Make Up Blog

Claudia Rankine uses the television screen in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely as a device to show how perversely informed/involved our society is with current events. Written as an aftermath of 9/11, it seems as though Rankine is commenting on how involved the public is with the events in the news. The people seem to be absorbed completely by the events on the television screen, as if they were living the images that flash upon the screen. One example of this absorption is television screen with the picture of Princess Diana’s front yard after her death. The picture of thousands of mementos left on the front lawn, with the house blocked off by a gate shows how we feel as though we are apart of the events taking place in the news, but we are actually just voyeurs. We passively participate in these events happening around the world, sitting behind the tv screen, feeling as though we are apart of these events that unfold on the television screen.

Rankine writes “Was Princess Diana ever really alive? I mean, alive to anyone outside of her friends and family—truly?”(39) trying to rationalize with the waves of emotions millions of people felt after Princess Diana’s death. Did these people all around the world ever truly know Princess Diana, or were they simply mourning this false idol? I am not saying that Princess Diana a false idol, I mean that these millions of people that were mourning her death did not actually know Diana, not the Princess, but Diana the woman. There were images of people crying in the street like their grandmother had just died, yet they had never met this woman in their entire life. By asking the question if Princess Diana was ever really alive, Rankine is asking if she was real to those who mourned her death. Did she ever sit and have tea, go to their child’s birthday party or send Christmas cards to these people who were so devastated by Princess Diana’s death? With the example of Princess Diana, Rankine is saying that we, as consumers of these images on the television screen are becoming totally absorbed. We feel as though these people we see on the screen are apart of our lives, which I think Rankine is saying is unhealthy.

Rankine seems to be focusing on what happened after 9/11. It seems as though the bubble that protected the United States had burst. The images that would appear on the television screen now occupy space on the page without the border of the tv screen. All of a sudden we are not protected by the screen, allowing us to participate, without actually participating. 9/11 burst this bubble, causing people to suddenly realize that the news they see on the television can happen to them too. They are no longer protected behind the television screen. The attacks on 9/11 signified a shift in the American population. Rankine notes this by saying,“It strikes me that what the attack on the World Trade Center stole from us is our willingness to  be complex. Or what the attack on the World Trade Center revealed to us is that we were never complex”(91) as immediately after 9/11 it seemed as though that moment in time we retreated back to simple beings. The “them vs us” mentality drew out  ugly responses from many Americans right after the terrorist attack. Solidarity drew us together, uniting us against a common enemy, for that time in our history.

The question if we were ever complex causes us as readers, who most of us witnessed 9/11, to take a step back and reflect. Once we saw that bad things could happen to us, our bubble burst, causing us to no longer look at the world as this complex place. We no longer felt that we were able to build and maintain relationships with those outside of the US, cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. Here, I sort of understand what Rankine is saying, as I feel she is trying to say that we are no longer protected by our television screens, suggesting that we were never really complex in the first place.

Shadow Feminism

Antisocial feminism is that in which enacts itself in resistance, being resistance to ones Mother, resistant to patriarchy and resistance to society itself. Operating in the margins, antisocial feminist reject the idea that they need to conform to societal standards to achieve “happiness”. As most would say that antisocial feminism is a failure, but Halberstam argues that this is so called failure is actually not. Hlaberstam ultimately argues that failing is required for true happiness.

In “Unbeing as Power” Melanie quotes Halberstam saying “antisocial feminism is a framework that acknowledges the power that exists in the margins” laying the framework for what antisocial feminism looks like. Acknowledging that antisocial feminism exists in those who reject the normal existence of patriarchal societies. These people acknowledge that these societies exist, yet they still continue to hold true in rejecting to insert themselves in those societies. Halberstam argues that antisocial feminism is “preoccupied with negativity and negation”. The example of the Chicken Run character helps solidify the idea that antisocial feminism operates “under the understanding that there are ways of thinking about political action that don’t involve doing or dying”. By the Chicken Run character refusing to be exploited she is actively resisting to participate in the larger society, therefore making herself more powerful. Antisocial feminism shapes itself through those who live without labels, expectations and categories. Refusal plays a major role in antisocial feminism. Action is not required, and simple non-action is powerful in this framework. Antisocial feminism gains its power in those who are existing margins, as action or dying are not required. Antisocial feminism exists outside of the dominant realm, where those who claim antisocial feminism find it preferable. The blog ultimately argues that Halberstam is saying that “failure and unbecoming are essentially required for true happiness, that operates outside of understanding of being”. Reiterating the idea that those who participate in antisocial feminism, or shadow feminism are viewed as failures by the society as a whole, but truly are not.

In Hayley’s blog “Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” and Shadow Feminism” she also discusses antisocial feminism or shadow feminism. Kate Chopin’s novella “The Awakening” is examined as an example of antisocial feminism. The main character struggles to keep herself afloat in the society that she is operating in, as she feels she thrives best in the margins. The main character then goes on to commit suicide as she feels she failed to create the alternative life she dreamed of. Her failed act of shadow feminism ultimately led to her death. The blogger claims that this suicide is an indication of “failure in our society and not selfishly motivated” ringing the point that the first blogger made that failure is a clear sign of shadow feminism. Even though the character did not live through her entire life, she managed to make a statement that she was in control of her life, even though she did not feel it. “Awakening” “breaks the mother connection in two ways connected to her final act, by first having Edna, as a mother herself, permanently annihilate the bond with her children” using the idea that Halberstam brought up in their chapter. Riding oneself of the mother image frees is a main component of shadow feminism. Halberstam states “fantasy of an active, autonomous, self-activating individualism”(130) is what motivates the forms of prescriptive feminism that we are familiar with that, that ultimately play into patriarchy. Chopin’s main character becomes self annihilating and by choosing to participate in patriarchal society by marrying her husband, she submitted to the main society itself, like in Melanie’s blog,  Hayley characterizes antisocial feminism and shadow feminism as the being of existing in margins of the society. Chopin’s main character demonstrates what happens when one who used to exist in the margins suddenly immerse themselves into main society.

The third blog by Alex, “Radical Passivity” also discusses shadow feminism in the same way the other two blogs do. Shadow feminism is exemplified in the Halberstam example of Little Miss Sunshine. Once again shadow feminism, or antisocial feminism is labeled as one actively denying the bond of the mother and daughter, causing the daughter to break away and essentially deny any part of the patriarch standards that are set by the relationship of the mother and daughter. The tag antisocial feminism delves into what it means to live in the margin and how by living in the margins is really powerful. Antisocial feminism relies on the idea that there is an active, autonomous and self-activating individual. Antisocial feminism is one that is rooted in being an individual, and living outside of the normative realm.

Vincent’s Struggles

Berlant suggests that Vincent “acts mannerly with his children, Oedipal with his parents, softly masculine with his wife—doing whatever it takes to protect the privilege of drifting without entirely drifting off, or going off the cliff”(221). If we look deeper into this, we see that Vincent uses his different roles, as a husband, son and a father, to navigate through a world where he does not have to get super close to those around him. Vincent is navigating through a world which he is in the constant state of drifting off, but still somehow hanging on. If we look at each of these relationships, we can see how Vincent uses them to gain some sort of footing in a capital stock, be that social or emotional.

Vincent has a very mannerly relationship with his children, like Berlant stated. Every time we see Vincent interact with his children it seems as though he is going through the motions. The scene where Vincent gives his eldest son, Julien the money to buy himself clothing is a good example of this. Vincent feels that in order to be a good father, he needs to provide financially to his children without being present. Vincent is lacking in the emotional capital that helps him form more unifying bonds with his children. Instead, Vincent feels that him “working” and being able to give his children money for clothes, makes him a hands on father. Julien, in this scene, you can tell by his body language is put off by his fathers lack of intimacy. You can tell Julien appreciates the money, but at the same time his face looks very disappointed, as it is apparent that Julien would rather spend time with his father than receive money. One of the very last scenes with Vincent and his children shows the unraveling that Vincent has done in his relationship with not only his children but his whole family. When Vincent returns home from his heated exchange with Jefferey, his children seem to fear him. The children’s weariness towards their father shows how much his absence has created a strange place between himself and his family. Vincent has spent so much time focusing on how to make money and seem as though he is keeping busy that he has lost any emotional connection with his children and his wife.

With his wife Muriel, Vincent portrays the role of the masculine figure. Once Vincent lost his job, it is apparent that he felt as though he lost a certain part of his manhood. In patriarchal societies, it is expected that men go out and earn the money, while the wives stay at home with the children, and when this gets shifted on its head, Vincent has no idea what to do. When Vincent takes Muriel to Geneva to view the “apartment” that he has bought is an example of Vincent using his masculine power over his wife. Vincent knows that he does not have an apartment, but an empty shack that he’s been staying at, playing with Muriel in a deceptive way. The way Vincent wants to impress his children with money and new clothes, Vincent wants his wife to believe that he is the ideal masculine husband, who has the perfect job and has enough money to treat his family to nice things. Vincent is afraid that Muriel wont accept him if he told her that he had lost his job. In his mind, he needs to keep up the image that he is the husband he’s always been, but now with a better, mysterious job.

All of these relationships Vincent is trying to navigate, while trying to keep himself afloat, tie into his emotional capital. Vincent uses these relationships to gain what he feels he needs to get ahead in life. With his ex-school mates and acquaintances, Vincent uses their networks to gain leverage in his UN business. Vincent also uses them to cover for the fact that he actually is not working in a legitimate office. Through these networks Vincent is using them to build up his social capital. Vincent’s relationship with his family allows him to be immersed in emotional capital, but not take full stock in the emotional capital that his family provides for him.

The idea that is brought up by Berlant that Vincent’s behavior with each of his different family members allows him to drift without entirely drifting off plays into the idea that Vincent is not present in his own world. Throughout the film we view Vincent driving alone, writing alone, studying alone, showing how much time Vincent spends in his own quiet abyss. In these private, alone spaces, Vincent checks in with his family every now and then, but this asks the question of how much does his family actually mean to him? Vincent seems to have really high expectations for himself in the business world, but does not seem to have the actual drive to go out and get an actual job that will allow him to feel powerful in the business world. The very end scene where Vincent is offered a job where he is overseeing a group of people, we see a very cold and almost calculated look upon his face. One could read this as Vincent being optimistic for the future, but for me I see Vincent not wanting this job, even though it will bring him the status that he wants to provide for his family. This scene we see another example of Vincent drifting without falling off the cliff. Which begs to ask the question if Vincent will ever be truly satisfied with his life?

Beasts in the Jungle

“It had sprung as he didn’t guess; it had sprung as she hopelessly turned away from him, and the mark, by the time he left her, had fallen where it was to fall. He had justified his fears and achieved his fate; he had failed, with the last exactitude, she had prayed he mightn’t know. This horror of waking—this was knowledge, knowledge under the breath of which the very tears in his eyes seemed to freeze” (71)

This passage comes markedly at the end of the novella, when Marcher sees the grieving man at the grave and suddenly has an awakening. Marcher realizes, through seeing this mans grief, that he never experienced life to the fullest to understand exactly what real grief felt like. The whole text is written in a what I find to be stream of consciousness, as the sentences run-on and continue into the next thought without any pause. Looking at the very first sentence “It had sprung as he didn’t guess; it had sprung as she hopelessly turned away from him, and the mark, by the time he left her…” it bounces from one thought to another, showing how much Marchers thoughts absorb him into his failure. This realization that May is gone forever and knowing that he will never truly understand his beast, Marcher’s sense of loss has sprung up inside of him. May left a huge sense of unknowing in Marcher, leaving him to question himself once he sees the grieving man at the cemetery. Having justified his fears, meaning giving into his fear of transforming into the said Beast, Marcher feels he lived an anti-climatic life. Marcher “failed, with the last exactitude” failing to see just how much the little details of his relationship with May really affected him. Marcher knew all long, even the tiny details, pointed to his beast, and how he was really in control of his beast the entire time. Realizing this, Marcher felt the “horror of waking” or coming into this knowledge about himself too late. Marcher realizes that he was in control too much of his beast, or what I see as his sexuality. James never fully allows Marcher to explore his beast, and this repression of Marcher’s sexuality makes Marcher go insane. This is why his tears in his eyes freeze, as they come to realize that they, the tears, will never be fully capable of loving, as they have just observed from the stinger in the cemetery. James really relies on the use of stream of consciousness to carry the thoughts that Marcher has throughout the text.

James’ novella views failure as Marcher being unable to realize that he is capable love, missing his chance at being able to fully immerse himself into his relationship with May. All this time Marcher was trying to figure out how to control his beast, without ever realizing that his beast was his inability to transform his relationship with May into a romantic relationship. Marchers beast also represents his sexuality. Marcher spent his whole life, at least the life we see in the story, suppress his sexuality, hoping to find out the secret about himself that he felt May held. Marchers problem seems to be that he cannot seem to come to terms with his sexuality. Marcher  never once gives into May, and the desires she seems to carry for him. He, instead, chooses to subject himself and throw himself into finding out what beast he has living in the closet, that he cannot seem to get to come out.

Masochistic Passivity

Halberstam endorses what they call the radical form of masochistic passivity. To break down the term, masochistic or masochism, as Bersani puts it is “the counter narrative of sexuality that undergirds the propulsive, maturational, and linear story installed by psychoanalysis”(130-131) and passivity can be equated to accepting way things are without resistance.

The radical form of masochistic passivity “not only offers up a critique of the organizing logic of agency and subjectivity itself, but also opts out of certain systems built around a dialectic between colonizer and colonized”(131). Halberstam claims that radical masochistic passivity breaks itself away from the norm of the transfer of femininity from mother to daughter(131). By breaking itself away, masochistic passivity “seeks to destroy the mother-daughter bond altogether” (131), criticizing the role that passivity entrenches itself into femininity. Halberstam is examining the way masochistic passivity criticizes the role patriarchy puts on the feminine expression. Identity plays a big role in the way Halberstam endorses masochistic passivity. The reading as a whole covers the way identity is shaped, through the views of society. Masochistic passivity rejects the normative roles that patriarchal society places upon its members.

As the reading previously talks about the false sense of happiness, masochistic passivity can be found in the way that many of these feminist writers, especially Kincaid, refuse to write stories that follow the “happy” and the pursuit of happiness. Halberstam quotes Kincaid saying “Americans find difficulty very hard to take. They are inevitably looking for a happy ending”(132) echoing Barbara Ehrenreich’s quote from Bright-Sided. Ehrenreich questions the status quo saying “How can we be so surpassingly ‘positive’ in self-image and stereotype without being the world’s happiest and best-off people?”. Kincaid continues to say I am not interested in the pursuit of positivity. I am interested in pursuing the truth and the truth often seems to be not happiness but its opposite”(132) explaining her role in perpetuating this idea of masochistic passivity. Kincaid feels that her rejection of the notion that all stories, as perceived by Americans, need to seek out happiness enacts masochistic passivity, in way that Halberstam would classify as radical. Kincaid and Ehrenreich question whether putting on the facade of happiness allows us to actually ask critical questions of our society. Kincaid and Ehrenreich use masochistic passivity to ask those critical questions of their society.

While Halberstam focuses on masochistic passivity in terms of feminism, they also refer to masochistic passivity in terms of race. In Jamaica Kincaid’s novel, “the colonized subject refuses her role as colonized by refusing to be anything at all” (131) rejecting all normative roles that the colonizer usually takes. Kincaid, according to Halberstam, uses masochistic passivity to feed her whole story. The character Xuela rejects every form of her former self. She rejects her mother, her culture and her womanhood. Xuela is a woman who “cannot be anything but the antithesis of the self that is demanded by colonialism”(131). Not being as familiar with Kincaid’s novel Autobiography of My Mother, the existence of the masochistic passivity allows me to relate it to other texts that I have read. Nella Larsen’s Passing, strikes up images for myself of enacting masochistic passivity. Both the main characters, Clare and Irene, reject their African American roots, creating a new identity for themselves. Masochistic passivity is all about making the decision to refuse the factors of ones life that was forced upon them by society. By refusing to identity as African American, or simply passing as a white women, Clare and Irene are refusing to participate in the identities placed upon them by the colonizer society.

Masochistic passivity shows the way refusing to participate in the standards that patriarchy or the colonizer put upon different groups of people. Jamaica Kincaid uses her novel, Autobiography of My Mother to exemplify what exactly masochistic passivity does. The word passive invokes the idea of remaining silent while letting things happen, but masochistic passivity turns this idea on its head. Masochistic passivity takes the notion that being passive does not necessarily mean one has to loose all sense of resistance and ground. Masochistic passivity challenges the norms placed upon groups of people, such as the identity as being the ancestor of the colonized people, and allows those participating create their own storyline.