Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cruel Optimism

While reading Cruel Optimism I did not find it very hard to come up with examples in my own life/the world around me of the concept of cruel optimism at work. One example that I kept swinging back to, was, on economic/social terms, the publishing industry. Perhaps this is just something that has been on my mind, and is not terribly applicable, but I thought a discussion of it might be interesting. As someone who has at various times been interested in being a journalist/writer/poet/etc, the publishing industry's trials and tribulations over the primacy of the page seem to be a case of cruel optimism. Print publishing has been reluctant to part with its traditional mediums (the newspaper, magazine, periodical, novel, chapbook, pamphlet), though for the past few years diverse digital-based mediums have become available and, frequently, more widespread. The double bind of cruel optimism is created by the publishing industry's attachment to traditional modes of printing, what they have based their businesses and means of communication upon for hundreds of years. Rather than adapting, in this current "crisis" of the screen versus the page, the industry is often frightened into shutting down possibilities for digital migration. Instead of trying to adapt early on to the shift in technology, they are now scrambling, trying to catch up, trading water so to speak, to stay afloat. As a result, they no longer have the choice to make creative new decisions about digital publishing (experimenting while they had the resources), and are forced to make format follow economics in order to simply keep their businesses alive (couldn't we make a more interesting e-book or online newspaper?). Their attachment to print prevents possible flourishing of a newly reorganized method of transmitting written information. The reluctance to part with the page derives from the fact that the tradition, the history, behind "the classics," authorship, print capitalism, you name it, is so strong. It is a tradition that the industry feels they need to matter this day in age, they must rely upon the canon, the past, to have a present, yet that means they are neglecting their future. I am curious in thinking more about this type of crisis/stasis/floundering that has been occurring as various economic/political/social sectors of our lives migrate from the "analogue" to the digital world. Unfortunately, I think the above was a relatively incoherent babble... but one last note that interests me: I would say that the crisis of the publishing industry is more akin to the experiences of Vincent in L'Emploi du temps, rather than that of Rosetta, as far as temporality and a break in the ordinary is concerned. It seems as though Rosetta is in an always/already crisis, as Berlant describes, we are never not in some for of "crisis of the ordinary." As a viewer it is hard to imagine that Rosetta has ever experienced a different situation. Her life appears to have been a similar struggle in the past, and will be in the future. For Vincent however, it seems as though there is a clear break, a particular event (that of being fired) where his life changes and he begins to coast (though one would argue he was coasting at his previous job and will continue to coast in his new job at the end - but he will no longer be in the same state of unemployed crisis). I would be curious in thinking more about the distinction between these two different types of crises - the sudden versus the always already - if they really are different and how the responses/impasses resulting differ.

No comments: