Unbeing as Power

Halberstam poses the question, “Can we find feminist frameworks capable of recognizing the political project articulated in the form of refusal?” (126). While refusal as it relates to feminism and femininity can manifest in numerous ways, Halberstam is interested in exploring what they call shadow feminisms. These are the feminisms that are not rooted in the political action or the celebration of womanhood as many mainstream feminisms are, but instead in radical refusal and passivity. It is important to distinguish the radical passivity of Halberstam, categorized by a refusal to be, as different from the passivity accepting societal norms and expectations

One shadow feminism that Halberstam explores is that of antisocial feminism, or feminism preoccupied with negativity and negation (130). In their low theoretical example of antisocial feminism, Halberstam discusses the movie Chicken Run, and one of the chickens refusal to actively resist her exploitation, yet she does not want to die at the hands of pie bakers. Antisocial feminism operates under the understanding that there are, “…other ways of thinking about political action that don’t involve doing or dying,” (130). Through antisocial feminism, one can simply be, without label, category, or expectation, and through this refusal to be, there is power.

This idea of being through antisocial feminism is similar to the last chapter of Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which is Not One, entitled “When Our Lips Speak Together.” Irigaray explores the power that lies in simply existing and being, without action required. This existence itself is what challenges dominant discourses, as dominance would like to irradiate different and diverse existences. Existing in the margins of dominance is a failure to that dominance, and the simple non-action of being is what is so powerful. Halberstam’s antisocial feminism is a framework that acknowledges the power that exists in the margins, where neither action or dying are required, as existing in this space is what is actually the most powerful. While Halberstam uses the term “unbeing” has perhaps a hint more force in its refusal of action, this feels much closer to the tender existence that Irigaray explores than complete irradiation of the self.

Both Halberstam and Irigaray also challenge what it means to fail. In both instances of being, or unbeing, failure is also what creates the unbeing itself. These existences of radical passivity are those that are forced into the spaces in which this is a necessary and ideal mode of being. Those that are radically passive are those that exist only in the margins, and have failed, in some societal way, to be participate in the “queer art of failure.” While there are certainly disadvantages to existing outside of dominance, it is far more preferable. There is a certain happiness and ease that those with privilege experience, but this is not real and deep happiness, it is happiness brought on by capitalism all the things and roles that those who exist within dominance. Instead of true happiness, it is satiation. Halbestam’s failure and unbecoming are essentially required for true happiness, that operates outside of understandings of being. To fail in the form of radical passivity is to create true fulfillment and happiness, outside of pre-existing and narrow ideas of these concepts.


One thought on “Unbeing as Power”

  1. Great job discussing the Halberstam reading and pointing out that “antisocial feminism is a framework that acknowledges the power that exists in the margins” and that “To fail in the form of radical passivity is to create true fulfillment and happiness, outside of pre-existing and narrow ideas of these concepts.”

    To build on those points, I want to say that I agree with Halberstam that conventional “measures of success have come under pressure recently” (Halberstam 2). Her theories of dismantling give a hope and an outline of methods for failure that while painful in respect of negative affects, have more positive affects.

    As you said, “radical passivity” is a way to “create true fulfillment and happiness.” Throughout her essay “The Queer Art of Failure,” Halberstam presses this point by bringing up, SpongeBob’s frustration with the futility of working for Mr. Krabs, the “collapse of financial markets . . . the epic rise in divorce rates” (Halberstam 2), that some people are “too little to care about” (Halberstam 3), and “the publish-or-perish pressure of academic life” (Halberstam 6). Another method of passive resistance is to assert that “‘Failure is [not] just a consequence of bad attitude’” (Barbara Ehrenreich quoted in Halberstam 3). The political-economics discussed are greatly influential in the way a person may or not enjoy their life. It is evident that failure for the non-white heterosexual male is built into political-economic structures.

    “Radical passivity” as you point out and Halberstam gives an explanation for in the way of Marxism, may be exercised with “[sorting] through the contradictions of capitalism” . . . “to illuminate the oppressive forms of governance that have infiltrated life” (Halberstam 17).

    In situations where money, skin color, gender and sexual conformity are the standards for success then failure must be embraced and maximized in order to create change. Creating change away from these standards will further help us, and others, so that “not one gets left behind” (Halberstam 25).


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