Lauren Berlant’s study of affective attachments under conditions of cruel optimism (excerpted in the previous post) may be transcribed in a more direct comment on the current state of Leftist hope in Greece.
In the second half of this year the desire for a rule of the Left has turned into an attitude of cruel optimism because this desire is now an obstacle to political flourishing. The lingering attachment to the Leftist rule impedes the very goals that brought impressive numbers of people to Syriza, hoping for a Left governance. Now that it has lost its confidence, the attachment works against the dignified life it promised. It supports an inclination to keep returning to the scene of the defiant fantasy that inspired voters of OXI in the July bailout referendum to expect that this time issuing such a collective proclamation would help Greece become different in just the right way.
The current optimism is cruel because the scene that ignited optimistic anticipation of change now serves as a reminder of the impossibility to attain the socio-political transformation in which people invested so heavily. The fervent expectation of a “first-time” Left, an Arendtian “natality,” a Castoriadean “founding,” was a noble dream of the good life nullified by intensifying structural crises. The devastating dissolution of optimistic expectation brought about the ongoing dramas of affective adjustment to the impasse. Even when obliterated by threatening contingency, old attachments still function as foundations for optimism, thus becoming impediments to personal and collective change. The latest, dim hope that the party or the movement may achieve what the government cannot compensates for the loss of conviction while keeping Left self-criticism at bay. This cruel optimism of Syriza supporters is a survival mechanism in a damaged world where impasse has become ordinary.
On a different note, it all sounds like so many late-night conversations between Greek Leftists – two close friends singing together their cruel optimism for an irrevocable attachment that dissolves and yet refuses to adjust. For all the times, then, that my “other self,” Pantelis Polychronidis, and I, talk and sing about heartbreak and can’t find its “medicine,” here is a dashing duet, rolling blues, country, and gospel into Memphis soul:
“A thousand proof don’t change the truth/I tried it, but I can’t/I can’t drink you away
I’ve tried Jack, I’ve tried Jim/I’ve tried all of their friends/I can’t drink you away”
November 4, 2015