July 2017

improving passions

Improving Passions: Sentimental Aesthetics and American Film

by Charles Burnetts

Reveals a fascinating history of aesthetic debate concerning the emotional and moral functions of art

When did the sentimental start to mean ‘awful’? Why are so many popular mainstream films dismissed for their sentimentality, and are there any meaningful differences between the sentimental and the melodramatic? These are some of the questions addressed in Charles Burnetts’ illuminating genealogy of the concept as both a literary genre and an aesthetic philosophy, a tradition that prefigures the advent of film yet serves as a vital framework for understanding its emotional and ethical appeal. Examining eighteenth century ‘moral sense’ philosophy as a neglected but still important intellectual area for film theory, and drawing on case studies of film sentimentality during the early, classical and post-classical eras of US cinema, Improving Passions is an innovative exploration of the sentimental tradition as both theatrical genre and cultural logic.


Imperial Affects: Sensational Melodrama and the Attractions of American Cinema

by: Jonna Eagle

Published July 2017


Imperial Affects is the first sustained account of American action-based cinema as melodrama. From the earliest war films through the Hollywood Western and the
imperial affectslate-century action cinema, imperialist violence and mobility have been produced as sites of both visceral pleasure and moral virtue. Suffering and omnipotence operate as twinned affects in this context, inviting identification with an American national subject constituted as both victimized and invincible—a powerful and persistent conjunction traced here across a century of cinema.

About the Author/Editor:

JONNA EAGLE is an assistant professor of American studies at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.