The following are the online notes for my Queering Theory class in fall 2011. I’m in the process of bringing my various lectures over from my 18 course blogs to this site. Eventually, I’d like to do more with these lectures. Maybe combine them into a few key themes, particularly ones that connect to my work on making and staying in trouble. I also might want to reflect further on how to use the blog as a platform for lectures and discussions in class.
NOTES FOR JHALBERSTAM’S The Queer Art of Failure
see pdf of full notes (with embedded tweets) here.
Introduction: Low Theory
sources of knowledge? Sponge Bob Square Pants
What is the alternative to cynical recognition on the one hand and naive optimism on the other? What’s at stake with this question? hope future anti-social thesis utopia see MLA Forum on Anti-social thesis in Queer Theory
This book loses the idealism of hope in order to gain wisdom and a new, spongy relation to life, culture, knowledge and pleasure (2).
live life otherwise
Low theory tries to locate all of the in-between spaces that save us from being snared by the hooks of hegemony and speared by the seductions of the gift shop (2).
standing outside of success: failure = not succeeding, not achieving success
goal = dismantling logic of Success/Failure
re-envisioning failure (and losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing) as offering more creative ways of being parallels with Luhmann and ignorance, Butler and undoing
Failure’s rewards (3)?
- escape punishing norms that discipline behavior/manage development
- preserves some of the wondrous anarchy of childhood
- disturbs “clean” boundary between childhood/adulthood, winner/loser
- allows us to use negative effects (disappointment, disillusionment, despair) to poke holes in toxic positivity and myth of power of positive thinking and positivity/personal responsibilitysee Ehrenreich and RSAnimate’s “Smile or Die”
Is failure necessarily negative? Does it demand that we embrace and value our negative, “whiny,” grouchy attitudes?
Little Miss Sunshine and a new kind of optimism: not based on positive thinking or the bright side at all costs, but a little ray of sunshine that produces shade and light in equal measure (5).
not being taken seriously, lack of rigor, frivolous, promiscuous, irrelevant (7).
What should count as “serious” and rigorous academic work?
- Benjamin: strolling down the paths, going the wrong way, not knowing exactly which way to go
- Disciplinary knowledge, the sciences and rogue intellectuals
Do we really want to shore up the ragged boundaries of our shared interests and intellectual commitments, or might we rather take this opportunity to rethink the project of learning and thinking altogether (7)? Is this possible in academic spaces, especially at the U?
Let me explain how universities (and by implication high schools) squash rather than promote quirky and original thought (7).
- disciplines and being disciplined
- normalization, routines, convention, tradition, regularity
- produces experts and administrative forms of governance
- disciplines qualify/disqualify, legitimate/delegitimate, reward/punish; reproduce themselves and inhibit dissent (10)
crossroads between university-as-corporation and university-as-new-public-sphere
need for subversive intellectuals not more critical, professionalized intellectuals (8)
What kind of intellectuals/thinkers does the University produce? What could it produce? How?
Illegibility may in fact be one way of escaping the political manipulation to which all university fields and disciplines are subject (10).
How so? What would this look like? What impact does illegibility have on the ability to survive in the academy? How do those forms get evaluated/graded?
Foucault and subjugated knowledges
steal from the university (11)
adding to the 7 theses (including, worry about university, refuse professionalization, forge collectivity, retreat to external world):
- resist mastery (11-12)
- privilege the naive or nonsensical
- suspect memorialization
responses to colonial knowledge formations:
- violent (Fanon)
- homeopathic…one learns dominant system and undermines from within
- negative…subject refuses knowledge, refuses to be knowing subject (14)
JH’s book works with violent and negative responses
- accessible (17)
- theoretical model that flies below the radar, assembled from eccentric texts and examples (17)
- theory as goal oriented
practicing “open”theory. OPEN =
- orients us towards problem-solving
- playful (a la Lugones: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/quet2011/2011/11/world-traveling-and-loving-perception.html)
JH on hegemony (from Gramsci and Hall): “the multilayered system by which a dominant group achieves power not through coercion but through the production of an interlocking system of ideas which persuades people of the rightness of any given set of often contradictory ideas and perspectives” (17).
traditional vs. organic intellectual
Low theory = counterhegemonic form of theorizing, the theorization of alternatives within an undisciplined zone of knowledge production (18).
Linebaugh’s/Rediker’s The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors,Slaves, Commoners, and The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and the history of alternative political formations
flesh out alternatives: how to live, how to think about time/space, how to inhabit space with others, how to spend time separate from the logic of work (19)
Animated films deliver queer/socialist messages:
- work together
- revel in difference
- fight exploitation
- decode ideology
- invest in resistance
“the art of getting lost?”
FAILURE AS A WAY OF LIFE
goals of book:
- “I hold on to what have been characterized as childish and immature notions of possibility and look for alternatives in the form of what Foucault calls “subjugated knowledge” across the culture: in subcultures, countercultures, and even popular cultures.”
- Turn the meaning of failure in a different direction, away from happy/productive failure to the “dark heart of the negativity that failure conjures”–modes of unbecoming
- Early chapters (1-3) chart the meaning of failure
- Later chapters (4-6) allow for fact that failure is also unbeing
It is a book about failing well, failing often, and learning how to fail better (24). Reminds me of JB’s passage: “Trouble is inevitable, and the task, how best to make it, how best to be in it.”
JHalb hopes this book is accessible to a wider audience. What do you think? How do we put Halberstam’s desire for intelligibility/accessibility beside our discussion of Butler’s value of difficult writing?
Master the art of getting and staying lost (25).
chapter one: Animating Revolt and Revolting Animation
explain the title: A cynical reading of the world of animation will always return to the notion that difficult topics are raised and contained in children’s films precisely so that they do not have to be discussed elsewhere and also so that the politics of rebellion can be cast as immature, pre-Oedipal, childish, foolish, fantastical, and rooted in a commitment to failure. But a more dynamic and radical engagement with animation understands that the rebellion is ongoing and that the new technologies of children’s fantasy do much more than produce revolting animation. They also offer us the real and compelling possibilities of animating revolt (52).
connection to failure:
- Animated films for children revel in the domain of failure
- Childhood is a long lesson in humility, awkwardness, limitation, “growing sideways”
- Animated films address the disorderly child
PIXARVOLT: new genre of animated films that use CGI and foreground themes of revolution and revolt, making connections between communitarian revolt and queer embodiment (29)
Pixarvolt films draw upon standard narratives, but is also interested in:
- social hierarchies
- relations between inside/outside
- desire for revolution, transformation, rebellion
- self-conscious about own relation to innovation, tradition, transformation (30)
Films: Chicken Run (collective rebellion, imagining and realizing utopian elsewhere), The March of the Penguins (resolutely animal narrative about cooperation, affiliation, anachronism of homo-hetero divide), Monsters, inc (anti-humanist, anti-capitalist), Bee Movie (oppositional groups rising up to subvert the singularity of the human w/unruly mob)
difference between Pixarvolt and merely Pixilated? difference between collective revolutionary selves and conventional notion of a fully realized individual…Pixarvolts desire for difference is not connected to a neoliberal “Be Yourself” mentality or to exceptionalism; it connects individualism to selfishness, overconsumption (47).
chapter two: Dude, Where’s My Phallus? Forgetting, Losing, Looping
explain the title:
- dude, where’s my phallus and losing and looping: white male stupidity and privilege, male unknowing facilitates male power (57). Dude, where’s my car as excellent example, provides us with way to map this power. For more, see: manic pixie dream girl (http://www.feministfrequency.com/2011/03/tropes-vs-women-1-the-manic-pixie-dream-girl) and “Examining the New Mediocre Man (http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/01/22/examining-the-new-mediocre-man)
“we can argue for queerness as a set of spatialized relations that are permitted through the while male’s stupidity, his disorientation in time and space” (65).
The beauty of Dude is that it acknowledges the borrowed and imitative forms of white male subjectivity and traces for us the temporal order of dominant culture that forgets what it has borrowed and never pays back (67).
dude, seriously: forgetting, unknowing, losing, lacking, bumbling, stumbling, these all seem like hopeful developments in the location of the white male (68).
Dude offers a potent allegory of memory, forgetting, remembering, and forgetting again which we can use to describe and invent this moment in the university, poised as it is and as we are between offering a distinction “negative” strand of critical consciousness to a public that would rather not know and using more common idioms to engage those who don’t why they should care (68) EXPLAIN
Forgetting: forgetfulness as useful tool for women/queer people for jamming smooth operations of normal and ordinary (71), allows for rupture of present/break w/past/opportunity for new, non-hetero future (71), delink historical change from family/generations, forget family (71-72), Dory forgets family and opens up new modes of relating/belonging/caring (72
Edelman and heterofuturity + the Child (73)
Stockton and growing up sideways (73)
Finding Nemo (key argument 80-81) and 50 First Dates (key argument on 77) both deploy forgetting to represent a disordering of social bonds, employ transgender motifs to represent queer disruption in logic of normal, and both understand queer time os operating against progress/tradition (74-75).
The example of Dory in Finding Nemo in fact encourages us to rest a while in the weird but hopeful temporal space of the lost, the ephemeral, and the forgetful (82).
In their conclusion, does JH address (enough) the potential value of remembering and connecting with the community/culture/”family”? How can we put their claim for the value of breaking from family (forgetting/losing) beside E. Patrick Johnson’s emphasis on re-imaging home/identity/community/belonging and Andrea Smith’s critique of “no future” and the linear past/present/future it relies on (Smith, 50) and the possibilities for re-negotiating home?