Duke University Press
  • Have you registered as a member of our site? Sign up today.

  • Cruel Optimism

    Author(s): Lauren Berlant
    Published: 2011
    Pages: 352
    Illustrations: 58 illustrations
  • Paperback: $24.95 - In Stock
    978-0-8223-5111-5
  • Cloth: $89.95 - In Stock
    978-0-8223-5097-2
  • Quantity
  • Add To Bag
  • Acknowledgments  vii
    Introduction. Affect in the Present  1
    1. Cruel Optimism  23
    2. Intuitionists: History and the Affective Event  51
    3. Slow Death (Obesity, Sovereignty, Lateral Agency)  95
    4. Two Girls, Fat and Thin  121
    5. Nearly Utopian, Nearly Normal: Post-Fordist Affect in La Promese and Rosetta  161
    6. After the Good Life, an Impasse: Time Out, Human Resources, and the Precrious Present  191
    7. On the Desire for the Political  223
    Note on the Cover Image: If Body: Riva and Zora in Middle Age  265
    Notes  269
    Bibliography  303
    Index  327
  • Winner, 2012 Rene Wellek Award, presented by the American Comparative Literature Association

  • “One of the most rewarding aspects of Berlant’s work and of Cruel Optimism in particular is the sheer transformative force within the field of the political that the analysis of chosen texts offers....Berlant is required reading that should somehow help ‘activist theorists and artists back to the question of what kind of form a gesture is, what kind of imminent expressivity it holds, and what kind of affective pedagogy might be effected by it’ (261) in the work of ‘having a life’ make sense.”—Alex Lockwood, Culture Machine

    “Lauren Berlant is not shitting on you or your dream. OK, yes, her latest book is called Cruel Optimism. . . . . Yes, the University of Chicago professor will break down everything you hold dear: food, love, politics, family, virtuous New Year’s resolutions. And yes, within a few pages, there’s that creeping sensation that, whatever makes you tick, it’s got you on the fast track to ruin and disappointment. . . . Nevertheless . . . Cruel Optimism is less brutal analysis than a dark, lush still-life of American fantasies and our Quixotic lunges toward them. An affective portrait of the 99%.”—Caitlin Hu, Bitch

    “This is Berlant at her most revolutionarily queer, questioning what would happen if we stopped thinking of ourselves in terms of identity categories, and instead reorganized our sense of self around the specific objects and ideas to which we are attached and the affects that they produce in us.”—Chase Dimock, Lambda Literary Review

    Awards

  • Winner, 2012 Rene Wellek Award, presented by the American Comparative Literature Association

  • Reviews

  • “One of the most rewarding aspects of Berlant’s work and of Cruel Optimism in particular is the sheer transformative force within the field of the political that the analysis of chosen texts offers....Berlant is required reading that should somehow help ‘activist theorists and artists back to the question of what kind of form a gesture is, what kind of imminent expressivity it holds, and what kind of affective pedagogy might be effected by it’ (261) in the work of ‘having a life’ make sense.”—Alex Lockwood, Culture Machine

    “Lauren Berlant is not shitting on you or your dream. OK, yes, her latest book is called Cruel Optimism. . . . . Yes, the University of Chicago professor will break down everything you hold dear: food, love, politics, family, virtuous New Year’s resolutions. And yes, within a few pages, there’s that creeping sensation that, whatever makes you tick, it’s got you on the fast track to ruin and disappointment. . . . Nevertheless . . . Cruel Optimism is less brutal analysis than a dark, lush still-life of American fantasies and our Quixotic lunges toward them. An affective portrait of the 99%.”—Caitlin Hu, Bitch

    “This is Berlant at her most revolutionarily queer, questioning what would happen if we stopped thinking of ourselves in terms of identity categories, and instead reorganized our sense of self around the specific objects and ideas to which we are attached and the affects that they produce in us.”—Chase Dimock, Lambda Literary Review

  • Cruel Optimism, Lauren Berlant’s brilliant new book, lays bare the price of our habitual ways of thinking about subjectivity, temporality, affect, attachment, and political investment. Exploring the condition of precarity that mocks the good life (or at least the better life) that hard work and good behavior are supposed to make possible within liberal democracy, Berlant’s bold analyses of the impasse of the present and her unflinching determination to follow a thought to its necessary end make clear why this is a crucial, indeed a necessary, book at this moment—and also why it will inform our critical discourse for years to come.”—Lee Edelman, author of No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive

    “Lauren Berlant elegantly weaves together readings of contemporary art, literature, and film to reveal how our persistent aspirations for the good life are continually thwarted. Reading this book is an exciting theoretical experience but it also has a very practical, immediate, everyday quality. Berlant gives us something like a how-to guide for living in the impasse, that is, the affective and political conditions of our present.”—Michael Hardt, co-author of Commonwealth

    “This brilliant book will be much read and much cited. Lauren Berlant is widely regarded as one of the most important and original critics of contemporary cultural logics. Here she offers a genuinely new angle on familiar processes through her subtle yet forceful reading of cruel optimism, the psychic and structural dynamics that keep people proximate to objects, fantasies, and worlds that seem to diminish them.”—Sara Ahmed, author of The Promise of Happiness

  • Permission to Photocopy (coursepacks)

    If you are requesting permission to photocopy material for classroom use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center at copyright.com;

    If the Copyright Clearance Center cannot grant permission, you may request permission from our Copyrights & Permissions Manager (use Contact Information listed below).

    Permission to Reprint

    If you are requesting permission to reprint DUP material (journal or book selection) in another book or in any other format, contact our Copyrights & Permissions Manager (use Contact Information listed below).

    Images/Art

    Many images/art used in material copyrighted by Duke University Press are controlled, not by the Press, but by the owner of the image. Please check the credit line adjacent to the illustration, as well as the front and back matter of the book for a list of credits. You must obtain permission directly from the owner of the image. Occasionally, Duke University Press controls the rights to maps or other drawings. Please direct permission requests for these images to permissions@dukeupress.edu.
    For book covers to accompany reviews, please contact the publicity department.

    Subsidiary Rights/Foreign Translations

    If you're interested in a Duke University Press book for subsidiary rights/translations, please contact permissions@dukeupress.edu. Include the book title/author, rights sought, and estimated print run.

    Disability Requests

    Instructions for requesting an electronic text on behalf of a student with disabilities are available here.

    Rights & Permissions Contact Information

    Email: permissions@dukeupress.edu
    Email contact for coursepacks: asstpermissions@dukeupress.edu
    Fax: 919-688-4574
    Mail:
    Duke University Press
    Rights and Permissions
    905 W. Main Street
    Suite 18B
    Durham, NC 27701

    For all requests please include:
    1. Author's name. If book has an editor that is different from the article author, include editor's name also.
    2. Title of the journal article or book chapter and title of journal or title of book
    3. Page numbers (if excerpting, provide specifics)
    For coursepacks, please also note: The number of copies requested, the school and professor requesting
    For reprints and subsidiary rights, please also note: Your volume title, publication date, publisher, print run, page count, rights sought
  • Description

    A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing. Offering bold new ways of conceiving the present, Lauren Berlant describes the cruel optimism that has prevailed since the 1980s, as the social-democratic promise of the postwar period in the United States and Europe has retracted. People have remained attached to unachievable fantasies of the good life—with its promises of upward mobility, job security, political and social equality, and durable intimacy—despite evidence that liberal-capitalist societies can no longer be counted on to provide opportunities for individuals to make their lives “add up to something.”

    Arguing that the historical present is perceived affectively before it is understood in any other way, Berlant traces affective and aesthetic responses to the dramas of adjustment that unfold amid talk of precarity, contingency, and crisis. She suggests that our stretched-out present is characterized by new modes of temporality, and she explains why trauma theory—with its focus on reactions to the exceptional event that shatters the ordinary—is not useful for understanding the ways that people adjust over time, once crisis itself has become ordinary. Cruel Optimism is a remarkable affective history of the present.

    About The Author(s)

    Lauren Berlant is George M. Pullman Professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is the author of The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture and The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship, both also published by Duke University Press, as well as The Anatomy of National Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life. She the editor of the books Intimacy; Compassion: The Culture and Politics of an Emotion; and (with Lisa Duggan) Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and National Interest.