We were deeply saddened to lose our valued colleague and friend, Dr Michael Mack, in August 2020. As well as leaving us with a legacy of memories, Michael also departed with his seventh remarkable book, Disappointment.
Considering the support behind Brexit and Donald Trump’s ‘America first’ policies, Disappointment (published by Bloomsbury in December 2020) challenges the idea that they are motivated solely by fear and instead looks at the hope and promises that drive these renewed forms of nationalism. Addressing these neglected motivations within contemporary populism, Michael explores how our current sense of disappointment with our ecological, economic and political state of affairs partakes of a history of failed promises that goes back to the inception of modernity.
The philosopher Spinoza was an abiding interest of Michael’s work, and he returned to him in his final monograph where he becomes the source for our modernity’s ‘disappointment’. Spinoza sits at the centre of an intellectual constellation of thinkers and writers who – from the romantics to contemporary theory and literature – have introduced various shifts in the way we see humanity as being limited.
Across his seven books Michael demonstrated an extraordinary range, from philosophy to literature, cinema to visual art. Disappointment is typically broad: it combines intellectual history with literary and scientific theory, traces philosophical thought from Spinoza to Nietzsche, and moves through the literary modernism of Joseph Conrad and postmodernism of Philip Roth and Thomas Pynchon.
In contradiction of its title, Disappointment is a fitting hallmark of what Professor Mark Sandy, in an obituary for the British Association for Jewish Studies, has described as “Michael’s formidable intellect (and forcible charm)”.
We held a celebration of Michael’s life and work earlier this year, bringing together his editors, colleagues, students, and fellow academics such as Professor Sander Gilman and Professor Gillian Beer. A recording of the event is available by contacting Professor Mark Sandy.