Hannah Zeavin Reviews Lauren Berlant's New Book

10 Sep, 2022

Hannah Zeavin Reviews Lauren Berlant's New Book

Berlant’s new book, On the Inconvenience of Other People, serves as a sequel of sorts to Cruel Optimism, the work that guaranteed Berlant’s fame beyond the academy. In Cruel Optimism, Berlant gave us a theory of how we attach to and protect things we want that are also harmful to us—objects of love, aspiration, and desire. What they ventured in Cruel Optimism was a theory of attachment as a theory of stuckness: we become dependent on the very structures, objects, and wishes that do us harm, and go in search of them, misrecognizing them fundamentally as aims and pleasures.

According to Hannah Zeavin, in Inconvenience, that pedagogy is sly, confiding, and digressive. Berlant wrote this book in what they call “the parenthetical voice,” allowing it to become their full, unbracketed style—perfect for the scholar of intimacy who claimed all intimacy happens in front of a third.

Quoted from her review:

"The book takes the form of a dissertation (a robust introduction and a coda bookending three cases), albeit one written by one of the field’s most famous scholars. In a series of three “assays,” Berlant offers thought experiments on sex, democracy, and life-in-struggle, or “suidiciation.” Berlant is not interested in extraordinary catastrophes, but in the quotidian, habitual, ongoing disasters of life and how we cope with them (and don’t). Using literary texts and films, they theorize group relations, and their difficulty—verging on impossibility—as a site of potential transformation. Berlant situates their instruction both in the everyday and in the wake of moments of historical rupture, including 1968, the Occupy protests, and the mass events of 2020: the pandemic and the uprisings following the murder by police of George Floyd."

Then, she dissected into specific essays like “Sex in the Event of Happiness” and “On Being in Life without Wanting the World” to explain how Berlant inserts her ideas.

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