When we talk about an object of desire, we are really talking about a cluster of promises we want someone or something to make possible for us. This cluster of promises could be embedded in a person, a thing, an institution, a text, a norm, a bunch of cells, smells, a good idea – whatever.
(Laura Berlant. 2010. „Cruel Optimism“. In The Affect Theory Ready, eds. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth. Durham and London: Duke University Press, p.93)
If I have any one desire at the moment, it’s to be non-political.
Friends of mine believe they are able to do just that. They are able to see the egregious political upheavals of our time and focus on other things entirely. On art, on music, on literature. These spheres are often politicized in times of unrest, but not always.
During World War II, not all German artists and writers opposing the Nazi regime decided to challenge it openly, or even leave Germany for that matter. Instead, they went into what is referred to as „inner migration“, a sort of silent opposition. They picked motifs that alluded to the great fear and numbness of the time without directly naming the unimaginable suffering that surrounded them. Is this a good route to choose, I wonder? Should we, even if we want to?
Fleeing into the supposed unpolitical is, of course, very political. I talked to a friend once, who said he just simply did not want to imagine a world where sexism exists, he would rather just stay in his bubble. Aside from the fact that the ability to do so belies a certain privilege, I wonder whether it is at all possible to do right now. Now more so than ever we have to oppose the societal imperative to focus on ourselves and try and be the best versions of ourselves we can be, the imperative to try and be happy. We have to be “feminist killjoys” and “melancholic migrants” (which are terms the philosopher and sociologist Sara Ahmed coined in her 2010 monograph The Promise of Happiness), even if and precisely because ideas of normative happiness are constructed around the exclusion of those who refuse an easy way out by conforming to what society expects of them.
Desiring the non-political refuge is perhaps cruel optimism in Berlant’s sense, but reactions to upheaval and trauma, politically speaking, are often based on affect in its purest sense.
Recent events have been extremely difficult to deal with. Change needs to happen, but headlines these days are a constant onslaught of terrible events, of the human abyss. The experiences of violence people face make everything look bleak, and the hypocrisy leveled our way on a political scale makes everything feel fake, makes us question whether we, ourselves, are the true hypocrites. It’s difficult (but necessary) to practice self-care in the times we live in. Sometimes that does mean focusing on the mundane, on the fact that our corner of the world is not as affected by these terrible events as other places are. Sometimes it means using humor and sarcasm (and even cynicism) as a coping mechanism. However, it’s just as important not to look the other way. Because our privilege to disengage when necessary makes it impossible for those who cannot to move forward.
[Adjusted and expanded upon based on “On the desire to be non-political”, first published January 28th 2017 on my personal blog]
by Simone (a feminist killjoy)