On Cruel Optimism and Cruel Nostalgia

Date of Event: April 9, 2019 Event Type: Interim Event

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)

Anarchy, Desire and Performance

Date of Event: March 28, 2018 Event Type: Interim Event
“The passion for destruction is a creative passion, too!” (Mikhail Bakunin, 1842)

Anarchy is at once creative and destructive. Its creativity is often predicated on relatively peaceful forms of dissensus that target a symbolic order or ideology. However, whilst anarchism has at times aligned with violent forms of direct action, anarchism’s creative impulses are routinely folded into narratives that demonize diverse forms of dissent as violent assaults not just against an established order like a government or forces of governmentality, but against society and its constituents. This afternoon-long event responds by challenging this limited understanding of anarchy and anarchism by addressing anarchy as a source of creativity and hope, in particular by focusing on the ways in which artists past and present have turned to anarchist principles as a source of inspiration. Anarchist thought played important roles in the development of modernism, postmodernism and the avant-gardes (notable examples include the Situationist International, the Living Theatre and the San Francisco Diggers, as well as anarcho-punk and DIY), providing valuable context for how we might approach the politics and aesthetics of live art and contemporary performance. Anarchist principles also underpin the tactics and strategies of multiple forms of protest and educational initiatives that make creative use of theatre and performance (for instance, Reclaim the Streets and the Antiuniversity), encouraging an address not just of what we might consider in a research or pedagogic context, but also how we might do so.


In proposing anarchism as a key theme for our next interim event, and as the basis for a longer-term consideration of anarchy and performance, TaPRA’s Performance, Identity and Community Working Group are interested in addressing and unsettling assumptions that connect violence to anarchism by exploring the significance of hope and desire in anarchist thought and action. We’ll be mapping various historical intersections between art and anarchism, and asking how these might form an illuminating context for makers of theatre and performance in the present moment. Finally, we are interested in what theatre and performance might have to offer to how we conceptualise anarchism and make sense of its value and significance.

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 scoping out the terrain of anarchism, desire and performance in an afternoon of discussion, debate and practical experimentation.


The event will be taking place at Camden People’s Theatre in London, and runs as follows:

13:00-13:15: Registration

13:15-15:15: Panel and open discussion. Guest Speakers: Ally Walsh (University of Leeds), Valeria Graziano (Middlesex University), and Shiri Shalmy (Antiuniversity Now and independent curator and producer)

15:15-15:30: Break

15:30-17:00: Practical workshop & discussion with performance maker and scholar Daniel Oliver

This event is free, but all attendees must be (or become) registered TaPRA members. Please register for the event here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/anarchy-desire-and-performance-tickets-43287079821

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