Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stuck in the Impasse and No/The Way Out

In Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism, she examines our habits of living; how cruel optimism is as much of a survival mechanism as it is a curse; how we are stuck in the structural impasse of late capitalism; how we fantasize about the good life (This time, it IS going to happen). But there is no firm call to action by the end of the book—“Here, this is how you might get out of this mess.” While Berlant does an excellent job at imagining what the structures of cruel optimism can look like across different economic and social situations, I am more so intrigued by the revolutionary response to the impasse—how we can feel our way out to alternative ways of living, and how the explanatory power of networks might play a role in this coup d’etat of the impasse. My interest going forward is… Ok, now what do we all do?

We encompass this stretch of time, the historical present, but it appears we are not using it to our advantage. Instead of fantasizing about the good-life future, how can we better plan for what’s already here and coming soon? In other words, how can we build tomorrow on a smaller scale by playing within the stretches of present time (instead of just inhabiting them) and wiggling our way out of the holding patterns that make the grip of the impasse feel like doom? The swelling class of the precariat is marked by instability and insecurity, but unwilling to embrace the pain and doom they walk around with everyday, i.e. the crisis ordinary. Are we blocking off the noise and tuning out—the noise that could disrupt the channel, change the message, and give us a way out? A la Jameson, how can we see the bigger picture, the zoom in on the present’s intimate optimism, and the zoom out to see the larger structures of cruelty? Perhaps people use optimism as a way to blindly map when they cannot find logical ways out of their situation. But maybe our attachments to the good life are too strong, and we need to focus on the better life. How can I make reasonable change in my life? Berlant’s conclusion seems to be that we probably won’t get what we want. OK, so how can we get half?

If we can map out various networks, create new ones through weak links, and understand our own social formations and conditions, we might have the greater ability to resolve, conceptualize, or imagine what we once conceived as unimaginable but intimate (the good life fantasy). Instead of becoming disenchanted by our failure to keep our own promises or bogged down by the more structural realities of postwar America (where wealth generation far exceeds any fantasy of wealth redistribution), can we find answers in imagined networks or will this only perpetuate the crisis ordinary? Are networks the way out?

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