Slacker and Adorno’s Aesthetics

I spent a great deal of time studying/spiraling into Adorno’s aesthetic theory, both in Minima Moralia and Aesthetic Theory  excerpts. This is what I’ve produced and its hardly anything. I feel like I’m on a drug I don’t want to be on anymore. The drug of Adorno.

Pt 1: Adorno and Art

The artist can preserve the integrity of her productive activity by turning the relationship between producer and consumer against its own goal. By collapsing the labor of the artist and the consumption of the observer in time, either by manipulating the temporal condition of the art object or creating an art object that disappears or is destroyed, artists can resist incorporation of their art objects into the exchange economy. This collapse keeps the artist from being alienated from their labor because the consumer/observer of the art cannot possess the product or divorce it from its active creation. This active creation can be conceived in the context of what Adorno would call the art object’s “laws of movement”. Adorno holds that good art is constituted by “moments” of encounter or expression that render it irreducible to criteria and keep it in a state of flux. It is not exactly that good art must be temporary, but the unique relationship of the art object to time is what can prevent its being located or stabilized. If it is these “moments” rather than any specific content that make the art object what it is. As such, the art object, impossible to corral, defies commodification—you can’t sell a horse you can’t catch.

 

Pt 2: Adorno and Slacker

Slacker literalizes Adorno’s metaphor of “movement” or momentariness as requisite to truthful art through its ever-mobile camera and characters. The motion of the camera resists a totalizing narrative, a point made recursively by the scene of the super8 bouncing between operators splicing and dicing a water bottle-banging performance into grainy and indecipherable morsels. The observation of the performance through the super8 camera is a deliberate attempt by the artist (the super8 supplier) to keep the art moving, temporary and changing. Although fragmentary, the super8 film has the potential to be productive because of its pretense of reproduction or possession of the performance. Lucky for Adorno, the viewer doesn’t get to see where this narrative thread might take us.

 

The last scene of the film mirrors the above in many ways. The super8 filmmakers pass the camera between each other, filming each other haphazardly. To the viewer the effect is building disorientation that culminates when the camera is thrown off the cliff. The kids’ penchant for destruction, and what is revealed as a fundamental irrationality in the production and (lack of) consumption of the art object falls right in line with Adorno’s theories about aesthetics. By destroying the camera the kids ensure that their art is unable to be possessed, thereby precluding its recruitment into the marketplace and preserving its autonomy and uselessness in an act of brutality. This is a perfect example of Adorno’s active violence against utility (121).

 

It is in such a way that, according to Adorno, we may come close to preserving arts use value, and genuine benefits to society. By denying the marketplace the opportunity to identify the art’s commodity character and giving that mediating power back to the artist, the artist may then wield his/her mediating power by manipulating the execution of the art object in time. Thus the artist can deny the art’s productivity in the marketplace by allowing its use value to circulate in a manner that subverts the temporal scale of industry. A quick non-Slacker example that I like is a John Cage piece, the execution of which involved stamping “listen” on every audience member’s hand and having them board a bus to be chauffeured around. Lets check in with Adorno:

  1. The art is decidedly temporary (it appears and disappears as it is consumed)
  2. The art cannot be taken away and reproduced, for its moments of experience and expression are spontaneous (car horns, birds, etc)
  3. By literally inducing motion the piece fragments itself (in a Slacker-like-move)

 

Part 3: Performance, Fetishism and the Replacement of Use Value with Exchange Value

The fact that much of the art is encountered for free in Slacker can be interpreted as an attempt to reclaim the value of the labor of the artist and challenge the logic of dominant exchange relationships. The artist-as-producer in Slacker creates art that doesn’t really satisfy the demands of the marketplace/monetary exchange but rather affirms the abilities of the individual and is shared for communal benefit. If we cannot rightly “possess” something like a free performance, for example, then we cannot exactly conceive of the exchange value that “possessing” the art would offer. Spontaneity as a formal constraint would push performance even further from desirability as a marketplace commodity as it cannot be reconciled cleanly with marketability.

 There is, however, a way in which the performance can still produce exchange value, and it occurs when what is qualitative in art (use value) is transformed into something quantifiable. If I understand correctly, this is the definition of fetishism as it pertains to Adorno. As he articulates: “No humane exertions, no formal reasoning, can sever happiness from the fact that the ravishing dress is worn by only one, and not by twenty-thousand. The utopia of the qualitative—the things which through their difference and uniqueness cannot be absorbed into the prevalent exchange relationships—takes refuge under capitalism in the traits of fetishism.” (120) If the audience at our spontaneous performance art nightmare estimates the social value of the performance, the art object begins its journey towards capital and fetishism. The individual who witnessed the performance can exchange the memory of the experience as cultural capital by soliciting recognition of the consumption of the artistic experience (1:“I saw the nightmare performance xyz did on Friday and it made me cry.” 2:“You must be a sensitive and profound individual! Come meet my friends/come to my party/send me your manuscript”). The audience member exchanges his/her experience for other social capital ex: entry into certain social groups, network contacts, or publication of a review of the piece. This activity could potentially transform the cultural capital into economic capital by allowing the audience member a bit of upward mobility in the labor market. For example, an audience member could “name drop” the performance and/or artists and so convert what was unproductive, the art’s use value, into the realm of financial gain and careerism, i.e. the economic marketplace. By the time this happens, though, there are already postcards for sale at Starbucks with the artist’s face on them, the purchase of which people believe constitutes a transformative artistic experience. This entire process also confers onto the labor of the artists an exchange value, essentially robbing them of their artistic autonomy and pushing art and artist into the economic sphere of usefulness. “Every commodity you produce is a piece of your own death”.

 

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Expanding the Present: Crisis, Trauma, and Time Dilation in Good Midnight

 

While I was reading Good Morning, Midnight, one of the things that stuck out to me was the way, unlike the protagonists of all of the other novels that we’ve read this term (with the exception of The Beast in the Jungle), Sasha exits financial insecurity. With this exit, I believe Sasha represents a case study for looking at how failure functions with a safety net in place.
I am primarily interested in the intersection between what Berlant refers to as an expanded present moment and Sasha’s dilation of time through acts of consumerism. The impasse is defined the expansion of the present moment–an existential treading of water–in the absence of evental resolution (Berlant 10). Basically, the precarious crisis of the present is prevented from passing into the past because the crisis continues. To understand this clearly, it is important to have a (tremendously) rough and dirty summary of the Badiouan “Event.”
Described most simply in Badiou’s Ethics, an Event is a kind of reading of a historical happening that becomes an Event because of the way subjects react to it. Here is a very, very, very simple (an partially incorrect) example of a Badiouan Event:
1. There is a dam that fails during a flood and causes damage downstream. (The thing that
     happens, not yet an Event).
2. Prior to the dam breaking, there was an understanding of dams and dam construction
     that failed to account for the problem which caused dam to fail.
3. After the dam breaks, two or more individuals (in this case they are probably engineers)
     see:
a) that the prior knowledge of dams had a pretty big hole in it (the “void”),
b) that the dam demonstrates this hole,
c) agree that the dam’s failure demands a new way of thinking about dams, because the
failure showed that the previous way of thinking about dams was wrong,
d) come together to find a new “truth” about dams that accounts for the dams failure               (this  is called a “truth-process”) and
e) remain faithful to this new truth even if it means fighting those who have a vested               interest in the old way of understanding dams (this is the “good”).
4. Thus, the event of the dam breaking becomes an Event after the “truth-process” is
     created and the event is given subjective power and meaning by the power and meaning
     it generates in those subjects who respond to it.
(There are a number of problems with this example, not least of which is the empirical nature, and low stakes of the example. The point is that the subjects who carry the burden of the new knowledge (having identified the void and found a new way of seeing as a result) make the event and Event, by acting in accordance with the new knowledge that springs from their consideration of the event rather that from the event itself. With a dam, there is a sense of the irrefutability of the conclusions the engineers would draw from the dam’s failure, whereas the kinds of events Badiou is generally talking about rely on a faith or belief in a new way of being that addresses the void.)
With this sense of the Event in mind, we can understand more lucidly what Berlant means when she talks of the expanded present. Basically, (this is what I understand her to mean)the precariat are those stuck in the aftermath of the event (getting fired, running out of welfare, losing one’s retirement in the market crash), but unable to make of the event an Event, because of the way the event turns their world upside-down. According to Berlant, the event has shown the “void”– the “fantasy” of upward mobility, meritocracy, state and commercial stability, etc.–of the knowledge of life in the West, but nothing has come to fill that void, no new ways of being or understanding of the world have arisen to acknowledge and move forward in light of the void. Instead, the members of the precariat are left adrift, unable to connect with each other, because to do so while treading water would lead to drowning (the threat of the danger of connection might, in Badiouan terms, help us understand why a new “truth-process” hasn’t emerged, as it requires two or more subjects coming together to share a single vision despite their radical differences). As such, the precariat is unable to move past this crisis, and remains mired in the impasse of neoliberal precariousness.
Understanding the temporally dilating power of the Berlantian impasse, what are we to make of Sasha’s deliberate resistance to progression? As a text that formally remains in the present by: 1) almost exclusively using the present tense regardless of a passage’s position within the  fabula, 2) rarely clarifying which “present” is the present, which “pasts” are further in the past than others, 3) having the narrator (as world-(un)builder) literally erase, conflate, deflate temporal progression, and 4) undercuts a readerly sense of progress by continually repeating scenes, and returning to locations without a fundamental change in character or circumstances (once again crying in the lavabo), how are we to understand both Sasha’s attempts to “remain” in the crisis as a negotiation of her crises and the Good Morning, Midnight‘s own aesthetic goals?
Unlike Vincent, the Slackers, Murphy, or Helga, Sasha comes into an economically stable situation (through her inheritance) prior to the majority of the scenes in the novel. Although it is difficult to tell time in GMM, I place her inheritance of the housing and 2P 10S/week per diem a short bit after Enno leaves her and she heads back to England. (many years before the novel’s written present and the two week vacation to Paris). As this seems to be Sasha’s situation, I wonder if the endless spending, regardless of the inheritance, leads to something like a return to the impasse. That is to say, by constantly spending money on cheap, disposable items (imitation high-ends goods, authentic but poorly made goods, and booze) is Sasha’s unwillingness to be frugal a way of maintaining herself in the Berlantian impasse, a way of staying within the crisis she enters after the death of her son and her abandonment by Enno?
A kind of traditional, anti-consumerist reading of Sasha’s behavior would identify her spending habits as a pathological response to the pain of living in grief, that Sasha is attempting to “fill a hole” with the disposable purchases she compulsively makes. This reading would imagine that Sasha, after the event of her child’s death and abandonment, identifies the “void” of her prior future-oriented journey towards happiness (“once we get to Paris”) as bankrupt, but is unwilling or unable to discover a new way of being that addresses the void, and instead seeks the next purchase or the next drink (never the one she is making or drinking) to fulfill her current deadness. Badiou sees this way of responding to the void (one that sees the event as proof of the voids fullness, or correctness, rather than its inadequacy) as a kind of Evil. The Nazis, Badiou argues, saw in the event of WWI the void of German nationalism, and instead of finding a new way of viewing the German state, doubled down on the idea of the German/Aryan racial superiority. In this reading, Sasha is undone by the disruption of her future-oriented conception of happiness and fullness, and is unable to respond to the event in a way that leads out of the traumatic response of attempting to “make true” that which her trauma has shown to be false.
However, (and Badiou would HATE this, as would Berrlant I’m sure), perhaps Sasha’s continual spending represents something like a turn away from the future, a realization that frugality is part of a larger lie that commands us to deny the present in service of the future. Perhaps Sasha’s spending represents an absolute turn away from the future as a source of salvation in comfort in a way similar to Halberstam’s claims of Xuela’s self-negation. In this reading, Sasha sees the vision of an ever-receding mirage of security, fullness, and comfort as simply a vision, the void of futurity, and is revolting against the demands of the oasis of futurity by preventing all possible paths that might make it possible. This reading, however bleak, imagines that the only way to find footing in the impasse is to realize that is will never end. Within the Badiouan scheme however, this creates a paradox because the “truth-process” Sasha is being faithful to is the disavowal of exiting the impasse, and finding a new way to live (also, because this “truth-process” lacks any other participants it automatically fails to live up to Badiou’s criterion for an Event).

Time in Good Morning, Midnight

I might risk focusing too much on character motivation and psychologizing Sasha in this post, but I think the novel is so much about Sasha’s consciousness and how and why it functions as it does so it’s kind of unavoidable for me. In Good Morning, Midnight, Sasha’s experience of time seems to have a cyclical and static rather than linear quality. Thinking of past and future are expressed in repetition: “tomorrow, tomorrow…” and “…Back, back, back…” (57) with the ellipses connoting endless regression or momentum, a kind of infinite repeating that continues until it dissolves and there is nothing but a gap, an oblivion of the kind that Sasha seeks through drinking, dreams of annihilation, and her moments of extreme passivity and immobility. But “tomorrow, tomorrow” and “back, back” and similar repetitions throughout the novel could also be interpreted as a kind of mantra or incantation. Especially when she is considering her future actions, she is willing herself in the future rather than in the present (promising herself she will only have so many drinks in the near future, promising herself future brief satisfactions from the ritual of shopping (sort of brief, two hours is a long time to shop for a hat in one place)). I think an argument could be made that Sasha’s trauma, the trauma of having lost her baby but also the trauma of poverty in her past, has changed her sense of time, and this trauma which is very much part of her daily experience leads to her constant evasion of the present moment, but it is difficult for me to say what exactly the present moment is for Sasha since the past and the future are very much so the present in this novel. This is reflected in the form of the novel, which maintains present-tense stream of consciousness narration in flashbacks. When we are reading about Sasha’s experience losing her baby, she writes (thinks? speaks?): “Back, back, back…This has happened many times” (58). I think that the relationship to time is the most significant reason why Sasha refers to herself as having a “film-mind.” A film is a document of time, when you’re watching it has a linear progression that you flow along with (like Sasha’s thoughts flow along in the constant present of the book), but since it’s a recorded medium it’s also timeless in every moment. Beginning, middle, and end of the film are all accessible to the viewer at any time (not literally, but you get my point). Sasha’s mind, the novel’s form, and film, make a paradox of time, presenting it as something in motion but never changing, cyclical and static, yet infinite because you can move backwards and forwards in it forever. Like Marcher in Beast in the Jungle, Sasha fails to experience normative time; her failures/traumas disrupt normative time. Unlike Marcher, Sasha appears to have no desire to rectify this rupture and instead seems to want to absorb herself in these gaps, moments of stillness and unproductivity. She lays in bed watching the curtains and shadows, “The musty smell, the bugs, the loneliness, this room, which is part of the street outside– this is all I want from life” (131). Helmer’s argues that Marcher is able to conceptualize himself in normative time through his relationship to Bertram and thereby a relationship to knowledge as something that can be dug up, uncovered, and this organizes time linearly. But while Marcher strives to create normative time, and strives to know, Sasha strives to not-know, to let the gaps in her memory and thought be gaps, to obliterate and annihilate knowledge. Marcher wants to bring knowledge to light but Sasha wants to keep it in the dark.

Structure of Trauma

 

The structure of trauma in Sasha’s narration deteriorates the exchange value of experience. Within Good Morning, Midnight, we are able to witness consciousness attempt to exile and omit trauma, only to fail and amplify its impact to the point of diminishing the rest of experience by comparison. Sasha’s projected gaps, understanding of herself as spectacle, breaks into isolated spaces, reliance on transaction, and ambiguity of interaction all contribute to and furnish an alienated experience after trauma. The words, events, and understanding are all distant and malleable to the point of non-existence.

One characteristic of the ellipses and gaps in the narrative are the repeated words or phrases that serve as their precursor – on page 17 (“Here this happened, here that happened. …”) page 26 (“Say something, say something. …”), page 33 (“quiet, quiet…”), page 34 (“A beautiful room with a bath. A room with a bath. A nice room. A room. …”), a not insignificant five times on page 59 (“money, money, money for my son; money, money….”, “Money, money for my son, my beautiful son….”, “Money, money….”, “Money, money.…”, “A beautiful, beautiful baby….”), and sustains a structural pattern over the course of the novel. It treats the language as an object, launched continuously into a gapped and narratively gaunt memory. These images narratively managed to be the sources and sequiturs of the trauma.

 

The novel opens with Sasha describing the interior of a room –

“There are two beds, a big one for madame and a smaller one on the opposite side for             monsieur. The wash-basin is shut off by a curtain. It is a large room, the smell of                   cheap hotels faint, almost imperceptible. The street outside is narrow, cobble-                       stoned, going sharply uphill and ending in a flight of steps. What they call an impasse.”

On 35 –

“And there I am in this dim room with the bed for madame and the bed for monsieur              and the narrow street outside (what they call an impasse).”

Sasha reiterates the environment’s hierarchy and concludes with its general indisposition. The depiction is an indecisive and pictorial form of literature, holding a reserved similarity to Emily Dickinson – “Delight – becomes pictorial -/When viewed from Pain.” The first is an assumedly content moment from which she withdraws. Within the second is a sense of a snared indifference. The prose has lost its momentum and separation, the language its coherence while the depiction is relatively the same. The meaning alone is near identical as the feel is undone due to its structure.

Sasha’s ambiguous interpretation of interaction following hostility also distances the narrative from experience. It first appears in her confrontation with Mr. Blank. After the confused, labyrinthine route Sasha takes from a misunderstood word, Blank, condescending and inimical, asks Salvatini whether or not he agrees on the fact that Sasha is hopeless.

“Salvatini makes a rolling movement of his head, shoulders and eyes, which means:              ‘I quite agree with you. Deplorable, deplorable.’ Also: ‘She’s not so bad as you think.’             Also: ‘Oh, my God, what’s all this about? What a day, what a day! When will it be                    over?’ Anything you like, Salvatini’s shrug means.”

Another example occurs after the tall and thin English girl at Theodore’s publicly humiliates her. On her way out, Theodore reappears.

“Theodore comes out from behind the bar and opens the door for me. He smiles, his                pig-eyes twinkle. I can’t make out whether his smile is malicious (that goes for me,              too) or apologetic (he meant well), or only professional.”

She has come to approach interaction transactionally. The other is alienated to an economical and indeterminate meaning, independent from the world itself. Salvatini is telling “anything you like” while Theodore’s emotions are away from function. It allows for her structure to elevate above what the narrative itself has to say. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. She has admitted to supposing the world and outcome are unreliable outside of oneself.

When words repeat, the narrative leaves in the gaps and when confrontation occurs, the narrative eschews interpretation for indifference. It is as if Sasha refrains from the irony of picking what physical language and narrative language mean. You might say that the exchange of interaction and experience are devalued after trauma and its continuous echo. The novel, in my opinion, is brilliant because it demonstrates how structure can exile its own words.

Rhys and Adorno: How Do They Compare?

How does the style of Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys compare to Adorno’s “spiders’ web” writing style, “loose and irresponsible formulation” and the use of “vague expression” he praises in Minima Moralia?

In Good Morning, Midnight the protagonist, Sasha is living a life of constant uncertainty, confusion, grief, pain and trauma. Rhys’s writing style with her liberal use of ellipsis, chapter breaks, dialogue and monologue in multiple languages suggests she is writing in a “loose and irresponsible” way with “vague expression[s]” that leaves the readers open to analyze the text and fill in the blanks that’s left by the ellipsis.

The ellipsis that opens a sentence even after a chapter break tells readers that there is more to Sasha’s life and experience than what is written in the novel.  “…I got to a hotel near the Place de la Madeleline” (Rhys 143) is a sentence that starts the section after a chapter break and that preceded a sentence that ended, not with a period, but with another set of ellipses. This and many other passages in the text “permits the hearer to imagine whatever suits him and what he already thinks in this case” (Adorno 101). It allows the reader to think, analyze and imagine what he is reading instead of having each part of the protagonist’s experience spoon fed to them. The time between the ellipsis is at times unknown. What takes place in the character’s life is also at times unknown.

Good Morning, Midnight is like a “spiders’ web” but not quite the “tight, concentric, transparent, well-spun and firm” (Adorno 87) web the Adorno speaks of.  It’s a spiders’ web but it has many holes. Some many argue that the holes are the seemingly frantic use of ellipsis. It may even be considered a poor use of grammar and an inability to start or complete a sentence on Rhys’s part, not literary genius. On the other hand, it could be that Rhys wants readers to read between the lines, or create their own lines in the case of the ellipsis and chapter breaks. The untranslated languages, such as the French and German that’s used in the English text can confuse if not amuse readers. The use of language can be considered the “[s]shoddiness that drifts with the flow of familiar speech…” (Adorno 101). The “shoddiness” is the natural speech patterns and the multi lingual mind one can acquire when residing in a global city.

Sasha’s life can be defined as or compared to a spider furiously spinning the web of her life and constant mending the holes the weather, flying objects and giddy children cause. An example of Sasha furiously spinning is when she was meeting Mr. Blank for the first time. Knowing that her skills are limited, she feels it is a good idea to practice her German in her mind. “I at once make up in my mind that he wants to find out if I can speak German. All the little German I know flies out of my head. Jesus, help me!” She panics and start producing silk. “Ja, ja, nein, nein was kostet es, Wein ist eine…” (Rhys 24). The broken German monologue ends with a panicked Solfège. She is working on shoring up her web before someone puts a hole in it. Sasha wants to blend in her environment and stay safe.

One may ask if Good Morning, Midnight would have the same effect if it was “edited” in the way a high school English teacher would edit and grade a written text with the use of ellipsis that doesn’t fit the standard, chapter breaks that may seem obsessive and the use of language that may frustrate the reader. Rhys’s novel reflects life and the “looser” style Adorno speaks of and leaves the readers open to multiple levels of interpretation.

 

 

“You don’t know what you are saying”

   While I was watching Slacker I found some narrative threads similar to Samuel Beckett’s Murphy—beginning in the sequence that takes place with a women turning to her companion while walking and announcing “the next person who passes us will be dead within a fortnight.” This premonition is followed by the passerby seeking out a paper which reminds me of Suk’s celestial diagram in Murphy—not similar in content, but instead as a cataclysmic force. As the passerby approaches the newspaper vendor, he is greeted by fortune, a “two for one special.” He is hesitant—deciding instead to pay for the paper. He then uses his change in the vendor and is cheated out of a paper because the mechanism has malfunction. This hapless passerby has passively deflected a fortune and is bitten in the ass because of it.

  To worsen matters, a female walks by, he asks her for change (meaning break change rather than spare change) and she defensively shouts “you gotta strong back, get a job.” This perturbed misunderstanding led me to think of Celia’s demand for Murphy to “get up out of the bed…and walk the streets for work” (25).  The consternation on the pedestrians face is still mild and he is propelled into the marketplace, a diner to read their free copy of the paper. The diner is then full of people with slightly antagonistic tendencies that resemble the patients at Murphy’s ward. The utterance of “you should quit” aimed at the exceedingly confused pedestrian is repeated by a disturbed customer in this scene. This reminded me of the red lights that Murphy saw while on the job, yet dismissed: his acknowledgement of his growing comfortability and popularity with the patients, and an indulgent connection to Endon. Unlike Murphy however, this pedestrian is visibly uncomfortable with his surroundings and leaves the diner as the camera then follows with another customer’s exit. We hear in the unseen vicinity the threat of death follow the previous character through the sound of a car nearly hitting him. I wonder myself, was this woman’s premonition true—was he somehow a marked man? These resemblances, though not exact in likeness to Murphy’s, shared an upsetting strangeness, a haphazard fatality. It is both the word of the Suk (a paper) and the search for the newspaper that lead both characters on a journey ripe with misfortune that they are willingly passive about.

  The scenes that follow not only echoes tinges of Beckett’s Murphy, but also Adorno’s Minima Moralia. Linklater’s camera follows the robed man with coffee coming from the diner and walking into his apartment. As the scene unfolds the robed smoker reads his paper, while his girlfriend sits on the bed and suggests the two “go do something…go to the park and play frisbee.” In a candid and memorable diatribe, the boyfriend retorts “I hate shit like that…all that nature. Sunlight is so oppressive now…you don’t just go to the lake you have to prepare for it…[it’s like] pre-meditated fun.” The clever girl answers back, “Did it ever occur to you that maybe you’re what’s oppressive..let’s never go out, let’s never venture out of this one square mile area.” I couldn’t help—since the intertextual likenesses had been already made—but picture Celia and Murphy arguing back and forth on the bed (25). Murphy the ever so apathetic companion refusing to be removed from his stationary comfort zone in order to fulfill the demands of ordinary motivations. Celia, much like this female, points out his inability to be anything other than himself, inflexible and complicated, as she says to Murphy “you twist everything” (25). 

   After reading Adorno’s rants and ravings throughout Minima Moralia, I also thought of this scene in reflection. During a meditation on consumerism, Adorno posits “The fascinated eagerness to consume the latest process of the day not only leads to indifference towards the matter transmitted by the process, but encourages stationary rubbish and calculated idiocy” (118). These sentiments strike me as such a fitting encapsulation of the eager girlfriend’s plea of “let’s go out” and the disenchanted boyfriend looking to remain stationary and hiding behind calculated indifference for her desires. His words echo Adorno’s meditations, pointing out that it isn’t just going to the lake (the latest process), its something “you have to prepare for it…[it’s like] pre-meditated fun” (the matter transmitted) (118).

   Upon finding these threads, which seem to have been spun from similar fabrics, I wonder about the structure of Slacker. The movie seems like an open inclusion to the viewers’ production of connections that are generated by the thoughts carried through the film’s conversation. Linklater himself, describes in the opening scene, speaking about his dreams, “every thought you have becomes its own reality.” I think that the free flowing camera narrative mimics the quality of a free association, stream of conversation (or consciousness), and as it travels and splinters off, creating separate realities, the viewer transfers onto it—their own realities. This random effect the movie produces leads me to make one final association, in Minima Moralia Adorno warns us “The abundance of commodities indiscriminately consumed is becoming calamitous” (119). And what a productive calamity Slacker is.

Escaping the Impasse: finding footing by forfeiting the foot? (Capture the Tag: Non-Normative and resistance).

In her blog post, Vanessa summarizes Halberstam’s vision of masochistic passivity, describing it as a form of refusal that resists the seemingly impossible situation of escaping colonial and gendered subjecthood. Halberstam’s description of the impossibility of escaping the “trap” of colonial subjecthood (you’re screwed if you do, you’re screwed if you don’t) seems to me to suggest something like Berlant’s “impasse”. In Jamaica Kincaid’s Autobiography of My Mother, Xuela, “escapes the hereditary inscription by not only severing the ties of mother and daughter—refusing both the relationship and the roles—she “refus[es] to be anything at all” (Halberstam 131). Vanessa also suggests that, the “refus[al] to identity as African American, or simply passing as a white women,” by Clara and Irene of Larsen’s Passing (a book I myself have not read), is a refusal to be that throws off the yoke of colonially assigned identity.

If we consider the not being, or failure to struggle of Xuela, Clara, and Irene as methods of resistance that have traction because they signify a willingness to turn away from the entire machine of patriarchy and colonialism, is this method of resistance available to the members of Berlant’s “Precariat” as well?

In her blog on the subject, Calextrose identifies in Time Out’s Jean-Michel a figure of a neoliberal subject who has managed to navigate the “impasse.”  She writes: “Jean-Michel’s method of optioning upward mobility is less than honorable but effective. As Berlant mentions, Time Out manages to show how ‘different kinds of people catch up to their new situation’ (192).” This suggests that Jean-Michel’s modest empire of imitation can be read as “footing” found in the depths of the impasse, a sign that he has caught up, has negotiated the abyss of neoliberal precarity. I am inclined to (perhaps this fits the theme) half-agree. I think there is a way of reading the counterfeiting business as the ultimate neoliberal adaptation. The counterfeit merchandise, unlike the “real deal,” is never fixed to the ebb and flow of brand popularity. Unlike the true Reebok, in the event of a devaluation of the brand, the counterfeit item can always morph into an imitation of the new “winners” of the fickle market share. All while avoiding any assumption of the precariousness of the legitimate market. In the era of the “recession grimace” the counterfeit commodity, by existing outside the system of brand signification, is by the very flexibility of its nature virtually recession-proof.

However, one of the primary arguments of Berlant’s essay was that the precariousness made ubiquitous by the neoliberal dismantling of both labor regulations and social welfare programs is not new, but rather is revealed to be the reality that has always existed beneath the fantasy of infinite growth and upward mobility. For the working class, the minority, the mentally ill, the near entirety of the global south, and the criminal, precariousness has always been evident. Furthermore, as Jean-Michel belongs to that last class, the threat of a sudden, rupturing loss of stability and income is just one police officer away. Perhaps the counterfeit item is the perfect product for the neoliberal age, but the neoliberal state knows this well, and in an effort to protect their interests has often made draconian legal consequences for those who would forge. In abstract—as a hydra-headed industry that corporations must simply accept as one of the costs of doing successful business—the forger may escape the threat of capricious market forces, but the actual person who forges always runs the risk that the legal forces shaped by market forces will sniff and snuff her out.

So, if a vision of impasse-navigation is not complete in Jean-Michel, can we find sketch a vision of successful impasse-navigation by asking what Vincent does wrong?

For Calexrose, Vincent’s return to the precarious dependency of the job-market is the ultimate signal that Vincent has failed to negotiate the impasse that is afforded him outside the realm of employment. In a certain way, her reading of this turns accepted notions of precariousness on their head. In the prior configuration employment is what shields the employee from the precariousness of joblessness. In Calexrose’s reading there is something about the dependence of employment that precludes the ability to “find footing” within the neoliberal void. If this is true, what is it about unemployment that allows the member of the precariat to access “the learning curve” of the impasse, or find new footing in a way that employment prevents (Berlant 202)? Is it a question of sovereignty? By depending on a job is one not free or unattached enough to find a new way of life? This would suggest that unlike the previous model (of employment as a shield against precariousness), in the neoliberal void employment both defers the impasse and makes it impossible to truly experience the loss of bearings. This deferral/inaccessibility would prevent the employee from truly learning to adjust to the void of the impasse. If this is correct, the impasse appears fundamentally more akin to a psychoanalytic problem of maturation, one in which the employee is unable to become wholly adult or achieve neoliberal sovereignty because of their unwillingness or inability to let go of the corporate apron strings. To find footing in the void, one would have to let go of the ladder.

While I do have the feeling that if precariousness is as wide-spread a phenomenon as Berlant argues that it is, the precariousness of employment comes to be functionally equivalent to unemployment because of the way the non-permanence of the position of either creates a similar orientation towards the future. The grimace seems, to me, as much a mask of tensing for tomorrow as it is a reaction to the events of today.