A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing. Offering bold new ways of conceiving the present, Lauren Berlant describes the cruel optimism that has prevailed since the 1980s, as the social-democratic promise of the postwar period in the United States and Europe has retracted. People have remained attached to unachievable fantasies of the good life—with its promises of upward mobility, job security, political and social equality, and durable intimacy—despite evidence that liberal-capitalist societies can no longer be counted on to provide opportunities for individuals to make their lives “add up to something.” Arguing that the historical present is perceived affectively before it is understood in any other way, Berlant traces affective and aesthetic responses to the dramas of adjustment that unfold amid talk of precarity, contingency, and crisis. 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.
In the 1969 issue of Negro Digest, a young Black Arts Movement poet then-named Ameer (Amiri) Baraka published “We Are Our Feeling: The Black Aesthetic.” Baraka’s emphasis on the importance of feelings in black selfhood expressed a touchstone for how the black liberation movement grappled with emotions in response to the politics and racial violence of the era. In her latest book, award-winning author Lisa M. Corrigan suggests that Black Power provided a significant repository for negative feelings, largely black pessimism, to resist the constant physical violence against black activists and the psychological strain of political disappointment. Corrigan asserts the emergence of Black Power as a discourse of black emotional invention in opposition to Kennedy-era white hope. As integration became the prevailing discourse of racial liberalism shaping midcentury discursive structures, so too, did racial feelings mold the biopolitical order of postmodern life in America. By examining the discourses produced by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and other Black Power icons who were marshaling black feelings in the service of black political action, Corrigan traces how black liberation activists mobilized new emotional repertoires
Uncovers the queer logics of premodern religious and secular texts Putting premodern theology and poetry in dialogue with contemporary theory and politics, Queer Faith reassess the commonplace view that a modern veneration of sexual monogamy and fidelity finds its roots in Protestant thought. What if this narrative of “history and tradition” suppresses the queerness of its own foundational texts? Queer Faith examines key works of the prehistory of monogamy—from Paul to Luther, Petrarch to Shakespeare—to show that writing assumed to promote fidelity in fact articulates the affordances of promiscuity, both in its sexual sense and in its larger designation of all that is impure and disorderly. At the same time, Melissa E. Sanchez resists casting promiscuity as the ethical, queer alternative to monogamy, tracing instead how ideals of sexual liberation are themselves attached to nascent racial and economic hierarchies. Because discourses of fidelity and freedom are also discourses on racial and sexual positionality, excavating the complex historical entanglement of faith, race, and eroticism is urgent to contemporary queer debates about normativity, agency, and relationality. Deliberately unfaithful to disciplinary norms and national boundaries, this book assembles new conceptual frameworks at the juncture of secular and religious thought, political and aesthetic form. It thereby enlarges the contexts, objects, and authorized genealogies of queer scholarship. Retracing a history that did not have to be, Sanchez recovers writing that inscribes radical queer insights at the premodern foundations of conservative and heteronormative culture.
In The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience, Simeon Zahl presents a fresh vision for Christian theology that foregrounds the relationship between theological ideas and the experiences of Christians. He argues that theology is always operating in a vibrant landscape of feeling and desiring, and shows that contemporary theology has often operated in problematic isolation from these experiential dynamics. He then argues that a theologically serious doctrine of the Holy Spirit not only authorizes but requires attention to Christian experience. Against this background, Zahl outlines a new methodological approach to Christian theology that attends to the emotional and experiential power of theological ideas. This methodology draws on recent interdisciplinary work on affect and emotion, which has shown that affects are powerful motivating realities that saturate all dimensions of human thinking and acting. In the process, Zahl also explains why contemporary theology has often been ambivalent about subjective experience, and demonstrates that current discourse about God's activity in the world is often artificially abstracted from experience and embodiment. At the heart of the book, Zahl proposes a new account of the theology of grace from this experiential and pneumatological perspective. Focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation and sanctification, he retrieves insights from Augustine, Luther, and Philip Melanchthon to present an affective and Augustinian vision of salvation as a pedagogy of desire. In articulating this vision, Zahl engages critically with recent emphasis on participation and theosis in Christian soteriology, and charts a new path forward for Protestant theology in a landscape hitherto dominated by the theological visions of Barth and Aquinas.
The 2000s have witnessed the proliferation of Scandinavian films in which women directors turn the camera towards themselves in projects that combine methods from fiction and documentary filmmaking. An evocative example is Norwegian director Solveig Melkeraaen's film from 2014, Flink pike (Good Girl), in which Melkeraaen sets out to investigate her own depression. The film is a collage of real time recordings, highly stylized staged scenes, archival material such as old pictures and audio-recordings of her own therapy sessions, and clips from Melkeraaen's earlier documentaries. In this article, I investigate this collage not only as an aesthetic experiment with the documentary genre, but also as a mechanism that fleshes out important questions about the politics and ethics of vulnerability in gender-minded Scandinavia.
There have been claims that meaninglessness has become epidemic in the contemporary world. One perceived consequence of this is that people increasingly turn against both society and the political establishment with little concern for the content (or lack of content) that might follow. Most often, encounters with meaninglessness and nothingness are seen as troubling. "Meaning" is generally seen as being a cornerstone of the human condition, as that which we strive towards. This was famously explored by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning in which he showed how even in the direst of situations individuals will often seek to find a purpose in life. But what, then, is at stake when groups of people negate this position? What exactly goes on inside this apparent turn towards nothing, in the engagement with meaninglessness? And what happens if we take the meaningless seriously as an empirical fact?
In this ground-breaking new work, Dan Goodley makes the case for a novel, distinct, intellectual, and political project – dis/ability studies – an orientation that might encourage us to think again about the phenomena of disability and ability. Drawing on a range of interdisciplinary areas, including sociology, psychology, education, policy and cultural studies, this much needed text takes the most topical and important issues in critical disability theory, and pushes them into new theoretical territory. Goodley argues that we are entering a time of dis/ability studies, when both categories of disability and ability require expanding upon as a response to the global politics of neoliberal capitalism. Divided into two parts, the first section traces the dual processes of ableism and disablism, suggesting that one cannot exist without the other, and makes the case for a research-driven and intersectional analysis of dis/ability. The second section applies this new analytical framework to a range of critical topics, including: The biopolitics of dis/ability and debility Inclusive education Psychopathology Markets, communities and civil society. Dis/ability Studies provides much needed depth, texture and analysis in this emerging discipline. This accessible text will appeal to students and researchers of disability across a range of disciplines, as well as disability activists, policymakers, and practitioners working directly with disabled people.
This special issue of differences celebrates the work of the contemporary feminist literary critic and theorist Barbara Johnson, whose work has been revolutionary in foregrounding concepts of “difference.” Johnson’s is a unique method of literary reading in which literature becomes, in her words, “a mode of cultural work, the work of giving-to-read those impossible contradictions that cannot yet be spoken.” The contributors to this issue recognize that one of Johnson’s primary gifts to literary studies is her ability to teach theoretical insights, not in a pedagogically prescriptive or didactic way, but through her exquisitely close readings of texts that illustrate the force of theory and language in practice. The first half of the issue comprises essays in which scholars influenced by Johnson offer close readings of texts ranging from Sandra Cisneros’s Carmelo to Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever” to George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Each of the remaining essays is marked by the intimate voice of its author offering a reflective tribute to Johnson’s thought and teaching. Contributors. Lauren Berlant, Rachel Bowlby, Bill Brown, Mary Wilson Carpenter, Pamela Caughie, Lee Edelman, Jane Gallop, Bill Johnson González, Deborah Jenson, Lili Porten, Avital Ronell, Mary Helen Washington
The western is arguably the most iconic and influential genre in American cinema. The solitude of the lone rider, the loyalty of his horse, and the unspoken code of the West render the genre popular yet lead it to offer a view of America's history that is sometimes inaccurate. For many, the western embodies America and its values. In recent years, scholars had declared the western genre dead, but a steady resurgence of western themes in literature, film, and television has reestablished the genre as one of the most important. In The Philosophy of the Western, editors Jennifer L. McMahon and B. Steve Csaki examine philosophical themes in the western genre. Investigating subjects of nature, ethics, identity, gender, environmentalism, and animal rights, the essays draw from a wide range of westerns including the recent popular and critical successes Unforgiven (1992), All the Pretty Horses (2000), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), and No Country for Old Men (2007), as well as literature and television serials such as Deadwood. The Philosophy of the Western reveals the influence of the western on the American psyche, filling a void in the current scholarship of the genre.
In everyday language, masochism is usually understood as the desire to abdicate control in exchange for sensation—pleasure, pain, or a combination thereof. Yet at its core, masochism is a site where power, bodies, and society come together. Sensational Flesh uses masochism as a lens to examine how power structures race, gender, and embodiment in different contexts. Drawing on rich and varied sources—from 19th century sexology, psychoanalysis, and critical theory to literary texts and performance art—Amber Jamilla Musser employs masochism as a powerful diagnostic tool for probing relationships between power and subjectivity. Engaging with a range of debates about lesbian S&M, racialization, femininity, and disability, as well as key texts such as Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, Pauline Réage’s The Story of O, and Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, Musser renders legible the complex ways that masochism has been taken up by queer, feminist, and critical race theories. Furthering queer theory’s investment in affect and materiality, she proposes “sensation” as an analytical tool for illustrating what it feels like to be embedded in structures of domination such as patriarchy, colonialism, and racism and what it means to embody femininity, blackness, and pain. Sensational Flesh is ultimately about the ways in which difference is made material through race, gender, and sexuality and how that materiality is experienced.
The Public Intellectual and the Culture of Hope brings together a number of winners of the Polanyi Prize in Literature – a group whose research constitutes a diversity of methodological approaches to the study of culture – to examine the rich but often troubled association between the concepts of the public, the intellectual (both the person and the condition), culture, and hope. The contributors probe the influence of intellectual life on the public sphere by reflecting on, analyzing, and re-imagining social and cultural identity. The Public Intellectual and the Culture of Hope reflects on the challenging and often vexed work of intellectualism within the public sphere by exploring how cultural materials – from foundational Enlightenment writings to contemporary, populist media spectacles – frame intellectual debates within the clear and ever-present gaze of the public writ large. These serve to illuminate how past cultures can shed light on present and future issues, as well as how current debates can reframe our approaches to older subjects.
Hegel's "highway of despair," introduced in his Phenomenology of Spirit, is the tortured path traveled by "natural consciousness" on its way to freedom. Despair, the passionate residue of Hegelian critique, also indicates fugitive opportunities for freedom and preserves the principle of hope against all hope. Analyzing the works of an eclectic cast of thinkers, Robyn Marasco considers the dynamism of despair as a critical passion, reckoning with the forms of historical life forged along Hegel's highway. The Highway of Despair follows Theodor Adorno, Georges Bataille, and Frantz Fanon as they each read, resist, and reconfigure a strand of thought in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Confronting the twentieth-century collapse of a certain revolutionary dialectic, these thinkers struggle to revalue critical philosophy and recast Left Hegelianism within the contexts of genocidal racism, world war, and colonial domination. Each thinker also re-centers the role of passion in critique. Arguing against more recent trends in critical theory that promise an escape from despair, Marasco shows how passion frustrates the resolutions of reason and faith. Embracing the extremism of what Marx, in the spirit of Hegel, called the "ruthless critique of everything existing," she affirms the contemporary purchase of radical critical theory, resulting in a passionate approach to political thought.
In the Americas, debates around issues of citizen's public safety--from debates that erupt after highly publicized events, such as the shootings of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, to those that recurrently dominate the airwaves in Latin America--are dominated by members of the middle and upper-middle classes. However, a cursory count of the victims of urban violence in the Americas reveals that the people suffering the most from violence live, and die, at the lowest of the socio-symbolic order, at the margins of urban societies. The inhabitants of the urban margins are hardly ever heard in discussions about public safety. They live in danger but the discourse about violence and risk belongs to, is manufactured and manipulated by, others--others who are prone to view violence at the urban margins as evidence of a cultural, or racial, defect, rather than question violence's relationship to economic and political marginalization. As a result, the experience of interpersonal violence among the urban poor becomes something unspeakable, and the everyday fear and trauma lived in relegated territories is constantly muted and denied. This edited volume seeks to counteract this pernicious tendency by putting under the ethnographic microscope--and making public--the way in which violence is lived and acted upon in the urban peripheries. It features cutting-edge ethnographic research on the role of violence in the lives of the urban poor in South, Central, and North America, and sheds light on the suffering that violence produces and perpetuates, as well as the individual and collective responses that violence generates, among those living at the urban margins of the Americas.
Hope is central to marginal politics which speak of desires for equality or simply for a better life. Feminism might be characterised as a politics of hope, a movement underpinned by a utopian drive for equality. This version of hope has been used, for example in Barack Obama’s phrase ‘the audacity of hope’ – a mobilisation of an affirmative politics which nevertheless implies that we are living in hopeless times. Similiarly, in recent years, feminism has seen the production of a prevailing mood of hopelessness around a generational model of progress, which is widely imagined to have ‘failed’. However, as a number of feminist theorists have pointed out, the temporality of feminism cannot be conceived as straightforwardly linear: feminism can only be imagined as having failed if it is understood as a particular set of relations and things. This collection grapples with the question of hope: how it figures and structures feminist theory as both a movement towards certain goals, and as inherently hopeful. Questions addressed include: Does hope necessarily imply a fantasy of perfectibility, a progression to a utopian future? Might it also be conceived in other ways: as an attachment?A lure? Does life tend towards hope, happiness, optimism? And, if so, what are the consequences when hope fails? Who decides which hopes are false? What is the cost of giving up hope? This book was published as a special issue of the Journal for Cultural Research.
Key cultural shifts have enabled a "new sexualization" of women. Neoliberal, consumerist, and postfeminist media culture have shaped ways of understanding female sexuality, embodied by the figure of the choosing, empowered, entrepreneurial consumer citizen-woman, whose economic capital determines feminine success (and failure). Informed by older constructs of privilege such as class, sexuality, race and (dis)ability, this version of sexiness also constrains by folding contemporary femininity back into previous panics about youth, excess, "bad" consumption, and appropriate feminine behavior In Technologies of Sexiness, Adrienne Evans and Sarah Riley identify how current understandings of sexiness in public life and academic discourse have produced a "doubled stagnation," cycling around old debates without forward momentum. Developing a theoretical and methodological framework, they expand on the notion of a "technology of sexiness." They ask what happens and what is lost when people make sense of themselves within the complexities and contradictions of consumer-oriented constructs of sexiness. How do these discourses come to "transform the self"? This book provides a framework for understanding how women make sense of their sexual identities in the context of a feminization of sexual consumerism. The authors analyze material collected with two groups of women: the "pleasure pursuers" and "functioning feminists," who broadly occupy positions across the pre- and post-Thatcher eras, and the changes brought about by the feminist movement. As one of the first book-length empirical studies to explore age-related femininities in the context of what "sexiness" means today, the authors develop a series of insights into various "technologies of the self" through analyses of space, nostalgia, and claims to authentic sexiness.
The Empty Seashell explores what it is like to live in a world where cannibal witches are undeniably real, yet too ephemeral and contradictory to be an object of belief. In a book based on more than three years of fieldwork between 1991 and 2011, Nils Bubandt argues that cannibal witches for people in the coastal, and predominantly Christian, community of Buli in the Indonesian province of North Maluku are both corporeally real and fundamentally unknowable. Witches (known as gua in the Buli language or as suanggi in regional Malay) appear to be ordinary humans but sometimes, especially at night, they take other forms and attack people in order to kill them and eat their livers. They are seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The reality of gua, therefore, can never be pinned down. The title of the book comes from the empty nautilus shells that regularly drift ashore around Buli village. Convention has it that if you find a live nautilus, you are a gua. Like the empty shells, witchcraft always seems to recede from experience. Bubandt begins the book by recounting his own confusion and frustration in coming to terms with the contradictory and inaccessible nature of witchcraft realities in Buli. A detailed ethnography of the encompassing inaccessibility of Buli witchcraft leads him to the conclusion that much of the anthropological literature, which views witchcraft as a system of beliefs with genuine explanatory power, is off the mark. Witchcraft for the Buli people doesn’t explain anything. In fact, it does the opposite: it confuses, obfuscates, and frustrates. Drawing upon Jacques Derrida’s concept of aporia—an interminable experience that remains continuously in doubt—Bubandt suggests the need to take seriously people’s experiential and epistemological doubts about witchcraft, and outlines, by extension, a novel way of thinking about witchcraft and its relation to modernity.
In Stereotype confronts the importance of cultural stereotypes in shaping the ethics and reach of global literature. Mrinalini Chakravorty focuses on the seductive force and explanatory power of stereotypes in multiple South Asian contexts, whether depicting hunger, crowdedness, filth, slums, death, migrant flight, terror, or outsourcing. She argues that such commonplaces are crucial to defining cultural identity in contemporary literature and shows how the stereotype's ambivalent nature exposes the crises of liberal development in South Asia. In Stereotype considers the influential work of Salman Rushdie, Aravind Adiga, Michael Ondaatje, Monica Ali, Mohsin Hamid, and Chetan Bhagat, among others, to illustrate how stereotypes about South Asia provide insight into the material and psychic investments of contemporary imaginative texts: the colonial novel, the transnational film, and the international best-seller. Probing circumstances that range from the independence of the Indian subcontinent to poverty tourism, civil war, migration, domestic labor, and terrorist radicalism, Chakravorty builds an interpretive lens for reading literary representations of cultural and global difference. In the process, she also reevaluates the fascination with transnational novels and films that manufacture global differences by staging intersubjective encounters between cultures through stereotypes.
Should we feel inadequate when we fail to be healthy, balanced, and well-adjusted? Is it realistic or even desirable to strive for such an existential equilibrium? Condemning our current cultural obsession with cheerfulness and "positive thinking," Mari Ruti calls for a resurrection of character that honors our more eccentric frequencies and argues that sometimes a tormented and anxiety-ridden life can also be rewarding. Ruti critiques the search for personal meaning and pragmatic attempts to normalize human beings' unruly and idiosyncratic natures. Exposing the tragic banality of a happy life commonly lived, she instead emphasizes the advantages of a lopsided life rich in passion and fortitude. She also shows what matters is not our ability to evade existential uncertainty but our courage to meet adversity in such a way that we do not become irrevocably broken. We are in danger of losing the capacity to cope with complexity, ambiguity, melancholia, disorientation, and disappointment, Ruti warns, leaving us feeling less "real" and less connected and unable to process a full range of emotions. Heeding the call of our character means acknowledging the marginalized, chaotic aspects of our being, and it is precisely these creative qualities that make us inimitable and irreplaceable.