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Past and future perfect?: Beauty, hope and affect

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2010
JournalJournal for Cultural Research
Journal number4
Volume14
Number of pages17
Pages357-373
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article engages with and draws on what have been called two recent “turns” in feminist theory: to beauty and to affect. While much feminist research has concentrated on the beauty industry, where beauty is conceived as a series of economic, social and cultural practices, the authors suggest that beauty should also be understood as an embodied affective process. The authors’ focus is on understanding the conceptions of beauty that emerged in their own empirical work with white British girls and mestiza Mexican women. The authors suggest that for the girls and women in their research, beauty is an inclination towards a perfected temporal state which involves processes of displacement to the past and of deferral to the future. The authors draw on Colebrook’s discussion of the relationship between feminist theory and philosophies of aesthetic beauty, and on Lauren Berlant’s notions of “cruel optimism” and “aspirational normalcy”, and argue that beauty can be seen as an aspiration to normalcy that is, simulta- neously, optimistic and cruel. Beauty is seemingly characterised by its inability “to be” in the present and is thus positioned as temporalities that have passed or have yet to come. Through these displacements and deferrals, beauty is understood as both specific and imaginary, and as promising and depressing. Following on from such a conception of beauty, the authors make a distinction between optimism and hope, and argue that while, in Berlant’s terms, optimism is that which is cruel, hope might involve a different way of thinking about how beauty might be experienced in and as the present.