Our third session and I did sit next to the ladies I felt I knew a little bit. Don’t think this is a bad thing but also liked the suggestion to reach out to other people. I mix my students up all the time and it is a good thing to open up to new people and their ideas. And the class seems to be now more diverse than in week 1. It is interesting that the back row, this is were I am sitting as well, is participating a lot. Usually, but not always, you have the naughty students hiding at the back. Maybe naughty in this case is more outspoken? A little bit? I am sure things will change as the weeks progress. I sat there as I wanted to blend into the background but this seat also gives me a good view of the whole classroom. Sitting at the font does not appeal to me as I would have my back turned to my peers in the current furniture arrangement. It doesn’t feel right. Could we sit in a circle? The rows don’t encourage movement and more dynamic classroom interaction. I feel.
We discussed Capitalist realism (Fisher, 2009) and Cruel optimism (Berlant, 2011) and I would definitely not be able to participate without having done the readings, even if my head did hurt at the time. I was fascinated by the discussions we had in class and the questions asked by Caroline really helped us think deeper and see connections between ideas and concepts but also our everyday realities. One of my peers made a statement saying that capitalist realism seems to be more a reality than a theory. This was an interesting angle to consider. I guess it may be a sign when theory becomes fully integrated into practice and is lived. The implications of capitalism realism for the individual and society appear to explain a series of mental health problems, the raise of instability, insecurity and anxiety. We are angry. And the outlook is grim. For the many.
Individualism and competitiveness seem to thrive in expense of collaboration and community and the collective. Everybody is in there for themselves and media, mass and social, feed that hunger to stand out, be seen and admired for a polished self and a synthetic or fabricated lifestyle that comes with it. The ‘me me me’ culture seems to be turning into an epidemic. Many examples were mentioned in class that erode not just our economy, politics (Brexit was of course also mentioned), our society but also our everyday human relationships.
While Mark Fisher explains in detail the negative effects of capitalist realism and makes a case evidencing that culture, literature and education have been subsumed by it, I am not sure that he offers an alternative, a viable alternative. To what extend did he have an alternative in mind when he wrote this book? The imperative need for an alternative is there but concrete ideas seem to be absent. Maybe there are none. Maybe this is the reason why people cling with nostalgia to the old, a distorted reality that lives in their dusty memories, a mushy salad of experiences and fantasies.
But do we want to dismantle the status quo? And who is “we”? I don’t think it is everybody, all… all of us…I think it is still very much us and them, or them and us. And the distance between us is widening and deepening as we speak…
What role does/can literature and culture more generally play to (re-)imagine new realities and provide not just a glimmer of hope, which is soaked in passivity, but can grow into collective empowerment, participatory revolution? For me, one of the problems is that we see politics and economics completely detached from culture. And the chasm is growing. We allow it to grow. It seems to be convenient for some… for those especially who try and shower us with nostalgia of the glorious past that never was while harvesting their capitalist fruits from all of us. And we don’t even realise that this is happening or we allow it to happen as such practices have been normalised.
I still felt sad about Mark Fisher, his depression and how in the end he took his own life. Capitalist realism appears to have been his lived reality and perhaps he experienced a form of cruel optimism and the idea of “good life” crumbled in front of his eyes and he no longer could see an alternative, not even in his fantasies…
While we had these open discussions I kept thinking about children’s literature and specifically picture books and if or to what extend these present spaces to dream up new realities. I started searching for signs of capitalist realism (Fisher, 2009) in stories, picture book stories. The Bear and the piano by David Litchfield came to mind… I feel that the story also has elements of cruel optimism and the “good life” (Berlant, 2011). How does the bear save himself from falling apart? From crumbling? If the bear in the book can do it, what stops us?
While the discussions were really insightful, I kept coming back to the essay I have to write…
Assessment 1: Essay
For the first assignment, you should offer specific literary or cultural examples that you have approved with the module tutor who covered the topic that you are interested in.
Specific questions have been provided and included in last week’s post.
I know now that my secondary sources can children’s books, even picture books. The plan is to start putting some of them together and then carefully identify which ones I could use. Vicky, my children’s literature buddy from the course, says that she does that first before tackling an essay and it does seem like a wise strategy.
Possible secondary sources so far…
Andros, C. (2018) The dress and the girl. Abrams.
Litchfield, D. (2015) The bear and the piano.
Need to check the VLE now and do some reading for next week.
Update over the weekend?
I started reading for next week, before the weekend began… I had a question mark as I wasn’t sure what to write. How to write it. The reading for week 4 is very heavy, but in a different way from what I have read the previous weeks. It focuses on financial forms in literature after the financial crash. The book, Scandals and Abstraction by Leigh Claire La Berge is the one I am reading online at the moment. I think it doesn’t help that I am reading it online. I feel that I am getting closer to the text when I actually hold a printout or the real book in my hands. I struggle to connect with this one exclusively online. I have used snippet to get some bits of the pages I have read so far, so that I can print them out and make some notes on these. This will help a little bit. I suspect the week 4 post will be short. I am already looking forward to week 5 (emotions and happiness through the work of Sara Ahmed) and suspect that this will provide food-for-thought for the first assignment. Could I also link to cruel optimism and capitalist realism? I see hopeful visions articulated in contemporary picture books that contrast with capitalist realism and cruel optimism and would like to explore this further. Are fresh alternative visions present in contemporary picture books? I need to articulate this question a bit better and share with Caroline. See what she says and then make a start with my first assignment. I am re-reading some of my picture books (well, we had bought most of them for the boys when they were younger) and identify the themes that emerge from these.
Berlant, L. (2011) Cruel optimism. London: Duke University Press.
Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist realism. Is there no alternative? Ropley, Hants: John Hunt Publishing.
The following made me think…