Cruel Optimism is a book that easily made sense, though making sense of the arguments was difficult. The description of cruel optimism was compelling, but took on more relevance when explaining how the present is understood. The implications of experiencing the present instinctively and as a constant state of crisis, as a result of the unattainable ideas both sustain us and leave us perpetually unsatisfied, rang very true in light of two recent articles that went viral in the zeitgeist.
Over the summer, the New York Times article “The Busy Trap” led my friends and co-workers to discuss how they were constantly in the crisis of meeting their appointments, social or otherwise. Though the article advocated for a lessening of social obligations and a conscious move towards being unscheduled, the reality of a scheduled existence leads itself to a constant state of not just busyness but crisis. Each action is an event, and each event is given the same gravity as a major life decision. As such, existence devolves into the crisis that Berlant describes, in which “there is barely time to reflect on belonging and no time not to react to threat (189).”
Shortly after we discussed busyness, the hot topic of the summer moved to women and a particular way of being busy. The constant state of crisis took on a gendered nuance in “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” published in the Atlantic, which in its last few paragraphs admits that the trap of lacking balance is universal to men and women nowadays. Although the article is about women’s expectations about career and family life, it concedes in its final paragraphs that the expectation of being a fabulous career woman and family provider ultimately boils down to unattainable balancing work and home life, which is universal to men as well. The cruel optimism of hoping for an exemplar career and family kept the author overworked and undersatisfied. More interestingly, her life is depicted exactly as a series of crisis, in which home and office life are both of the utmost and direst consequence, and constantly battling for her attention.
Both articles generated conversation about how we, as a society, expect our lives to be, but ultimately faded into the background as all crisis seem to – as just another event in the stream of crisis that we face on a daily basis.