If the Terranova reading last week engendered cautiously hopeful fantasies about the redemptive powers of the Internet, Berlant reigned in some of my enthusiasm. As we discussed in section last week, access to the Internet mostly remains a privilege of the already privileged classes. With that in mind, Berlant challenged me to consider what good network politics could have for subaltern characters such as Rosetta, Igor, or Loftis. The reaction of the Belgian parliament to the Rossetta film only furthered my doubts. As Berlant points out, the minor legislative changes inspired by the film fall into the typical pattern of providing “a means for making minor structural adjustments seem like major events, because the theater of compassion is emotionally intense” (182). In other words, challenging film and media might create powerful emotional responses, but lead only to symbolic rather than substantive political changes. Couldn’t a similar line be said about many examples of Internet activism? How can we mediate between the political hypotheses of Terranova and Berlant?
On a related note, this book left me wondering what types of political activity might be able to put an end to the vicious and hegemonic cycle of cruel optimism. Overall, I was highly persuaded by Berlant’s arguments that the decline of the social democratic promise has increased senses of precariousness while also continuing to reinforce the hope of the “good life” that keeps the neoliberal cycle going. This rhythm, Berlant argues, enables marginalized people to “imagine that having a friend, or making a date, or looking longingly at someone who might, after all, show compassion for our struggles, is really where the living takes place” (189).
Such imaginings don’t exactly sound the like the seeds of a proletarian revolution. Indeed, Berlant provides very few suggestions on how to get out of this dismal situation. Which is fine - every book that points out a problem need not also supply the answers. But are there any answers? After all, doesn’t the word that Berlant persistently uses to describe this epoch – precarious – seem to suggest that this that this situation cannot continue indefinitely?