Affect and the Political

Article excerpt

(Yubraj Aryal interviewed Lauren Berlant on Affect and the Political. Mr. Aryal focused his questions on the affective aspects of the political.)

Y. A.: Your book Cruel Optimism maps out an affective history of the present. What is the model of the present, which you think, with which people are relating to themselves with the present in the contemporary [American] society today?


L. B: In Cruel Optimism I claim that the historical present makes itself available to its occupants first as a serious affective disturbance in the reproduction of life. By "the reproduction of life" point to many scenes of engagement: from familial and intimate, to labor and economic, to participation in media and pleasure consumption. Since job and credit availability have become so very unstable in the last four years, there has been a tightening up in the diversity of the material experience of the present-more people are in sync observing and living the historical present as an economic crisis time. Economic crisis threatens the robustness of intimate consumer pleasure domains too, although the instability of intimacy and other modes of mediated cultural belonging doesn't only come from the economic root. The global financial crisis also threatens the faith in and the primacy of the nation form, in its symbolic and political infrastructure. The historical present became modern in the US and Europe with the coming to hegemony of the national frame: so a disturbance in what kind of resource for belonging the nation is is a disturbance in what constitutes the historical present in a serious way. So I guess what I am saying to you is that the model of the historical present at present is a disturbance in the historical present's traditional forms.

Y. A.: In the last part of your conversation, you are sketching the economic crisis. So, certainly you are trying to suggest reproduction of capital has shaped the "reproduction of life." I agree! It just reminds me what Deleuze says in the Anti-Oedipus that the formation of political reproduction at present is taking place through the reproduction of capital (all it matters is reproduction of money) whereas it would take place through biological reproduction (kinship, bigotry etc. Rulers or kings would decide whom their sons or daughters could marry and whom not in order to influence a specific political reproduction. The same regulation was also maintained in the familial relations among population) in the archaic societies, so that familial/intimate relations are increasingly viewed as "private matters." This is what another but similar way of understanding " a disturbance in the historical present's traditional forms" in terms of political reproduction. In what ways do these "private matters [familial relations .i.e. biological as well intimate relations i.e. biosociality] " participate in the reproduction of the political at the historical present? And how is it connected to the reproduction of capital?

L. B: It would be difficult to answer this question in general, I can't do it. Political reproduction (in administrative, policy, juridical, and symbolic ways) saturates (but never homogenizes) the reproduction of life, in the everyday, in people's relation to work and pleasure, in people's practices and imaginaries for belonging, and in debates and concepts of what a life is--and of course the question of the flourishing of people in families is always an extremely invested site for multiple performances of political antagonism, usually allegorical but not always. At the same time, everyday life theory has long argued that people's relation to the materiality of work-to that part of capitalism that constructs sleep and eating patterns, leisure and speed--constructs relationality in desperate and subtle ways, along with affecting what the shape of a life is in its daily and longer temporal arcs, not to mention people's senses of causality and efficacy. …