Before they were friends, Lauren Berlant and Kimberly Pierce were teacher and student—but they’ve always been great talkers.
After watching Laura Kipnis’ Marx: The Video (A Politics of Revolting Bodies) in class as an undergrad, Kimberly Peirce, AB’90, incited a riot among her feminist-literature classmates. She said she thought some women chose to have eating disorders for the drama associated with them, and that she was fed up with women identifying with their disorders. But Peirce, co-writer and director of Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss, didn’t remember the incident when her former professor, Lauren Berlant, brought it up this past October shortly before the two took part in a campus talk. Peirce paused, a little surprised, and responded, “I’m fascinated if I did, because I was having an eating disorder right around that time.” Berlant, the George M. Pullman professor of English language and literature, told Peirce: “You were very, very clear that there was no good politics to come out of the eating disorder, but also that a lot of the women you knew who acted out with food were people who were weak and who were revolting in an aggressive sense as opposed to a political sense. It was very unsympathetic, so it’s very interesting to hear that in retrospect.” Peirce said, “Well that still rings kind of true, even if unsympathetic.” During a half-hour visit in Berlant’s office, they continued the conversation that began more than two decades ago, and they also started a dozen more. They talked about their friendship, which developed after Boys Don’t Cry came out in 1999. They talked about the freedom in calling oneself “queer,” the notion of self-transformation, the trendiness of feminist theory in the ’80s, and the rise of therapy culture in relation to political culture. And then, they picked up the discussion again about the politics of eating disorders, talking things out further and further, as if this conversation—or any of the conversations between them during the past two decades—could ever be laid to rest.
During her visit to campus, acclaimed filmmaker Kimberly Peirce, AB’90, said teachers like professor Lauren Berlant shaped her sense of artistic adventure.