Part I—What is Cruel Optimism? This provides her with the foundation for explaining the nature of cruel optimism. Why is cruel optimism important? According to Berlant, it is important for analysising why people today continue to ignore the deeply injurious and destructive nature of their attachments in favour of optimism. Affect is embedded in terms of understanding or diagnosing the present because it is felt before it is known, particularly in the way that she is looking at the present as structured by the impasse, rather than movements towards any futures. Elsewhere, she describes the present as a middle without boundaries, edges, a shape.
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Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke UP, In Cruel Optimism Lauren Berlant reveals that despite deteriorating social, economic, and environmental conditions, people still remain attached to fantasies of the "good life"; her research examines how such fantasies have survived even when conditions for survival are increasingly compromised under postwar neoliberal restructuring. In other words, maintaining attachments that sustain the good life fantasy, no matter how injurious or cruel these attachments may be, allows people to make it through day-to-day life when the day-to-day has become unlivable.
In other words, she focuses on the particular as a way of theorizing a collective sense of the historical present: "I am extremely interested in generalization This is part of my method, to track the becoming general of singular things, and to give those things materiality by tracking their resonances across many scenes, including the ones made by nonverbal but still linguistic activities, like gestures Berlant critiques "everyday life theory" because she argues that it "no longer describes how most people live" 8.
Berlant produces an archive of the "impasse or transitional moment" that illustrates "exemplary cases of adjustment to the loss of this fantasy" of the good life Key terms: "Cruel optimism"- A "relation of attachment to compromised conditions of possibility" For Berlant, it is not the "experience of optimism," but rather its "affective structure" that is especially important for explicating the nature of our attachments to fantasies of the "good life" because optimism becomes cruel when "the very pleasures of being inside a relation have become sustaining regardless of the content of the relation" 2, emphasis mine.
In arguing for an investigation of the "shared historical present," she is not advocating a "shallow presentism" but rather asking us to recognize how debates about the "contours and contents" of the present are "always profoundly political" because they determine what "forces should be considered responsible and what crises [demand] urgent" attention 4 "Crisis ordinariness"- Berlant argues for a shift away from the language of trauma as a means of registering profound and even catastrophic social, economic, and political change.
In her perspective, "[g]enres provide an affective experience of watching something unfold, whether that thing is in life or in art" and, more importantly for Berlant, the "waning of genre frames different kinds of potential openings within and beyond the impasse of adjustment that constant crisis creates" See book summary and "cruel optimism" under key terms.
See "crisis ordinariness" under key terms. Each chapter of Cruel Optimism examines a particular situation of impasse and demonstrates how individuals are not impassive, but rather developing strategies for survival and modes of adjustment for getting by when our good life fantasies are no longer sustainable. The impasse also reveals that new emergent aesthetic forms are taking hold and, thus, signal crucial sites for understanding how people are developing alternative genres for navigating situations of overwhelming incoherence and precariousness.
How does Berlant structure her archive? Berlant does not go into detail on how she selects the specific works she discusses in each chapter of the book, which also makes for an incredibly eclectic if at times disorienting archive. See brief note on archive under methodology. Posted by.
Reading Summary: Lauren Berlant on Cruel Optimism
Offering bold new ways of conceiving the present, Lauren Berlant describes the cruel optimism that has prevailed since the s, as the social-democratic promise of the postwar period in the United States and Europe has retracted. She suggests that our stretched-out present is characterized by new modes of temporality, and she explains why trauma theory—with its focus on reactions to the exceptional event that shatters the ordinary—is not useful for understanding the ways that people adjust over time, once crisis itself has become ordinary. Cruel Optimism is a remarkable affective history of the present. OK, yes, her latest book is called Cruel Optimism. Cruel Optimism is less brutal analysis than a dark, lush still-life of American fantasies and our Quixotic lunges toward them. It is a wild, deeply witty examination of our attachments to food, love, politics, family, and pop culture.
Though hardly a man of nuance, he had tapped into the subtleties of affective politics. The critic interrogated a poem or a passage, and applied her preferred theory of how meanings were produced and where they could be found. A New Critic might have scrutinized form and irony, explicating the interplay between overt and actual meaning; a deconstructionist might have been attuned to the way the metaphors and propositions in a passage undermined each other; a historicist to the way the meanings of a text might be situated within larger political or social tensions. For each, the task was interpretation, and the currency was meaning. They saw our world as shaped not simply by narratives and arguments but also by nonlinguistic effects—by mood, by atmosphere, by feelings.
On Cruel Optimism
Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke UP, In Cruel Optimism Lauren Berlant reveals that despite deteriorating social, economic, and environmental conditions, people still remain attached to fantasies of the "good life"; her research examines how such fantasies have survived even when conditions for survival are increasingly compromised under postwar neoliberal restructuring. In other words, maintaining attachments that sustain the good life fantasy, no matter how injurious or cruel these attachments may be, allows people to make it through day-to-day life when the day-to-day has become unlivable. In other words, she focuses on the particular as a way of theorizing a collective sense of the historical present: "I am extremely interested in generalization