Everything Is Not Going to Be Okay: Optimism in the Age of Catastrophe
Graduate Conference at the Comparative Literature Department at UB
Conference Date: April 10th
Deadline for submission of abstracts: January 27th 2015
Please send your abstracts (300 words) and a short bio to email@example.com
“Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good… so far so good… so far so good.”
– Mathieu Kassovitz’s La haine (1995)
Everyone – politicians, Disney films, pop songs, our therapists, friends and professors – keep telling us things will turn out alright, while almost every scientific report and every other news article we read counters that notion. Political activists are encouraged to affect change with smiles on their faces and cancer patients are asked to “fight” their disease with positive thinking. Obama’s promises of hope and change spoke to the fears and desires of many, even though his campaign poster showed him looking in no specific direction at all. Everywhere we encounter the elusive message that we all share some common goal and that we’re all in the same boat. However, as Lauren Berlant discusses in her book, Cruel Optimism, people live in a state of “crisis ordinariness”, where crisis “is not exceptional to history or consciousness but a process embedded in the ordinary[.]” What does the promise that everything is going to be okay refer to? What is its temporal dimension? Have things ever been okay? How does hope operate? What makes us cling to it? Is there any way of surviving without it? Or is there enjoyment in giving in to the death drive? Is there perverse pleasure in resignation?
We think of catastrophe as a new mode of producing or gaining knowledge. It seems to us that catastrophe might not be accompanied solely by negative effects – and affects – but that it can change the ways in which we conceive binaries: ability/disability, human/nonhuman relations, trauma/non trauma, culture/nature. The question “what comes after hope?” (posed by Jack Halberstam in The Queer Art of Failure) opens up new possibilities in thinking about catastrophe. How can we define the relation between hope and revolution? How can we conceive of the space between overbearing optimism and disabling alarmism? Is there room for radical change at times of catastrophe?
Conference Keynote Speaker: Elisabeth Anker, assistant professor of American Studies and Political Science at the George Washington University, author of Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom (Duke, 2014)
We welcome papers from the following areas, but not limited to those:
critical race theory
ecocriticism and environmental studies
film and media studies