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Affect of the Commons

Kunst- und Kulturwissenschaften
Aula am Campus, Altes AKH Hof 1.11, Spitalgasse 2, 1090 Wien

Lecture by Lauren Berlant (University of Chicago), Moderation Birgit Sauer (University of Vienna).

“The commons” is currently a prestige concept for redescribing and rebooting democracy. In political theory after Kant it points to an unbounded, universally sensed space for the political. There’s a romantic story about the commons too, a pastoral story of nature and human creativity. Both of these are unconflicted spaces. At the same time, the concept points to an anti-pastoral process, involving rage at exploitation, theft, loss, mourning, the prospects of resistance to the state and capital, and the need to protect people from each other’s possessiveness. This register constructs the encounter with the commons as an ambivalent one, in which relations of property and intimacy encounter each other frictionally. This segment of a longer work focuses on Ralph Waldo Emerson, Juliana Spahr, and Liza Johnson, and engages the propertied and affective resonances of the commons concept. But rather than cast it as an aspirational achievement, it values the commons specifically for its negative pedagogy, its pedagogy of unlearning normative infrastructures as such.

Lauren Berlant holds the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. Her work has focused on a politics of affects and feelings in the U.S. nineteenth and twentieth centuries and is published, for instance, in her trilogy on national sentimentality – The Anatomy of National Fantasy (1991), T he Queen of America Goes to Washington City (1997), The Female Complaint (2008) – or in her publication Cruel Optimism (2011).

This is a cooperation of the Forschungsgruppe Gender and Politics/ipw lectures (Department of Political Science, University of Vienna), of the Gender Research Office/Gender Talks (University of Vienna), of the Institute of Art Theory and Cultural Studies (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna) and of the Forschungsverbund Gender & Agency (University of Vienna).