Capture the tag: Fear

I address three posts here, “Industry of Culture” by samuelwhitehorn, “Henry James on Failure” by mmmagc123, and “Vincent’s Failures” by vanessatshionyi.

All these posts are tagged with “fear” though none of them, except arguably the second, deal with the topic at much length directly. Still, I think fear is a hugely important affect when thinking about success and failure, so is worth exploring more deeply.

The post “Vincent’s Failures” draws attention to the apparent fear that Vincent’s family displays once they become aware of his facade. The author argues that this is at least in part because Vincent has not invested in his social capital; his bonds with his children are weak. The children’s fearful reaction happens in the scene where the family as a cohesive unit is threatened. Their fear, then, is connected to Vincent’s overvaluing of capital.

The post “Henry James on Failure” argues that Marcher’s fear is failure itself: “the ultimate failure in life is to live in fear, thus not really living at all.” Because Marcher lives in a state of constant apprehension life passes him by completely.

The post “Industry of Culture” tells an anecdote of complex social ramifications about an interaction between an ostensibly heterosexual and homosexual man, and the difference in the heterosexual man’s behavior when he realizes he is being watched. The homosexual man appears to react with fear: seeming fragile in response to his conversational partner’s sudden shift to masculine performativity.

In each of these examples, fear is a response to power gone awry, power with an element of unpredictability or chaos. Vincent’s family fears him because it as the patriarch he is responsible for their financial and social well being in society, and they depend on his sanity for their wellbeing. A sign of Vincent’s potential insanity is a source of insecurity for the whole family. In the second example, the power over Marcher’s life takes a more abstract form, fate or destiny itself. Its power is overwhelming but the specifics of Marcher’s fate are unpredictable to him, and this torments him and encourages his worry. In the third example, the homosexual man is rendered submissive by an unpredictable shift in behavioral display from a person in a position of relative privilege and power over him.

In these examples, does fear lead to failure or is fear only a sign of impending or potential failure? It seems that it is impossible to extricate the two; to be a failure is to live in fear, to be afraid is to invite failure, or at least see it coming. In these examples and perhaps generally, it is as if the fear is always implied, just under the surface, until triggered by an event as just cause in which case it is activated and betrayed by physiological responses (the look on the children’s faces, Marcher’s begging, the man’s inability to communicate verbally). In Time Out, Vincent’s family reacts with fear to his perceived insanity. But if the fear wasn’t always already implied in the family, Vincent would not have feigned still having a job the entire time that he was out of work. Vincent may in part be motivated to behave insanely in the first place to forestall and repress the expression of fear within the family and within himself. There may be the intuition that to live in fear is the emotional sign of failure, as it is with Marcher. In the third scenario, the gay man’s fear is likewise always already there, easily triggered by the coded and performative behaviors of his conversational partner. This fear is a sign of his failure to exist heteronormativity; the fear and the failure are always there, immediately accessible. In all these examples, fear and failure are inseparable: to be afraid is to be a failure. There is also a similarity in how fear affects relationships in each scenario. Fear keeps father and family estranged from each other (as the referred-to post argues), it keeps Marcher from really knowing or loving Bertram, and it prevents the final pair from having a genuine connection and conversation. Fear, failure, and and a sense of alienation from others are all connected.

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Capture the Tag: Education

I’m exploring education as a closed circuit by looking at all the posts tagged under “education.” The first post under the education tag is called “A giant rant about failure followed by the actual assignment.” This post wasn’t an actual blog assignment, but I think the rant in this post is relevant. While we are supposed to look at the arguments that exist in theoretical writing, I think it is equally important to hold theorists accountable for their use of form, just like all other writers. So even though I am not necessarily looking exclusively looking at the arguments Berlant is writing about, her form and use of language constructs an argument too. By looking at her language and form, I am still staying grounded in her argument and in the text.

This rant makes the point that though the author of the blog made it clear they aren’t afraid of complexity or difficulty, Berlant’s writing is indecipherable, but empty. I think this is important, because Berlant uses inflated language and drapes it over arguments about people’s lives,- this speaks to the insular nature of academia. Even though the ideas Berlant is exploring are complex, they could be dealt with with a certain level of precision and self-awareness, but instead are floundered in and bloated up with self-congratulatory language, not based in substantial argument. The writer of “Giant Rant” explores this idea well when talking about Berlant’s quote “We realize later that the image of children wandering around may emanate something the man identifies with or wants to be near, a wandering, purposeless fogginess, that privilege of of childhood confirmed by the beautiful, almost subdermal quietness of Jocelyn Pook’s soundtrack.”

Another example is Berlant’s use of and discussion around the term “precariat.” While I appreciate it and find it kind of funny, it is an interesting choice that exemplifies the insular “closed system” of academia. Whether or not Berlant discusses the precarity of the worker and their queer occupation of space, the precarious worker will still keep queerly and precariously making copies and answering phones. Berlant, and academia, are closed systems that don’t change the state of the precarious worker and the precarious worker doesn’t change Berlant or Academia.

This ties into the blog post “Halberstam’s take on pedagogy,” the writer in paragraph two talks about the “members only” attitude of academia that Halberstam talks about. This argument is supported with Halberstam’s discussion of rigidity – intellectual pursuits are validated if they happen within the University in ways that are considered productive, but when the actual precariat flounders about in the real world, and isn’t productive, this doesn’t produce any of the cultural capital available to folks like Berlant because of their status as respected academics.

In the blog “On pedagogy and learning,” the writer talks about the idea of inflexibility in education as means of production. That’s where Berlant succeeds (or fails?) Instead of working towards a really coherent argument or two, she sort of flounders around, comes up with new terms, and plays around and explores ideas. In the blog post under education “Berlant,” the writer talks about how the beasts are not as important as the process, meaning it’s not neccisarily the points Berlant makes that are important, but the things learned as we stumble through the jungle seeking the beast.

However, “On pedagogy and learning” moves on to talk about learning as a two way street. This means talking about education and academia as coming both teacher and student. The ignorant schoolmaster doesn’t deposit knowledge into the empty student, but instead learns from the student too. The ignorant schoolmaster is sort of like post-psych ward Murphy – a failure, non productive, a closed circuit, but a closed circuit who can exit and enter other people’s closed circuits, whose closed circuit can be entered and exited by other closed circuits.

Right now, academia, education, and Berlant is Vincent – a closed circuit and a force of nature whose static fucks over everyone in its path. What if academia was post-psych ward Murphy? A failure, something that doesn’t produce and acknowledges that, that is one of its own but can learn through osmosis, a closed system that acknowledges that it is, indeed, not the burger flipping precariat, and has no right to hive five itself with their academic musings about them?

PS- (this isn’t part of the assignment, just a personal and, I think, important musing) Anyone else ever get tired of the theoretical use of the word queer? i’m like, Vincent is occupying a queer temporarlity or whatever? Cute, he wouldn’t have been able to pull this shit off without being the patriarch of a heteronormative nuclear family, much less without Muriel. Try housing and job insecurity, then call me back and I might be less frustrated by the co-opting such a politically powerful word. In other words, Vincent chooses to fail, and because of his privilege, stays pretty safe and secure within his failure. An queer person without a nuclear family tryin’ to pull this shit would not have the same security as Vincent. Any thoughts on how to navigate strangeness and non-normative-ness without the taking a word that really doesn’t belong to Vincent? Or why i’m being a delicate little flower? Or anything in between?