Crisis Ordinariness: Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism in a Transnational Frame

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Roundtable. November 12, Friday, 9 am ET. “A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing.” So writes feminist/queer scholar Lauren Berlant in the opening of their groundbreaking book Cruel Optimism. On the tenth anniversary of its publication, and in the wake of Berlant’s untimely passing, this panel invites scholars from India, Hong Kong, the US, and the UK to reflect on the meaning and relevance of “cruel optimism” in a transnational frame. Berlant incisively analyzes the exhaustion of life under late capitalism within liberal democracies, and the toxic effects of “good life fantasies” within the context of precarity that marks the present moment. How do Berlant’s trenchant critiques of psychic attachments in the context of the ordinariness of crisis resonate today both within and beyond the borders of the US and Europe, in light of the devastations wrought by the multiple and converging crises of climate catastrophe, global pandemics, unfettered capitalism, and the entrenchment of authoritarian regimes?

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