Industry of Culture
Reading The Queer Art of Failure amidst the temporary coffee and repetition led me back to a memory that took place in my hometown. It was a summer when I was taking class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, a place codified in unlimited heat and, possibly, canted mirage. Trying to re-evaluate that time in my life brings back fragments of despair. Part of my reflection consists of envying those fragments – of how alive and arrogant they were. But that is beside the point.
The center building at UALR is half-glass and half-plaster. On the Northeast end of its atrium is the school cafeteria and the Southeast end is a staircase that platforms before the bookstore. The west end in its entirety is high and long paneled glass, the windows must be 30 feet long and perhaps 7 feet high. There is, as you walk North, an empty auditorium, a hunter green restroom, a Starbucks, and then the cafeteria. In the early hours of the day, it is the cult of interaction. In the afternoons, it is dead silent and you will, if you ever make your way there, find any sound intoxicatingly amped in its emptiness.
In this memory, it was late afternoon. I was making my rounds to the car or gym or no place in particular. I was alone and walking past a marble bust when I heard two men talking in the opulent expanse of the atrium. It was clear at the beginning that they did not know each other beforehand as the words floundered for questions and the laughs were insincere. But that isn’t any different and isn’t why I remember them.
One of the men was a heterosexual and the other was not. The pattern of speech and personality altered completely when they became aware of my presence. The heterosexual’s voice bottomed to bass and cadence adopted a militant rigor evoking masculinity and superiority. The other stuttered in step and tone. He could not rely on a word or expression or even anything as simple as the mechanical. I can still recall his fragile state to an exact clarity this day. It was indoctrinated oppression in a mundane opportunity, both easy and theatrical, similar to waking up. Maybe another time I’ll give it more words.
Halberstam’s third thesis is to “suspect memorialization.” (15) This is a part of life I always felt prone to follow. The reinvention of memory is at times an accident but it can find an indeterminate purpose, a structure “unacting, unbeing, and unbecoming.” (145) In a culture built upon the industry of interaction and result, life can become static and fitted to disillusion. To address my memory in the atrium at UALR, it can be said that “the others” of collective identity intuitively become prompted, edited, and grounded by memorialization. “Memory is itself a disciplinary mechanism that Foucault calls ‘a ritual of power.’” (15)
The pain in that memory is twofold. From both, personality quelled to environment. It is a common way to engender trust and it still useful in the present time. In my memory it is entombed in that hollow atrium as transformation and shame.
“So what is the alternative? This simple question announces a political project, begs for a grammar of possibility…” (2)
“Not an optimism that relies on positive thinking as an explanatory engine for social order, nor one that insists upon the bright side at all costs; rather this is a little ray of sunshine that produces shade and light in equal measure and knows that the meaning of one always depends upon the meaning of the other.” (5)
“Certain ways of seeing the world are established as normal or natural, as obvious and necessary, even though they are often entirely counterintuitive or social engineered.” (9)