Thoughts on Slacker

I found the movie Slacker to be fascinating. I loved how the characters and the plot were constantly moving. When the movie began, the guy in the taxi was describing his dreams about the possibility of a multitude of alternate realities. The film’s focus on so many people’s different lives play into this idea of consciousness and how everyone lives in their own sort of separate reality. This was also explored through the suspicion of alternate histories, or conspiracies.

The way that time passed in the movie was also interesting. It was mostly linear, but I felt like it passed at a different pace for different people. For example, the initial scene where the man killed his mother felt like it dragged on forever. Part of this was probably because I was uncomfortable. I was reminded of the Helmer’s article on queer time, where this lingering or wandering would be considered unproductive.

I am thinking of writing my final paper on this question of how time and space function in the movie. The hint of alternative realities relates to Halberstam’s method of using “detours” or alternate modes of thinking to approach queer theory. The dreaming mentioned in the beginning of Slacker could represent a liminal space used to think about life and the choices we have to make in it. I also mentioned in one of my previous posts how Vincent’s car acts as this constantly moving, liminal space where he can solely think instead of act. I also suspect there is something to be said about lingering and time, but I’m not quite sure how to approach it.

Another interesting component of this movie that we touched on in our Thursday session is that all of these people are of the same class. This reminds me of the group’s discussion of the Adorno reading during Tuesday’s class. One of the conclusions we drew was that an equality without difference has no potential because of the lack of creativity, etc. I think this is ironic because all of these white students (who have the most potential based on their social position) are considered slackers, possibly because they have no one different to alter their perspective.

Pursuing Adorno’s argument that “totality is false” further, I think it’s important to note how the lives of all the characters were fragmented by the constant shifting of perspective. We didn’t get to see any of the characters develop, so by society’s standards, they are all unsuccessful. It seems that all of our characters who resist moving forward by participating in a form of work (Vincent… Murphy) are considered failures.

I also think it’s interesting that many of these so called “slackers” were college students. I wonder if Linklater was trying to make an underlying critique of capitalism for viewing labor as constructive, while knowledge unproductive. In other words, the exchange of theories or ideas as opposed to marketable assets is “valueless.” We can maybe talk later about how things such as knowledge are considered “priceless.”
Lastly, someone in class (I don’t remember who) mentioned how all of these college kids probably rely on their parents for money. I think the generational aspect of this deserves to be pursued further. I find it strange how the man killed his own mother, but also has had a type of shrine built in honor of her. During this scene, the camera also lingered on the video recording of his mother pushing him off on his bike with a kick. I think this symbolizes his frustration that despite her wanting him to launch, he is still living at home. That is however, if they were living together. (I feel like they were, but I also don’t know how his mom wouldn’t notice the shrine). Either way, I am interested in exploring these questions and contradictions further. Overall it was a really fun movie to watch.

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CTT: Ignorance

For this exercise I chose the tag “ignorance” because it is used to characterize two separate novels that we have read so far. I also find the idea of ignorance fascinating because it can be both involuntary or chosen, and relates to the subject of knowledge. The word is first used in reference to a post on Henry James’ novella The Beast in the Jungle. The post begins by analyzing the early scene where Marcher and May are recalling their first meeting together. The blogger, Haley Boyd, quotes how Marcher “felt as soon as she spoke that she had been consciously keeping back what she said and hoping to get on without it; a scruple in her that immensely touched him when, by the end of three or four minutes more, he was able to measure it. What she brought out, at any rate, quite cleared the air and supplied the link—the link it was so odd he should frivolously have managed to lose” (James 37). She highlights how Marcher is ignorant of the details of their past meeting, and relies on May to “supply the link” and fill in the gaps of his memory. Flipping through a thesaurus, synonyms for ignorance include unawareness, naivete, lack of education, and even half knowledge. This is interesting, because it seems James is using Marcher’s ignorance in this initial conversation to cast him as separate from May, who in can be seen as Marcher’s connection to normativity, or a more socially accepted, “all knowledgeable” way of viewing time/life, etc. To summarize, Helmers writes that “the tessellated pattern of Western culture in which time, understood as a past and present that contain a set of interrelated events that certain people can accurately remember or predict, tessellates into a system of knowledge where people can dig up previously buried pieces of knowledge in order to arrive at a more thorough understanding of past and future and an intimate comprehension of the interiority of other subjects” (Helmers 113). Basically, this reading of Marcher as ignorant further distinguishes him as a non normative or queer character. Furthermore, us readers are forced to relate to this ignorance, as we are only supplied with a half knowledge of Marcher’s secret “truth.” By never naming the “beast,” James alienates us and forces us to become non normative or queer readers. The second post to use this tag is also by Boyd. It explores the same ideas from James’ novel, but asks specifically why Marcher is so eager to let someone supply him with knowledge and fill in the gaps his ignorance creates. She asks if it is “a need to feel normal, motivated either by closeted queerness or by an original inability to conceptualize knowledge and time in a normative way?” I think that in this case Marcher relates to the lead character Vincent from Canet’s film Time Out. Vincent is satisfied at first not working and finding alternate modes of making a living. However, like with Marcher and May, Vincent relies on his wife to fill in the gaps of his narrative when it falls short for his father. Vincent also finally relinquishes his non normativity and interviews for a socially accepted job position. The last post that uses this tag discusses Nella Larsen’s Quicksand and Sianee Ngia’s article “Ugly Feelings.” The blogger, mmacg123, explores the idea of both ignorance and alienation. They describe how Helga acts both ignorant to certain annoyances, but then overly irritated by others. The blogger mentions Ngai’s reading that it is the reader’s inability to understand (or their ignorance of) Helga’s reactions that make them feel alienated. In Helga’s case, ignorance and constant frustration seem to be a type of coping mechanism. Of course, Ngai’s theory is that it is an involuntary response. Either way, I wonder if her frustration is more prominent because she is an African American female, with less agency than the character’s of Marcher or Vincent. After reading these posts, ignorance seems to represent a position that opposes normativity, or socially accepted forms of knowledge. In other words, ignorant characters occupy a queer stance. More analysis needs to be done to determine why some of these characters are so eager to let their ignorance be replaced by the knowledge of others.  

Helmers, James, and trying to understand Paranoia

I did my “make up class” post on James’ The Beast in the Jungle and related it back to the Halberstam reading. For this post, I want to focus more on fleshing out the Matthew Helmers reading. This essay was definitely more difficult than the last one. I was able to understand the first part of the reading as I have read some of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work before. I think there are a few places in the text that point to the possibility that Marcher is homosexual, for example, when Marcher tells Bartram that she helps him “pass for a man like another” (James 51). He also realizes his potential deeper feeling for Bartram after witnessing strong feeling coming from another male (James 69). On the other had, I am really more interested in May Bartram. I can’t help but wonder if she is actually satisfied in her arrangement with Marcher. Her satisfaction can be supported by the fact that she never wants any payment from him, but simply asks for him to continue “going on as you are” (James 51). Maybe she doesn’t want to marry, and is content living an independent life. If Bartram acts as a sort of surrogate heterosexual partner for Marcher to pass as “normal,” I don’t see why she can’t be using him for the same reason. As Bartram says, “If you’ve had your woman I’ve had,’ she said, ‘my man’” (James 50). Of course, this is just one possible theory, and it could very well be that I am still just being influenced by my Willa Cather class. One of the questions that I had in my last post was why Marcher is so interested in payment. I think that the Helmers reading and our discussion in class have helped me understand this a little better. Helmers writes that “paranoia enjoined us to look at time and see a system that applies to knowledge as well, to look at knowledge and see a system that applies to desire, and to look at desire and see the same system that applies to sexuality and, through syllogism, to reduce all of these elements into a well-understood structural unity: the tessellated pattern of Western culture […]” (Helmers 114). If I am understanding this right, Marcher begins to think of Western culture as the only correct form of knowledge, despite “his struggles to exist within [this] system” (Helmers 115). A point in the text where I think James points out the failure of this system is when Marcher doesn’t understand why, despite their close relationship, he had such “few rights, as they were called in such cases, that he had to put forward, and how odd it might even seem that their intimacy shouldn’t have given him more of them […] He was in short from this moment face to face with the fact that he was to profit extraordinarily little by the interest May Bartram had taken in him” (James 64). In this quote Marcher seems to be wondering how such a deep relationship could be considered lesser by society solely because they were not, for example, legally documented as married. This could be James’ way of questioning capitalism/ Western culture and values, or strong theory. To end this post, I admittedly struggled with the idea of paranoia, so I hope I articulated myself well enough. I am sure as the term continues I will gain a better understanding of this reading.

The Beast in the Jungle and the Halberstam Reading

Many themes in the Halberstam reading correspond to Henry James’ The Beast in the Jungle. For example, I mentioned in my last post that Halberstam uses words such as “shadows” and “detours” to describe her approach to queer theory (Halberstam 4, 6). The narrator uses these same words to illustrate Marcher, for example when he mentions “the great vagueness casting the long shadow in which he had lived” (James 53). I also noticed that a large part of Marcher and Bartram’s relationship consists of listeners not being able to follow their conversation. The narrator states how “on the other hand the real truth was equally liable at any moment to rise to the surface, and the auditor would then have wondered indeed what they were talking about” (James 46). This is interesting to me, because it seems as if James is pointing out how readers never know exactly what the characters are referring to as they get lost in the conversations. This has a (probably intentional) alienating effect on the reader. This concept reminds me of when Halberstam urges us “to think about ways of being and knowing that stand outside of conventional understandings of success” (Halberstam 2). Not succeeding is a large part of this story, and I think the emphasis for both authors is on what can come out of this fail to succeed. One example is when the narrator describes Marcher’s inability to express himself, thus giving Bartram the opportunity to do so. The narrator explains how “they would have tried and not succeeded. Then it was, just at the turn, as he afterwards made it out to himself, that, everything else failing, she herself decided to take up the case and, as it were, save the situation” (James 37). Another instance of opportunity springing from something negative is the death of the aunt allowing more opportunities for the characters to meet (James 41). An interesting passage I think we should look at in class deals again with that locational idea of queer as being “beneath the surface.” The narrator writes how “the rest of the world thought him queer, but she, she only, knew how, and above all why, queer; which was precisely what enabled her to dispose the concealing veil in the right folds” (James 45). In this quote the narrator is explaining how Bartram can see the identity under Marcher’s “mask painted with the social simper” (James 45). We can discuss how masking of identity/knowledge/truth furthers the theme of alienation of the readers who don’t have the privilege Bartram does to see beneath it. I am also reminded of an essay titled “The Thing Not Named”: Willa Cather as a Lesbian Writer I read a while ago where the author, Sharon O’Brien, further describes “queer” as a connection not explicitly stated in the text. I think this is in part why the Beast is never named, and why Marcher later confides that “I can’t name it. I only know I’m exposed” (James 49). Lastly, a lingering question I have is why Marcher is so interested in being perceived as unselfish and noble, such as when the narrator comments on the two’s relationship, stating that “the definite point was the inevitable spring of the creature; and the definite lesson from that was that a man of feeling didn’t cause himself to be accompanied by a lady to a tiger-hunt” (James 44). Another example is later when Marcher voices wanting to be considered courageous (James 49). Hopefully you can all help me with this, and why Marcher is also concerned with getting some sort of pay off from their relationship.

 

“Queer” and “Failure”as an Approach

On the first day of class professor Epstein mentioned the queer theory/Willa Cather class offered at Portland State. I was one of the lucky students that took the class, and since then my understanding of queer has drastically changed. In the Cather class we read many of the authors Halberstam mentioned, including Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. After reading these essays I don’t think of queer necessarily in relation to sexuality, but rather have come to picture the idea of “queerness” as a map of lines (bear with me here). These lines go everywhere in addition to the straight, left to right line that many of us would expect to see. The lecture in class and the definition in the Bedford Glossary urges us to think of failure as a sort of position or queer stance, so in relation to what is written in a text we can look for meaning underneath, behind, and parallel to it. This is the idea or approach that Halberstam alludes to, or in other words, queer is anything other than what is socially expected. Halberstam places herself in these positions often in her own essay, adopting these author’s descriptions including “in-between spaces,” “shadows,” and “detours” (2, 4, 6). Her emphasis on failing is interesting because it demonstrates how our society classifies actions in opposition to what is socially accepted. For example, we may be allowed to read a poem backwards to gain some type of deeper meaning, but we would “fail” at understanding if we read prose backwards. In this system it wouldn’t matter if there was potential to learn something about the piece’s form by doing so. The overall benefit of this approach seems to be the opportunity to reevaluate our measures of success, or as she puts it “to think about ways of being and knowing that stand outside of conventional understandings of success” (2). When I think of this view’s relevance to gender or sexuality I can’t help but think of an article I read in Marie Claire magazine last week. There was a woman interviewed who stated that she viewed Hillary Clinton’s loss as a victory. In this case the woman used the Clinton’s failure to become the first female president of the United States to gain knowledge about our country’s division, something that wouldn’t have been so obviously apparent otherwise. In this case this approach is relevant because with this knowledge we can now reposition ourselves to assess how we got here, or in Halberstam’s words, to “confront the gross inequalities of everyday life in the United States” (4). Gender and sexuality is also almost always critiqued as being riddled with double standards. When we accept this as a societal failure then we may be able to address how double standards are formed, and where else they exist in our culture. In my race and modernism class last term my professor shared with us the view that capitalism is reliant on contradiction and double standards. The example he gave was of how republicans condemn illegal immigrants while our country’s economy simultaneously relies on the cheap labor they provide. Of course, to see these issues we need to do as Halberstam urges, and admit our failures. She states how “in order to inhabit the bleak territory of failure we sometimes have to write and acknowledge dark histories, histories within which the subject collaborates with rather than always opposes oppressive regimes and dominant ideology” (23). As she emphasizes, we need to eliminate the dominant or authoritarian positions of “experts” and argue that it will not always be rich white men who define us all (12). To be honest, this was one of my favorite essays I have ever read. Halberstam’s examples were entertaining, relatable, and refreshing. It is both sad and fascinating how provocative questions are considered failing in our culture. I also appreciate how her take on queer theory and failure applies to aspects outside of gender and sexuality, such as with class and race. Although the “dark histories” are painful, it is important that we accept the influence they have had on us, and the opportunities of acknowledgement that they offer.