Lauren Berlant (1957–2021)

From left to right: Carl, Jennifer, Susan Shultz, Kathleen Stewart, and Lauren Berlant.


All she ever wanted was company in that. 

In the end, she said it was work that killed her. 

Her truth, hard-won, was a searing empathy for all human fuck ups.

She insisted on that with the bare ferocity of a seer. 

She learned she had an inhabitable endurance. Fuck leiomyosarcoma. 

She got realer and realer as a sentient mind, an infrastructure of imperatives and spinning potentials.

She got wide open and ready for it.

She was writing her “poison poems” with a new frankness honed to a point. “At the same time as my friends grow all emotions and abstractions, I sit in the infusion center thinking about crackers.” 

Words kept her alive.

She showed up for collaboration and a good description. “I’m a hyper responder with an ample archive of the tableau vivant. Critical essays too, written in a certain voice: what Katie does, Serematakis, Hartman, Friendship as a Way of Life 4ever.... if I can get my breathing to slow down.”

She and Ian invented working in coffee shops, eating one spoonful of ice cream or four thin mint Girl Scout cookies.

Friendship had to be earned in a challenge thrown to sharpen up and get fierce. Phone calls were a pendulum building back and forth until we tossed ourselves over a threshold into the hilarious, the riff, a cascade of intuitions and associations. That was it.  

“My true friends … don’t spray their chaos desperately. They don’t take my shit and they don’t call it shit. They don’t overpraise or undercut. They don’t stiffen in the encounter where they’re seeking confirmation of their ‘principles.‘ It’s just one thing, then another. We’re looking for … some other way. It can be a generous space, where it’s possible to get something without learning something.”

That weighted springing in a world with Lauren is a wild loss we sit in. 

Fred Moten got it right. Thank you, Fred.

Dear Katie,
I just wanted to let you know that I am thinking of you, and will always be trying to think with you, and always of and with Lauren. I know I only feel a little of the loss you feel, and it is terrible. I know there is nothing I can do, but if there were, I'd do it. And if there ever is anything, I'll do it.
Yours truly, 

Kathleen Stewart teaches ethnography and writing at UT Austin and is currently at work on her next book, Worlding.