For the next meeting, we are reading a text by Lauren Berlant from her book The Female Complaint – the Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (2008).
The book is part of her ‘national sentimentality’ project, charting the emergence of the U.S. political sphere as an affective space of attachment and identification. In this book, Berlant chronicles the origins and conventions of the first mass-cultural ‘intimate public’ in the United States, a ‘women’s culture’ distinguished by a view that women inevitably have something in common and are in need of a conversation that feels intimate and revelatory. As Berlant explains, ‘women’s’ books, films, and television shows enact a fantasy that a woman’s life is not just her own, but an experience understood by other women, no matter how dissimilar they are. The commodified genres of intimacy, such as ‘chick lit,’ circulate among strangers, enabling insider self-help talk to flourish in an intimate public. Sentimentality and complaint are central to this commercial convention of critique; their relation to the political realm is ambivalent, as politics seems both to threaten sentimental values and to provide certain opportunities for their extension.
We are reading the short preface, and chapter 7, ‘The Compulsion to Repeat Femininity – Landscape for a Good Woman and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’. In this chapter, Berlant discusses two novels that both “offer views of what it would be like to share the goods of a sexually and economically emancipated life only to end, again, in the closed shop of sentimental fantasy.”