Following a discussion with friends about, among many other things, Lauren Berlant’s introduction to Cruel Optimism, I’ve been thinking about the distinction they make between the situation and the event, and how this can be applied to creative writing as aesthetic mediation.
One of the foundational interventions Berlant makes in Cruel Optimism is an insistence on examining the present as an immanent affective experience: “One of this book’s central claims is that the present is perceived, first, affectively: the present is what makes itself present to us before it becomes anything else, such as an orchestrated collective event or an epoch on which we can look back” (4).
The present, then, is always under revision, a site of emergence where genres and conventions for processing, organizing, and understanding “what is going on” are contested. One genre of emergence that Berlant attends to is the situation, which they define as: “a state of things in which something that will perhaps matter is unfolding amid the usual activity of life. It is a state of animated and animating suspension that forces itself on consciousness, that produces a sense of the emergence of something in the present that may become an event” (5). The kineticism of the situation is contrasted by the event, which is a congealed organization that defines what has happened.
Following Berlant’s definitions, moving writing, for me, is able to take an event and turn it into a situation through aesthetic mediation. Whether it’s a walk through the park or the loss of a loved one, the writing I remember the most is able to shake loose the bounded expectations of the event by deploying language that insists and illustrates how something else may be happening here.
Furthermore, I really love the conditional language Berlant uses in describing the situation–it “may” become an event, it “perhaps” might matter. Often times I will bounce off writing that exchanges one event for another–what is produced is not an open site of contestation oriented towards a significant perhaps but yet another calcified structure that neatly circumscribes worlds of possibilities, one box nested in another.
I think using Berlant’s language here is particularly useful for thinking about writing with greater stakes than producing a pleasing turn of phrase (I’ve always been dissatisfied with defamiliarization as the reigning conceptualization for crafting language). All writing is enunciated in relation to the political, and the structures of intelligibility rendering even the most “apolitical” piece come into greater relief when we think of the situation/event. There are so many stories and poems desperately in need of liquefying their assumptions–of people, places, wars, the familiar comforts they take for granted that might be doing active harm to illegible others.
I’ve been reading for a lit mag, which has provided many opportunities to think about aesthetic mediations of the situation as a genre of emergence. I think I am mainly attracted to writing that can point to other modalities of being in the world or being with others–when the ostensible theme or point or plot is always a little at odds with itself, and it provides the feeling that somewhere in its ecosystem of language, we might perhaps sense something more.