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.

Vincent’s Failure

In the film Time Out (2001) the protagonist, Vincent experiences a major loss in his life, the loss of his job. The impact and result of this type of loss is defined by Lauren Berlant in After the Good Life, An Impasse when she writes that the result of this type of event is called an impasse. According to Berlant, “[a]n impasse is a holding station that doesn’t hold securely but opens out into anxiety, that dogpaddling around a space whose contours remain obscure” (199). In other words, an impasse is a state of being.  With Vincent, this occurs after the “forced loss” he experiences. Vincent’s impasse appears in seemingly illogical behaviors such as creating a double life, one life he lived at home with his family and a second life he lived while borrowing money from his father, scheming money from his friends and eventually selling counterfeit goods. This “dogpaddling around a space” is his way of not only dealing with his loss in the way his wife and children may have wanted him to, but finding an alternative of going back to the failed system, or life he was ousted out of. He’s pretending to engage without actually participating.

Regarding optimism, Berlant writes that Time Out “witness the blow to traditional props for optimism about live-building that had once sustained the aspirationally upwardly mobile, and pay attention to how different kinds of people catch up to their new situation” (192). We see this in Vincent and those in his circle. Everyone in Vincent’s life was a participant in his fantasy of upward mobility including his family and friends.  His friends, those who seemingly recklessly gave Vincent money to “invest” are living with their own financial challenges and long to “catch up”.

Though it may seem that according to Berlant, he should have “a recession grimace” (196) stamped on his face under the assumption he lived the “good-life” prior to his termination, Vincent’s grimace seems to only appear  when he is challenged by those who know his truth. The security guards, his oldest son, Jean-Michel, and Jaffrey knows the real Vincent. One may wonder if Vincent wants the so-called “good life” back especially when he severs tied with a long-time co-worker and friend, Jaffrey and he is not honest with his wife and children. The other possibly that he does want the good life back, but only on his terms and conditions, not the terms and conditions he once had.

Jean-Michel is another person that saw who Vincent really is. Vincent’s fantasy and method of obtaining upward mobility is obvious to Jean-Michel since Vincent’s game is very familiar to Jean-Michel and the hotel security guard. 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).  Vincent’s failure to own or admit who he is is only visible to Jean-Michel because Jean-Michel is a version of Vincent; only Jean-Michel is more experienced and is not ashamed.

At the conclusion of Time Out a new managerial position practically falls into Vincent’s lap, and this is when the “permanent grimace” returns to his face. He doesn’t want to go back to the life he was dismissed from. His story ends as he goes back to the beginning. He experiences another impasse, but this time it is the second type of impasse Berlant defines. For Vincent, this impasse “is what happens when one finds oneself adrift amid normative intimate or material terms of reciprocity…coasting though life, as it were, until one discovers a loss of traction” (200). The double life he briefly lived is coming to an end and it’s no longer in his hands. He is returning to precarity. According to Berlant “percarity is a condition of dependency” (192).  For Vincent, this is his failure.

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?

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.