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Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism Garners Honors

Lauren Berlant’s latest book, Cruel Optimism, has been the focus of considerable attention. The book won the 2012 René Wellek Prize, has been featured in The New Inquiry and Bitch magazine, and on BBC Radio’s “Thinking Allowed.”

Berlant, the George M. Pullman Professor in the Department of English, was awarded the Wellek Prize by the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA). The Wellek Prize recognizes an outstanding work in the field of literary and cultural theory.

From the ACLA website:

In this trenchant analysis of the affective dimensions of the precaritization of life under neoliberalism in the late 20th- and early 21st centuries, Berlant gives us the conceptual tools to understand how and why extended crisis becomes indistinguishable from the rhythms of daily survival. She argues eloquently that trauma is a genre for viewing the historical present. Her scrupulous readings of contemporary art, film, and literature render visible the slow time of undramatic attrition and absorption—the temporality of our perseverence in attachments that do us no good.

From The New Inquiry:

Berlant doesn’t leave us with the instructive “Life sucks, eat some snacks,” but rather urges us to find our way out of the psychological burrow. How do we extricate ourselves from the irreparable and “cramped” fantasy of the good life, toward a “better good life?” How do we get out of relationships of cruel optimism, out of this prolonged sense of crisis, this sustained and boring code red? It is not a cul-de-sac of excess fat, blackened lungs, or wandering eyes but rather the structural impasse of capitalism we must fantasize our way out of.

From Bitch magazine:

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%.

Berlant and her book were also featured on BBC Radio’s “Thinking Allowed” with host Laurie Taylor.

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