I Don’t Understand the God Part: A Conversation Between Lauren Berlant and Dorothea Lasky (an excerpt)
via e-mail May, 2009 | photos by Johnathan Crawford
|Prof. Lauren Berlant||Dorothea Lasky|
|In 2007 University of Chicago’s George M. Pullman Professor Lauren Berlant guest edited an issue of Critical Inquiry titled On the Case. In the issue, Berlant and others explored the phenomenon of the case study, or the study of a group, community, or incident. A case study, Berlant contends, can be anything from “a symptom, a crime, a causal variable, a situation, a stranger.” Each case elicits a judgment, perhaps also an expert, and a narrative leap from the singular to the general. The case study inquiry allows for “the sociality of knowledge, the circulation of discourse as its condition, and the clarifying obligation of analytic narrative.” It is a strategy of investigation, the creation of an allegory that offers “an account of the event and of the world.”
If we read the following interview between Berlant and New York poet Dorothea Lasky as a case study, what might we learn? Perhaps that while Berlant examines in her scholarship the flourishing of affects, attachments, and even love (the general), Lasky performs these themes in her poems and in her live readings (the singular). Both women share an interest in pedagogy, since they identify first and foremost as teachers. And while Lasky and Berlant diverge wildly on the topic of God and spirituality (a marked disjunction of the case), both urgently and forcefully study the way we operate and live in the world. Berlant states in a recent blog post, “I have never felt what people describe as nostalgia for themselves in their leavings. But that may be because I am more interested in floating, scanning, and becoming than having been.” Lasky concludes a poem: “It is a cut-out world/ This one we live in/ But birds are not the answer/ No birds are not the answer/ They never are.” -Katie Geha
Lauren Berlant...I am a person of the world. I am interested in the flourishing of beings in the context of lives that they are hammering out in the present. I am interested in the ways people find sustenance and make survival happen in worlds that are not organized for them. I am interested in why people stay attached to lives that don’t work, as though people would not survive the wholesale transformation of those attachments and the lives built around them, as though they would rather be miserable, stuck, or numb than tipped over in the middle of invention. Making worlds is very hard and losing them is devastating. In the middle , one has to build confidence or just habits that allow rest and coasting amidst the labor of making. So much of what we do demands inattention (our current emphasis on mindfulness neglects the mind’s need for incoherence, to rest, coast, spread out, incohere).
My work on cases, therefore, has nothing to do with individual love and spirituality, at least not that I know of! Although maybe you could tell me how you think it does or why it would be a good development to turn the study of how singularity becomes general when something becomes a case into the a question of the spirit. But love is one of those phenomena that makes people feel general, feel that something very specific and singular in them is tapping into a sensually known atmosphere. Is that the kind of thing you mean?
You know, I work on affect, on the ways that people sense transactions with the world and work out life in terms of reciprocal dynamics. The aesthetic is the scene where the training of those senses becomes a topic and a project, and so my training in proximity to art and language and as well as other forms of mediation has helped me see the ways people create their own gestural ways of mediating (finding a form for materializing and inhabiting) the world.
Does this view of art have anything to do with what you do? I was noting how very different your work reads on the page and manifests in performance.
Dorothea Lasky: I really like your answer to my question. I especially like how you called yourself “a person of the world,” because I think I am one too. Maybe that’s why we were paired together for this interview. I’m glad how you noticed that the way I read poems seems different than what they look like in print. I think that there is a difference because, like I said, I am a person of the world, and my concern with the world has to do primarily with education primarily. I am (and feel it is my ethical duty to be) really fascinated by and concerned with (and feel it is my ethical duty to be) with how people learn. I think I read a certain way so as to help people take in my poems better. I try to create a certain kind of flatness when I read, and it is with a certain educative purpose that I do this. I think by creating a flatness in performance poems are makes it easier for readers to understand as they are listening.
I especially liked this part of your response to my first question:
“God/spirituality comes in on both sides of that equation, as enabling and disabling happiness and connection. But I don’t much resonate much to these concepts or have sensual memories of being visited by anything in the least mystical in the least, even while my senses are often enraptured in the immaterial, take in the world intensely, and read the dynamics that make atmospheres and environments.”
I don’t always think of God/spirituality as being something necessarily mystical or as being something that visits you in an undefined, immaterial way. Nor do I think God is sensual (at least in the way I think of sensual, like an individual body’s sensuality). I think the entire world is God. Thus, your work on cases connects to God for me, although this probably doesn’t make obvious sense.
To me a lot of your work concerns a kind of ethics (I know, duh, right?). But it is a collective ethics, an ethics of the world. And to me, in 2009, this is a kind of concern with God…
Read the complete interview in MAKE Issue 8 – This Everyday