After the Good Life, an Impasse: Notes on the Cinema of Precarity

Lauren Berlant

Lauren Berlant

“After the Good Life” works with two films of Laurent Cantet [Ressources humaines/Human Resources (1999) and L’Emploi du Temps/Time Out (2001)] to engage the new affective languages of the contemporary economic atmosphere across Europe: languages of anxiety, contingency, and precarity that take up the space where social democracy, upward mobility, and meritocracy used to reign. What happens to optimism when futurity splinters as a prop for getting through life? How to understand the emergence of this felt crisis in relation to transformations of the good life fantasy? The question reaches broadly, but the archive focuses on a variety of crises in the professional classes, which no longer can delegate precarity to the poor or the citizen sans papiers; its interest is in exploring how a new cinema of precarity stages the end of an era of social obligation and belonging by focusing, microhistorically, on what happens to manner and manners.

Lauren Berlant is George M. Pullman Professor of English at the University of Chicago. Developing concepts of affective publics since The Anatomy of National Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life (Chicago, 1991), she has completed a trilogy on national sentimentality, with The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (Duke, 1997), and The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Duke, 2008). She is also editor of Intimacy (Chicago, 2000), Compassion (Routledge, 2004), On the Case (forthcoming) and, with Lisa Duggan, Our Monica, Ourselves (2001). This talk is from her next book, Cruel Optimism.

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at NYU.