Saturday, October 6, 2012

Affect and Precarity

Perhaps the most interesting aspect, for me, of the chapters that we read from Berlant was her discussion of mobile precarity and the creation of a new ‘precariat’ class based on the economics of neoliberalism. If neoliberalism requires one to ‘take care of yourself,’ then the tendency towards grey economies, unstable affective relations, and discourses of political and social (dis)location seem to stem from the distance such a requirement places between the individual and the collective.

The precarity described by Berlant is not merely one of static existentialism, but instead one of constant movement and flux. The character Vincent from Time Out moves between his home with his family and his false apartment in Geneva, while Franck travels from Paris to Normandy (and eventually back) in Human Resources. If a situation is a moment in the present that grows, gestures, and threatens suspension (199), then precarity becomes the necessary theoretical concept of the present. Although Berlant does not wish to discuss only the spatial aspects of precarity (and indeed, she is perhaps most interested in affective precarity), I’m drawn to thinking through the geographies of precarity as a way to revisit some of the questions of Network Culture that we discussed last week.

I’m specifically interested in the idea of packet switching, the always undetermined routes through which information travels in the network as it makes its way between nodes. Rather than a simple movement from point A to point B, information takes up new routes and changes these routes as it travels. The state of the network itself thus becomes precarious, as it is characterized by a stable instability; the packets may switch, but they will (hopefully) eventually get to their destination.
My biggest question/takeaway from this reading is thus to wonder what work affective precarity may do in the network, if any. That is, how can we take up Berlant’s notion of cruel optimism, and the affective precarity that it implies, in relation to networks? 

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