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.


Where Does Vincent Fail Within the System? (CTT)

As calexrose and vanessatshionyi discussed in their posts regarding failure and failed systems in the film Timeout, we look at life for Vincent after he has been fired from his managerial job and how he maintains and manipulates his relationships with the people close to him as not only capital but also as a way to “dogpaddle the space” that he has created around him now that he is no longer employed. In both instances, we understand the failed system of these “traditional national-liberal terms of social obligation” (201) that Vince falls out of by getting fired. Both also acknowledge the space between Vincent and his family but what’s interesting is while vaessatshioyi see’s Vincent using these relationships as a means to gain some sort of capital back, be it social or financial, calexrose views it as a means of coping with loss (I apologize if I put words in mouths). In a sense you can see Vincent’s creation of this space as a way of looking towards the future and reestablishing himself or you can view it as Vincent trying to mend himself and the failure he has gone through by losing his job.

I cited this because I think it’s important for the audience to understand where Vincent experiences his perception of failures (or if he believes that even fails at all), because his response to these shortcomings are the basis for both of these claims. Now Berlant claims, “Queer phenomenology, as a scene for putting into circulation a bodily orientation, provides another intellectual context for the rise of proprioception as a metric for apprehending the historical present” (197). So we examine the scene where Vincent gives money to Julien for clothing. The financial capital Vincent gives to Julien is a substitute for emotional capital that Julien actually desires from Vincent. A scene between a father and son that lacks intimacy is a good set-up for this queer phenomenology, but what skills is Vincent attributing to this rise of proprioception? Is it the fact he has the ability to provide capital without actually making it or is it his ability to maintain a relationship that provides some sort of capital for him? Personally, I think Vincent see’s the development of these skills as a success. Vincent losing his job wasn’t losing his way of life, it was just him losing the stability to support his way of life and he in turned has filled that by manipulating these relationships.

Truthfully I think they’re very similar. To maintain and dog paddle are two very different things because one has a connotation of balance where the other one invokes a sort of chaotic flailing. Yet whether he’s navigating these relationships smoothly or with hiccups, he’s still navigating them. Either way Vincent is using the relationships with his family as a means to stabilize himself, whether it’s his sanity or his various forms of capital. The proprioceptive skills he’s displaying are varied in this instance but serve as a symbol of the “flexibility” in a “neoliberal” market Vincent maintains (202).

Both venessatshionyi and calexrose both condole their blogs by citing the managerial position that falls into Vincent’s lap that he greets with a sort of “grimace.” Calexrose cites this as Vincent’s failure whereas vanessatshionyi begs the question about whether Vincent will really be happy in life. This is interesting because again I think they arrive at the same conclusion using different methods. This precarity of Vincent’s day to day activities has stifled his flexibility, causing him to fail. Furthermore, the fact he would accept a job from a market in which he despises shows his dissatisfaction. So if failure is the opposite of success, then dissatisfaction would oppose happiness, at least I this instance. The point being is that it doesn’t matter if Vincent is dissatisfied with taking the job or if he views it as a failure because they both men that Vincent wasn’t able to reach his goal. And that is the true failure in this movie.