The(e)ories: Critical Theory & Sexuality Studies presents FANTASIES OF THE GOOD LIFE: Reading Lauren Berlant's 'Cruel Optimism'

Friday, 7 June 2013

A two-day intensive, interdisiplinary seminar

Date: 7-8 June 2013

Venue: Clinton Institute for American Studies (7th June) and UCD Humanities Institute (8th June)

Seminar Description: ‘“Cruel optimism” names a relation of attachment to compromised conditions of possibility. What is cruel about these attachments, and not merely inconvenient or tragic, is that the subjects who have x in their lives might not well endure the loss of their object or scene of desire, even though its presence threatens their well-being, because whatever the content of the attachment, the continuity of the form of it provides something of the continuity of the subject’s sense of what it means to keep on living on and to look forward to being in the world. This phrase points to a condition different than that of melancholia, which is enacted in the subject’s desire to temporize an experience of the loss of an object/scene with which she has identified her ego continuity. Cruel optimism is the condition of maintaining an attachment to a problematic object in advance of its loss’ (Lauren Berlant, ‘Cruel Optimism’, differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 17.5 (2006): 21).

This two-day intensive, interdisciplinary seminar will be devoted to reading and discussing Professor Lauren Berlant’s recently-published book Cruel Optimism (Durham: Duke University Press 2011), from a range of theoretical and interdisciplinary perspectives including feminism, queer theory, visual culture, sociology, political theory, literary studies, psychoanalysis, disability studies, race and ethnicity studies, philosophy, management studies, American studies and critical legal studies among others. The seminar will feature a lecture by Lauren Berlant on her current research, followed by a series of thematic discussions, each preceded by panels of informal responses (5-10 mins) to the issues raised in Cruel Optimism. While the seminar will pay attention to a wide range of topics treated across Berlant’s work and in her current book (including the good life, fantasy, desire, temporality, sovereignty, trauma, crisis, citizenship, intimacy, antinormativity, pedagogy, obesity, public sex, among others) we will be primarily focusing on three broad themes in our discussions: 1) Affect, 2) Biopolitics, and 3) Precarity. The emphasis in this two-day seminar will be on discussion.

Required Reading: All delegates must purchase and read a copy of Cruel Optimism by Lauren Berlant (Durham: Duke University Press 2011) in advance of the seminar.

A full programme and schedule of events can be found here.

Lauren Berlant is George M. Pullman Professor of English at the University of Chicago, USA. Her national sentimentality trilogy — The Anatomy of National Fantasy (Chicago University Press 1991), The Queen of America Goes to Washington City (Duke University Press 1997) and The Female Complaint (Duke University Press 2008) — has now morphed into a quartet, with Cruel Optimism (Duke University Press 2011) addressing precarious publics and the aesthetics of affective adjustment in the contemporary US and Europe. A co-editor of the journal Critical Inquiry, she is also editor of Intimacy (2000); Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest (2001, with Lisa Duggan); Compassion: The Culture and Politics of an Emotion (2004); and On the Case (a special issue of Critical Inquiry, 2007). Her most recent book is Desire/Love (Punctum 2012). She blogs at and is also a founding member of the art/activist group Feel Tank Chicago.Further details about Lauren Berlant: