Balancing Acts: Risk, Embodiment, Affect

Friday, April 20, 2012
3:30PM - 5:00PM
Kathleen Woodward

A hyper–keyword in contemporary American culture, risk pervades the discourse of entrepreneurial culture and finance capitalism on the one hand (risk–taking to reap off–scale financial reward is applauded) as well as the discourse of avoiding hazards of all kinds on the level of everyday life on the other (risk–taking in relation to one's health in particular is condemned). At base is the notion of risk as a calculation, as quantifiable, as belonging to the realm of the probabilistic, as a kind of balancing act, with risk being understood in relation to another term (risk–benefit and risk–cost). In this talk I consider different kinds of balancing acts where the discourse of risk seems altogether banal and beside the point, although the body is definitively in danger:Philippe Petit's To Reach the Clouds: My High–Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers (2002), an account of his wire–walking between the Manhattan twin trade towers in 1974 when he was twenty–three, and Joan Didion's Blue Nights (2011), her meditation on the life and death of her daughter, their intertwined lives and feelings, and her own frailty at the age of seventy–five. How might we imagine risk in relation not to benefit or to cost but to trust?