Friends, let us hold space and remember Cruel Optimism author Lauren Berlant upon word of their passing. “A relation of cruel optimism exists,” Berlant wrote, “when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing” (1). We are all in such relationships, are we not? “Speaking of grieving,” they wrote, it was in grieving French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard that Berlant “first saw optimism as the thing that keeps the event open, for better or ill” (viii). How does one come to recognize that one’s optimisms have become “cruel”? What is it that moves us out of ourselves? “A satisfying something,” they whisper. “An intelligence beyond rational calculation” (2). And we are here, we are caught in this “scene of fantasy,” we are in the throes of it. ‘Tis our present, our contemporary moment. And this moment is what Berlant calls an “impasse”: “a time of dithering from which someone or some situation cannot move forward” (4). That is the genre of these trance-scripts, is it not? “The impasse is a stretch of time in which one moves around with a sense that the world is at once intensely present and enigmatic, such that the activity of living demands both a wandering absorptive awareness and a hypervigilance that collects material that might help to clarify things” (4).
I set to work reorganizing my office into a sanctum. I handle old books, rearrange them in space. I eye the parts of the space, asking each object that my attention happens upon how it might give me joy. I peek through piles of paper. I pretend to think for a moment in character as a “life coach.” “What do I want with this stuff?” I ask myself while staring at the contents of a tall metal filing cabinet, each hanging folder neatly labeled, organized mostly in accord with topics I studied in grad school. Much of it seems distant and dated: political pamphlets, neighborhood bulletins. Paper-media objects of the past. How much of it is worth holding onto? At the very least, the file cabinet tells a story: eyeing a drawer’s contents, one moves from dissertation chapters and professors’ comments to a final folder (the only one with which I interact anymore) overflowing with bills. That’s why I took to climbing Mystic Mountain. Yet now I’m here, sitting beside a spider on my front stoop at dusk, watching it weave its web. I sit awed by all the little live things, all my kind, beautiful companions, breathing, centering, seeking to do well by all.