Lauren Berlant (1957-2021) – Artforum International

Lauren Berlant, a deeply influential American scholar and cultural critic known for her rigorous and playful explorations of intimacy, citizenship and affect, died on June 28 at the age of 63 from an Cancer. The news was announced by Duke University Press. Since 1984, George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English at the University of Chicago, Berlant has written extensively on the subject of human belonging to the world, which they saw as shaped by affect and emotion rather than by rational thought, and in their immense influence Cruel optimism (2011) associated affect theory with neoliberalism, anticipating the rise of social media-driven politics that would shape the following decade.

Born in Philadelphia in 1957, Berlant received his BA in English from Oberlin University in 1979, his MA from Cornell University in 1983, and his doctorate from the same institution two years later, having already started studying. teach at the University of Chicago. “I was poor and you had to start repaying loans if you took time off,” Berlant said of their direct path to college, which they called “sub-optimal,” adding: “But I had another life in high school living in communes, so I didn’t leave home for the first time when I went to college.

Berlant’s doctoral thesis, “Executing the Love Plot: Hawthorne and the Romance of Power”, was to be the basis of their first book, 1991’s. TThe Anatomy of National Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life, itself the initial entry in Berlant’s critically acclaimed “National Sentimentality” trilogy, which investigates the unconscious and emotional decisions and attachments we make that form our national identity. In the wake of the two following volumes completing the trilogy—Queen of America visits Washington: essays on sex and citizenship (1997) and The female complaint: the unfinished business of sentimentality in American culture_ — _ Berlant turned his attention to neoliberalism and the American dream, the pursuit of which they called “Sisyphean” and ultimately destructive. “A relationship of cruel optimism,” Berlant wrote, “is a double bond in which your attachment to an object sustains you in life at the same time that that object is actually a threat to your development. By painting the promise of neoliberalism – better job, better house, better car – as eternally unachievable but constantly kept and therefore endlessly sought after, they foresaw the policy of grievances that led to the election of Donald Trump.

Co-editor and regular contributor to Critical investigation, Berlant wrote Sex and love (2012); Sex or the unbearable (2014), with Lee Edelman; and, with Australian writer Kathleen Stewart, 2019’s The cents, a hundred short essays on ordinary encounters seen in the light of the theory of affect. Berlant was an exceptional editor, lending his touch to collections entitled Privacy (2001) and Compassion (2004) as well as Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest (2001), which they co-edited with Lisa Duggan. A prolific contributor to a range of publications including Art Forum, Atlantis, Contemporary literary criticism, Cultural anthropology, the Minnesota Review, and Public culture, they have received numerous awards during their careers, including in recent years a Guggenheim Fellowship and the René Wellek Prize from the American Comparative Literature Association. In 2018, they were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Berlant was passionately engaged in open discourse, often writing “What would it mean to have this thought?” On their arm during teaching sessions. “We have to be stupid and exposed to each other,” they told the Los Angeles Book Review‘Brad Evans in 2018. “[We need] to unlearn the habits of maintaining a system just to get through the day, week, month, life.


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