Two Kinds of Failure and Cartoons

There appears to be two types of failure for Halberstam: one is incompleteness, and the other is negation. During the less serious portions of the essay Halberstam focuses on the incompleteness. These include the sections on the early Disney cartoons (22), the CGI films of DreamWorks and Pixar (20-21), and also Little Miss Sunshine (5). I appreciate the silly sections of the writing for its attempt to disrupt the pedagogy of essay writing itself in an attempt to display Low Theory in a Low Theory way. Even though the name Low Theory might not be the best, and the admission that it puts itself into opposition with High Theory in a way that’s a little too close to the kind of hierarchical opposition that High Theory would itself espouse (15).


The negation version of failure appears in the section concerning colonialization and subjugation of knowledge, in the way that Foucault urges the resistance of discipline, legitimization and hegemony (10-11). There is something distinctly heavier about this version of failure, something more frightening. Halberstam touches on this again on 23, writing, “I begin by addressing the dark heart of the negativity that failure conjures, and I turn from the happy and productive failures explored in animation to darker territories of failure associated with futility, sterility, emptiness, loss, negative effect in general and modes of unbecoming.” This other form of failure, I guess be called negation, but it also failure as a location, which delineates it from the failure of incompleteness, which finds itself aligned with creativity and possibility. This failure as a location is more permanent, and kind of failure-for-itself.


The section where these two types of failure overlap is in Pirate Cultures (18). The Pirate Culture, an early resistance to the capitalist state, is similar to queer-ness in that it combines the incompleteness of the failure as a journey, with the failure as location-ness of negation. The Pirate is incomplete in that they are falling short of the capitalist idea wealth, but also, they are a negation, in that they represent a parallel form of economy: a criminal economy, from which the pirate can never hope to return. Similarly: queerness represents both a falling sort of sexual and gender demands, which can also be described as Capitalist, and a parallel sexual and gender structure from which one cannot return.


Halberstam’s writing also reminded why I love Daffy Duck. As a child, I disliked Disney cartoons, because of how moralizing they seemed to me, as Halberstam mentions on 22. So as a kid I made a point to watch Loony Tunes over Disney, which in its own way was following the oppositional tendencies of Capitalism, but I felt Looney Tunes represented something drastically different, an embrace of the manic, of illogic, and metaphor over science. Even Bugs Bunny, for all his coolness, represented a kind of laid back violence. But it was Daffy Duck that I liked most of all, and I think it was because of his static state of constant failure. It was his put-upon-ness that appealed to me. And in some ways, you can read a moralistic bent in Daffy, that his greed and avarice would bring about his undoing: it was in that state of being undone that he would reach his most essential state, babbling, bent-billed, mad. And Bugs, who was the author of Daffy’s undoing as often as not, was an anti-hero at best. There were no simple moral plays in Looney Tunes, just un-hinged sub-consciousness, playing out archetypes.



One thought on “Two Kinds of Failure and Cartoons”

  1. Your take on negation reminded me why I wanted to take this class and how failure trickled to and revolved around every outcome. A paper on thought or an expression is obligated, to the majority of its extent, to miss the point. It brought me back to certain lines in literature that talk about this very thing – the fact that negation defines the matter of who you will be.

    In Ulysses, Tennyson wrote –

    “I am a part of all that I have met;
    Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
    Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin
    For ever and forever when I move.”

    In The Beast In The Jungle,

    “He accepted her amendments, he enjoyed her corrections, though the moral of them was, she pointed out, that he really didn’t remember the least thing about her; and he only felt it as a drawback that when all was made strictly historic there didn’t appear much of anything left.”

    Halberstam, on page 23, writes that people often collaborate with history rather than oppose it. Marcher seems to comprehend his very own entanglement with history. The amendments, corrections, and morality in being “strictly historic” sustained no valor or independence. He is the embodiment of choosing an alternative and ill-defined life. Tennyson’s poem addressed the location you talked about. As time moved on in his experience, the negation moved further and further away, overcome by a stockade of results.

    It is simple to say that the one consistent thing in the world is result. It is the domino effect of having to live. I often think of capitalism as a way to consolidate experience. I don’t see anything diabolical in the fact it ended up this way. Humanity has been in contest with itself for a long time. The hurtful parts are the social stigmas that negate choice and outcome. Iconography of the world is singular, experience is singular, and negation is plural. These are “the dark territories” that have triumphed, negate and keep systems simple. That is the fracture of what hegemony means to me. It is the power to negate the other and become frugal with acceptance.


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