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Bibliographic Data: Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

Main Argument: "This is a book about alternative ways of knowing and being that are not unduly optimistic, but nor are they mired in nihilistic critical dead ends. It is a book about failing well, failing often, and learning, in the words of Samuel Beckett, how to fail better. … We will lose our way, our cars, our agenda, and possibly our minds, but in losing we will find another way of making meaning in which, to return to the battered VW van of Little Miss Sunshine, no one gets left behind." (24-25)

Historiographical Engagement: Linebaugh, Peter and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic; James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance; Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed; The Art of Not Being Governed.

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples The introduction, "Low Theory," draws on such texts as Little Miss Sunshine and SpongeBob SquarePants to outline four ways in which its knowledge is different. It is undisciplined, in that Halberstam proposes "that instead the goal is to lose one's way, and indeed to be prepared to lose more than one's way" (6). Example: James C. Scott in Seeing Like a State and The Art of Not being Governed. How do we enact undisciplined knowledge? First: resist mastery. Second: Privilege the naïve or nonsensical (i.e. the stupid). Third: suspect memorialization. Sometimes we must forget. "In this book forgetting becomes a way of resisting the heroic and grand logics of recall and unleashes new forms of memory that relate more to spectrality than to hard evidence, to lost geneaologies than to inheritance, to erasure than to inscription" (15). In service of this Halberstam draws on "low theory," i.e. "theory that works at many levels at once," and the "silly archive" that draws in part on "pirate cultures," which "do not make us better people or liberate us from the culture industry, but they might offer strange and anticapitalist logics of being and acting and knowing, and they will harbor covert and overt queer worlds" (20-21). Practice more failure!

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter discusses the subgenre of animated films that Halberstam dubs "Pixarvolt," which discuss topics that would never appear in adult-themed films but are central to the success and impact of the narrative, and which make subtle and over connections between communitarian revolt and queer embodiment--they therefore articulate the "sometimes counterintuitive links between queerness and socialist struggle…these films recognize that alternative forms of embodiment and desire are central to the struggle against corporate dominion" (29). Examples include Chicken Run (2000), the problems with The March of the Penguins (2005) and its reading of a monogamous heterosexual narrative onto the non-monogamous non-heteronormative collective sex lives and survival of emperor penguins, Monsters, Inc. (2001), Toy Story (1995), Over the Hedge (2006), Robots (2005). In engaging with children and childhood on their own terms, these films present alternative ways of being as well as ways of animating revolt.

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter considers stupidity and the way it is gendered, principally through the films Finding Nemo (2003) and Dude, Where's My Car? (2000), and valorizes forgetfulness and the willful jettisoning of blood family as ways in which to build alternative networks of kinship and support. Survival as well as many political and cultural projects require forgetting as a way of moving beyond the weight of the past and the menace of the future.

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter explores failure not only as a cornerstone queer and especially lesbian practice, but also takes issue with the theories of Lee Edelman in No Future and his fixation on, as Halberstam terms it, the gay male archive of queer negativity, which "binds itself to a narrow range of affective responses" (109) and which ignores many more queer texts and artists, particularly women, than it embraces. "This second archive, however," Halberstam writes, "is far more in keeping with the undisciplined kinds of responses that Leo Bersani at least seems to associate with sex and queer culture, and it is here that the promise of self-shattering, loss of mastery and meaning, unregulated speech and desire are unloosed" (110). Halberstam goes on to point out that "Edelman's negative critique strands quuerness between two equally unbearable options (futurity and positivity in opposition to nihilism and negation. Can we produce generative models of failure that do not posit two equally bleak alternatives?" (120) Yes: these models are found in the heroes of the films of the silly archive, which "remind us that there is something powerful in being wrong, in losing, in failing, and that all our failures combined might just be enough, if we practice them well, to bring down the winner." (120)

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter explores "a feminist politics that issues not from a doing but from an undoing, not from a being or becoming women but from a refusal to be or to become woman as she has been defiined and imagined within Western philosophy. … This shadow feminism speaks in the language of self-destruction, masochism, an antisocial femininity, and a refusal of the essential bond of mother and daughter that ensures that the daughter inhabits the legacy of the mother and in doing so reproduces her relationship to patriarchal forms of power" (124). "The passive voice that is the true domain of masochistic fantasy ('a child is being beaten') might just be a transformative voice for feminism" (144). Examples: Jamaica Kincaid, Autobiography of My Mother; Elfride Jelinek, The Piano Teacher; Yoko Ono, "Cut Piece" (1964)

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter seeks to disinter some buried queer histories that have been deliberately neglected from inclusion in the preferred historical archive of queer, "hidden" history. The central example of this chapter is the relationship between homosexuality and fascism, especially in Nazi Germany. Halberstam considers the work of Eve Sedgwick and Andrew Hewitt and argues that "for both theorists, homosexuality is is not so much an identity stretching across time as a shifting set of relations between politics, eros, and power. …in order to capture the complexity of these shifting relations we cannot afford to settle on linear connections between radical desires and radical politics; instead we have to be prepared to be unsettled by the politically problematic connections history throws our way" (162). We must instead write disloyal histories.

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter takes issue with Slavoj Zizek's critique of Kung Fu Panda (2008) and argues instead, by way of an exegesis on Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), that "happiness is not always the best way to be happy": "rather than resisting endings and limits, let us instead revel in and cleave to all of our own inevitable fantastic failures" (187).

Critical assessment: This is the best academic book I've read all year, and also one of the most joyful in my experience, hands down, to say nothing of its hilarity. (It's hilarious.) And it also makes a number of really important points--against Edelman, against Zizek--as well as arguing for an alternative ethos and alternative ways of being in the world that are ever more vital in the post-postmodern age of corporations and global capital. Failure may be our only way to successful resistance.

Further reading: Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue; Christopher Kelty and Hannah Landecker, "A Theory of Animation: Cells, L-systems, and Film."

Meta notes: Write disloyal histories. Resist mastery. Be undisciplined.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-07 11:59 (UTC)
futuransky: Romaine Brooks self-portrait with Lila Futuransky superimposed. (Default)
From: [personal profile] futuransky

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-07 14:10 (UTC)
sanet: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sanet
Must read. OMG I need to read this right now!


ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

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