Expectation is a curious orientation. At its heart, it is a state that we feel entitled to. When we turn ourselves outward, grasp invisibly into the future, and take hold of something un-yet realized … there’s something that feels justified; even if it doesn’t feel realistic. What we expect from within coalesces around a core of right: from inside our subjectivity, we have grounds to dwell upon even our most modest anticipations. There is something in the future that we deserve.
Which comes as both fulfillment and desolation; a bare recognition or ultimate disappointment. Jubilation. Despair. The accumulated evidence has made us feel this way. We are led to invest in the coming moment, to foresee the end of a manifest trajectory. Life, it may be said, encourages it. Patterns emerge effortlessly, and we project.
To expect, in the true sense of the word, carries with it a bouquet consequences. The random, unforeseeable nature of even the meanest scenario means that our dreams are constantly thwarted, but also that our most reasonable projections for the future refuse to manifest faithfully. We surround ourselves in fiction with characters perfectly adapted to the whims and uncertainties of their environments. The sleuth infallibly predicts the failure of the criminal. The perspicacious leader effortlessly calls the results of a vote. The Machiavellian schemer pulls the strings of countless hangers-on. The dream of a dream realized is recapitulated over and over. We might expect that at some point our own hard-won deductions or inductions will someday work out for us.
This is a season of expectations. Despite the anti-climaxes of ambitions thwarted and dreams unrealized; relationships, presents, and events unrequited despite our unquestionable deservedness; the holiday season is a lesson in acceptance, of things as they are with all of their unexpected manifestations. The map to the future can only ever be approximate. What we see coming our way resolves as it crests the horizon. Is that what I was waiting for?
Yes. This is what you get.
[A] book about the attrition of a fantasy, a collectively invested form of life, the good life. As that fantasy has become more fantastic, with less and less relation to how people can live—its attrition manifests itself in an emerging set of aesthetic conventions that make a claim to affective realism derived from embodied, affective rhythms of survival.
♦ Laren Berlant, Cruel Optimism
There is reason to take issue with the historical present. That we have gradually, inexorably, been becoming detached from the genuine prospect of realistic achievement of a collectively entertained (and entertaining) fantasy life seems almost cruel in itself to acknowledge. The negative injunction—”don’t look!”—could rightly and more reliably be expected to emanate from an internal source rather than an external one. We do not desire to examine the very tenuous foundations on which we are so hastily and compellingly erected from. The project of living today in the Western world almost requires a blindness complicit with the unachievable nature of our ambitions; ambitions which are manufactured against the impetus of an ostensibly easily accessed sense of reason, along with features of social and political realities that we willfully attenuate to the point of polite dinner conversation. Actual, meaningful, cognitive assessment of the terms, conditions, cost, reliability, and plausibility of the models we project outward and upward from ourselves, on which we base life changing decisions and evaluate one another in society, can feasibly be apprehended to be inherently repulsive. Too much of our sense of coherence and intelligibility relies upon a hope that may in fact be toxic to any real form of stability. The point that Berlant hammers so deftly is one of precarity: as supporting and driving institutions continue to shrink from the business of real service to a larger community, and instead mobilize people as statistics which serve the bottom line of not even the 1% but rather composite, covetous corporate and national entities, the prospect of success becomes hazardous. It may never arrive. It likely won’t, not recognizably. The “good life” is so utterly contingent in a world with so few genuine supports that its mirage may be better understood as a form of abuse; but where does it emanate from? The sources at this point are inscribed on inner spaces as deeply as on outer. The “situation tragedy” which Berlant invokes lurks at the periphery of most modern lives, as a pessimism that acts almost as a force unconsciously moves in to inhabit the regions of projected futurity, spaces that were once mediated by a sustained and nourishing sense of hope. Perhaps we should ignore the injunction despite the allure of ignorance, and look to reevaluate our dreams.
I’ve been out of the pages and into the streets: down the highway: to different halls. I’ve been reconnoitring; figuratively; physically. The future, you see, has sent out invitations, and I need to assess which trajectory I most desire to travel. I need to figure out in which direction to launch myself. These are heady times.
But you can never truly get what you want, says Lacan. The objet petit a resists every attempt to possess. In this case, the inaccessible real and the perpetual deferral is any satisfaction with whatever choice is adumbrated; or even committed to. I have options, each which will fail to satisfy, but none of which will prevent the attempt to enjoy. In the end does it matter to whom I say “yes”?
Of course it does. It’s a smoke screen to suggest otherwise. The shape of the future arriving may not lead to a subsequent future after that worth vying for. I need to want to fight the interminable fight, and strive for that petit a, which, in this case, may involve struggling to define the indefinable elusive for many more years to come. A radical ambiguity is part of the appeal.
If only I could decide where I want to live, what I want to owe to whom, and how best to plunder some incomparable booty from the universe.
I’ve worked hard to get to faced with this predicament. Do I enjoy it now that it’s arrived? Can I live in this moment satisfied with the accomplishment, or is it a perpetually postponed arrival to a destination I can all but connect with? I’m reaching out. My fingers are extended. Contact is a hair’s breadth away . . .
Everything moves forward.