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On the Verge of Tears

Why the Movies, Television, Music, Art, Popular Culture, Literature, and the Real World Make Us Cry

Editor(s): Michele Byers and David Lavery
Contributors: Chris Kocela, Laura Nathan-Garner, Donald Jellerson, Cecilia Feilla, Bruce B. Janz, Cynthea Masson, Heather Urbanski,

Book Description

The idea for this book began with David Lavery’s 2007 column for “The Crying Game: Why Television Brings Us to Tears” asked us to consider that “age-old mystery”: tears. The respondents to David’s initial survey—Michele Byers among them—didn’t agree on anything ... Some cried more over film, some television, some books; some felt their tears to be a release, others to be a manipulation. They did agree, however, as did the readers who responded to the column, that crying over stories, and even “things,” is something that is a shared and familiar cultural practice. This book was born from that moment of recognition.

On the Verge of Tears is not the first book to think about crying. Tom Lutz’s Crying: The Natural & Cultural History of Tears, Judith Kay Nelson’s Seeing Through Tears: Crying and Attachment, Peter Schwenger’s The Tears of Things: Melancholy and Physical Objects, and Henry Jenkins’ The Wow Climax: Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture also offer forays into this familiar, if not always entirely comfortable, emotional space. This book differs markedly from each of these others, however. As a collection of essay by diverse hands, its point of view is multi-vocal. It is not a history of tears (as is Lutz’s superb book); nor is its approach psychological/sociological (as is Nelson’s). It does not limit itself to very contemporary popular culture (as does Jenkins’ book) or material culture (as does Schwenger’s study).

What On the Verge of Tears offers are personal, cultural, and political ruminations on the tears we shed in our daily engagements with the world and its artifacts. The essays found within are often deeply personal, but also have broad implications for everyday life. The authors included here contemplate how and why art, music, film, literature, theatre, theory, and material artifacts make us weep. They consider the risks of tears in public and private spaces; the way tears implicate us in tragedy, comedy, and horror. On the Verge of Tears does not offer a unified theory of crying, but, instead, invites us to imagine tears as a multi-vocal language we can all, in some manner, understand.


ISBN-13: 978-1-4438-2160-5
ISBN-10: 1-4438-2160-8
Date of Publication: 01/07/2010
Pages / Size: 260 / A5
Price: £39.99


Michele Byers is Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology. She has published extensively in the area of television studies, including on shows such as The O.C., Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex and the City, Degrassi, Dexter, Arrested Development, Roseanne, Beverly Hills 90210, Party of Five, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ready or Not, and She has edited or co-edited the books Growing Up Degrassi: Television, Identity and Youth Cultures and Dear Angela: Remembering My So-Called Life (with David Lavery), and “The CSI Effect:” Television, Crime, and Critical Theory (with Val Johnson). Her new work focuses on television and the production of ethnicity, and studies of the Jewish American Princess.

David Lavery is Professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University, USA, and the author/editor/co-editor of numerous essays and over twenty books, including Joss Whedon: Conversations (University Press of Mississippi) and volumes on such television series as Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Sopranos, Lost, Deadwood, Seinfeld, My So-Called Life, Heroes, and Battlestar Galactica. He co-edits the e-journal Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies and is one of the founding editors of Critical Studies in Television: Scholarly Studies of Small Screen Fictions. He has lectured around the world on the subject of television.