Public Feelings

Public Feelings Salon with Lauren Berlant

Just as feminism has sought to identify the ways in which the personal and the political are linked, the study of “public feelings” draws our attention to how and why feelings and emotion (assumed to be a private, personal experience) influence politics and notions of social belonging and intimacy.

This interactive conversation, moderated by Janet Jakobsen, features Lauren Berlant, José Muñoz, Ann Pellegrini and Tavia Nyong’o, and took place on April 12, 2011 at Barnard College in New York City. The discussion was so lively and rich, the organizers decided to invite more scholars and activists to comment and discuss. You can read their responses, plus a reply by Berlant: Here

Lauren Berlant (b.1957) is the George M. Pullman Professor of English at the University of Chicago, where she has been teaching since 1984. Berlant received her Ph.D. from Cornell University. She writes and teaches on issues of intimacy and belonging in popular culture, in relation to the history and fantasy of citizenship.

Her most recent book Cruel Optimism (2011), is about the wearing out of the fantasy of the good life that has bound people to various kinds of intimate and political normativity despite their constant inadequacy to the fantasies that bring people to them. Berlant attempts to conceptualize affect historically, and then address the neoliberal sensorium insofar as it is shaped by the recognition that the social democratic/liberal fantasy of mass upward mobility, meritocracy, and durable intimacy has less and less traction in the world.

Here “optimism” does not mean the emotion of optimism but the affective structure of attachment that enables people to survive and even flourish amidst the ordinariness of life-in-crisis, life without foundations, anchors, or footing (Berlant 2011).

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