English Language and Literature; Director, the Lesbian and Gay Studies Project of CSGS
Lauren Berlant's work is driven by two questions-what are the relations between the formal (legal, institutional) and informal (affective) forces that bind people to each other and to worlds? And why do people stay attached to lives that don't work? Her recent book, Cruel Optimism (2011), is about the affective and aesthetic impacts of facing the end of the post-war good life fantasy, at least for so many whose desires have been bound up by the promises of capitalism in liberal society that there will be no structural obstacles to individuals seeking to create cushions of enjoyment within the space of ordinary life.
Her national sentimentality trilogy, The Anatomy of National Fantasy, tracked the U.S. from the 19th through the 20th centuries and used Hawthorne to get at the complex productivity of the law and informal affective worlds in the production of attachment to the nation and to the desire for the political. The main aim of The Female Complaint is to develop the concept of the intimate public sphere, and to use "women's culture" as a test case for tracking the political and popular imaginaries of survival in the United States. In The Queen of America, the systemic adhesive of a sentimental fantasy of national intimacy reemerges as a political thematic of the Reagan era culture wars over which kinds of personal virtue make someone seem competent to citizenship. In the years after the Queen, Berlant edited two volumes, Intimacy and Compassion: the Culture and Politics of an Emotion, to develop a better sense of how normative emotion and more unconscious affect circulate both in media-orchestrated contexts of sociality and in relations of solidarity that people build every day.