Heaven is in your eyes/Bright as the stars we are under'--and tactile--'so come on and hold me tight'--the sensations of defeat are olfactory and gustatory. We smell it. We taste its bitterness. Touring the burnt-out ruins left after the defeat of the Paris Commune, Henry James, found 'in all things a vague aftertaste of gunpowder' (1) and wrote to his brother: 'Beneath all this neatness & coquetry, you seem to smell the Commune suppressed, but seething'. (2) Defeat is debilitating. It feels like a physical weight. Knees buckle like those of the Selecao, as the German team fired goal after goal into the Brazilian net in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup. After the overthrow of the French Second Republic in the coup d'etat of 1851, Jacques Vingtras, the hero of Jules Valles's novel, Le Bachelier (1881), retreats from the barricades: 'by holding on to walls, by dragging my feet, by holding my drooping, leaden head in my hands'. (3) Overwhelming other sensations, defeat shuts them out. Time comes to a standstill and the vanquished become deaf and blind to hope.

As David Wellbery argues in his account of the history of the concept of Stimmung in German philosophy, the power of mood/atmosphere/attunement stems first from the fact that it is a 'total quality' nonetheless experienced as an 'individual encounter': (4) the mood meets 'the subject's state of self, making apparent how one is and how one will become'. Second, moods are 'not only modes of our psychic inner life, but also atmospheres, which surround us' (Stimmung, p705). They consist of

an interaction of many elements, which is felt collectively. Moods have an integrative function with regard to objects and their properties. They combine into self-contained wholes, without specifying the rules for this synthesis (ibid).

Finally, moods have a communicative dimension. The communication of a mood proceeds:

through suggestion, it is infectious; but it operates below the threshold of rational explanation (so is deniable, easy to repudiate), resulting in a common field of orientations, attitudes, dispositions, which is nevertheless unstable, because not secured by expressly symbolised norms (ibid).

If it is the instability of moods that makes them dangerous (and dangerously 'infectious'), then it is their lack of specified 'rules' and 'expressly symbolised norms' which means that being 'misattuned' or 'not in the mood' (5) can be such an alienating as well as physically and emotionally debilitating experience. To experience the mood of defeat is to feel personally the pain of loss in the face of the collective joy of your foe, at a time when those who share your mood can offer you no consolation, because they are, like you, bowed down by their own misery. …

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