S-Space College of Humanities (인문대학) English Language and Literature (영어영문학과) 영학논집(English Studies) 영학논집(English Studies) No.40 (2020)
세즈윅이 벌랜트를 다시 읽는다면?: 반복, 형식, 시나리오의 가능성과 ‘느린’ 읽기
What If Sedgwick Read Berlant?: Slow Reading and The Possibility of Repetition, Form, and Scenario
- Issue Date
- 서울대학교 인문대학 영어영문학과
- 영학논집, Vol.40, pp. 1-23
- critical theory; Eve Sedgwick; “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading”; Lauren Berlant; Cruel Optimism; history; change; subjectivity; individuality; impersonality; form; repetition; trauma; belatedness
- To some extent, critical theories are responses to what dominates or is taken for granted in history. They ask: If the norms, conventions, and languages constituting our lives are oppressive, are we still capable of imagining a better life, a better future? Using Eve Sedgwick’s “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading” (1997) and Laurent Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (2011) as two different (but respectively significant) pillars in the history of critical theory, this paper attempts to map the critical stances and concomitant affects regarding prospects for change.
In this age, suspicion, skepticism, and discontent are the symbols of intelligence. Indeed, many critics have engaged and succeeded in exposing the oppressive nature of reality and the obscure mechanism of power. It is Sedgwick who points out the state of a critical impasse in which the “hermeneutics of suspicion” has been habitualized and simply confirms what is already known rather than contributing to improving the reality. Sedgwick insists on the need to direct critical energy to elaborating on the variety of desires as a “lived life,” and more importantly, as an “unfinished history” that has survived the oppressive reality. Since she encourages critics to gather and recover resources in the given world to imagine and live a more livable life, Sedgwickian reparative thought has not only been influential but also prevailed in the theoretical discourse of desire and sexuality.
In Cruel Optimism, Berlant interferes with the way this reparative reading is consumed and reproduced. According to Berlant, critics’ tendency to believe individuals can change their own life as they think is not only an occupational hazard but also an aspect of neoliberalism, which overestimates the intentional, self-reflective personhood. She pays attention to traumatized subjects (instead of the more or less “heroic” ones) to represent the way of living and feeling in a precarious world in which the ordinary becomes crisis itself. In chapter four, she focuses on two female characters in Mary Gaitskill’s novel, Two Girls, Fat and Thin, who are attached to repeated actions such as eating, thinking, and sex, rather than a certain object. Through this observation, Berlant demonstrates how their formalist strategies and impersonality function as a kind of agency and accordingly, why they should remain essential resources of life.
This paper intends to reveal that Berlant’s concern about reparative thought is based on intentional misrecognition and to preserve, as
well as discover, the reparative impulse in her own theory. Reading her work, it becomes clear that Berlant’s theoretical thought comes from a thirst for new forms to satisfy and explain our desire all the better. While Sedgwick explores the vitality or dignity of an individual who is not destroyed by (and thus seems free from) the tyranny of history, Berlant reflects on impersonality and form to remove the traces of humanism in reparative reading, and thus sheds light on an individual who is by no means free. Furthermore, Berlant’s axiom that knowledge is traumatic suggests the inevitable presence of a gap between the time of experiencing and the time of understanding. Berlant invites us to think of this belatedness as a fundamental condition of thought and historicization.