On Cruel Optimism and Cruel Nostalgia

Date: Tuesday 9 April 2019

TaPRA Performance, Identity and Community WG

Interim Event 2019: On Cruel Optimism and Cruel Nostalgia

With contributions from Professor Robert Eaglestone, Dr. Louise Owen, and a performance by fanSHEN.

In Cruel Optimism Lauren Berlant views the present as a moment of suspension, or ‘the impasse’, during which ‘the traditional infrastructures for reproducing life – at work, in intimacy, politically – are crumbling at a threatening pace’ (2011, p.5); the resolution of past certainties and attachments Berlant refers to, widely felt in the spheres of politics, the environment and conditions of everyday life, produce the need for modes of adaptation that create flexible and resilient subjects able to navigate such precarities. However, notwithstanding the feelings of ‘being stuck in time’, nostalgia for past ideologies or a lost past – what Rob Eagleston names ‘cruel nostalgia’ (2018) – also deeply threatens the reproduction of life and identity as relational in favour of nationalist and xenophobic discourses. In neoliberal times, calls for personal ‘resilience’ can also mask the demand for individuals to pursue biographical solutions to systemic crises. What has happened to the coding of the present envisioned by Berlant? What are the ramifications of cruel nostalgia? What can performance tell us about social reproduction in times of crisis? TaPRA’s Performance, Identity and Community working group’s 2019 interim event wishes to look at how the temporalities of optimism and nostalgia affect how we view this present moment and its relationship with the past and the future – a moment that at the time of the event’s unfolding coincides with a key juncture in the history of the United Kingdom, and a united Europe. As Sara Ahmed reminds us, anxieties about the future are incumbent in the politics of hope. Hope, a future-oriented affect, ‘involves imagination, a wishfulness for what we are striving for in the present’ and encompasses anxiety as some of the things we wish for will fail to happen, or be fundamentally undermined (Ahmed, 2010, p. 182-183). Against the above backdrop, we ask:
  • What grounds remain for anxious hope, and how might this manifest in performance? What does optimism look like in precarious times?
  • What happens to anxiety and hope when traditional infrastructures are crumbling, whether it be with regards to a nation or a union of nations, or in work, cultural production, social reproduction, or in personal and intimate relationships? What alternative cultural and social structures are emerging in and through performance?
  • What resources do performance makers call upon for adapting to precarity? How can scholars work more effectively with performance makers to enact material change, and what might such collaboration tell us about the politics of anxiety and hope?
  • How does performance engage with questions of sustainability/sustainable futures?
For this interim event, we invite regular members of the Working Group and anyone with an interest in our themes to register, and participate in an afternoon of discussion, debate and performance. The event will be taking place at Battersea Arts Centre in London, and runs as follows: Attendance is free of charge, but all attendees must be registered TaPRA members. You may become a TaPRA member here. We are happy to offer up to four postgraduate travel bursaries for this event capped at £25 each. Priority will be given to those travelling furthest.   You may register by clicking here. If you have any queries please email the WG’s conveners Adam Alston (a.alston@gsa.surrey.ac.uk), Marissia Fragkou (marissia.fragkou@canterbury.ac.uk) and Stephen Greer (stephen.greer@glasgow.ac.uk)

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