CTT Slacker and Structure

Capture the Tag Slacker:

 

In the blog post “Slacker and Violent Media”, Madison asserts: “while there may not be much happening in the film, there is a lot happening on the periphery of what is being shown”. This decentralizing of content in Slacker is but one way in which the structure of the film can be discussed in terms of Adornian fragmentation and queer passivity/nonproductivity.

Stephanie, in her post “Thoughts on Slacker” notes how Linklater’s pseudo-scientific “alternate realities” monologue at the beginning of the film might be read to echo Halberstam’s “detours”, i.e. alternative methods of solving theoretical problems within an “undisciplined zone of knowledge production” (Halberstam 15). To supplement Stephanie’s point, I would add Halberstam’s citation of Foucault, which highlights how hegemonic ways of knowing and relating are a constructed phenomenon: “The social worlds we inhabit…are not inevitable…in the process of producing this reality, many other realities, fields of knowledge and ways of being have been discarded and…”disqualified” [Foucault]’ (Halberstam, 9). In his rambling speech about reading in dreams and missed opportunities for bus station romance, Linklater also mentions how each choice a person makes theoretically denies countless other realities. We can stretch this a bit and consider Foucault’s concept of the construction of history in hegemonic discourse as a series of chances, either taken or ignored, that give way to one reality only in the suppression of others. In this context, the conspiracy theories that crop up repeatedly in Slacker can be understood as a paranoid response to literal or figurative violence inherent in the production of a single historical reality.

More generally, the anti-narrative structure and lack of character development can be usefully considered from the angle of Foucault and Halberstam. “We [don’t] get to see any of the characters develop” Stephanie states, “so, by society’s standards, they are all unproductive”. In allowing characters to disappear, the structure of the film also facilitates a characterization of them as failures. The characters are denied profit-based success not because they don’t have jobs (although it seems almost certain that most of them don’t) but because Linklater has manipulated what we see andas a result, how we interpret his characters’ (non)productivity. As Stephanie astutely notes, this fragmentation of form can be read against Adorno’s “false totality”. I want to elaborate on this idea, for it is this fragmentary formal constraint that offers us a disruption beyond that of mere characterization. If fragmentation betrays the truthful counterpart to a totality that, in its generalization, hides holes and disqualified realities, then, by denying the hierarchical structure of narrative, the fragmentary condition of Slacker reveals such realities by its commitment to pursuing the secondary, tertiary, quaternary, etc. characters that standard narrative disqualifies in its orderly pursuit of central character(s), climactic event, resolution or other such formal mainstays. “Never looping back to main characters in the way other vignette movies do” Angelica states in her entry “Transaction and Meaning in Slacker”, “the film…[resists] traditional movie storytelling.” She goes on to say that this resistance mimics the resistance to capitalism many of the characters demonstrate, which I think is a fair assessment. For considerations of length, however, I will only say that the content of resistance is as complex as the form (free weapons giveaway, anyone?).

Formally, Angelica is concerned with a device that she has deemed the “switch off”—a kind of passing of the baton that the camera follows. This is precisely how the film gives us the ability to encounter so many characters in such a short time, while still maintaining a structural through-line and providing what Stephanie calls a “wandering or lingering” quality that cultivates the feeling of nonproductivity. Angelica sees this transference of attention as a “transaction” between individuals that, although it may involve goods, “isn’t mediated by goods at all”. I agree that the switch off is a human interaction, but I think it is most certainly mediated by goods. It is the qualities of these goods that make the switch off different. Firstly, they are often free (although sometimes they are not, ex. the latte, the soda, the diner coffee—mostly beverages, it seems) or stolen. Cigarettes, entry stamps, cameras and books are passed without charge from one person to another and incite the switch off. Secondly, the goods are arguably only valuable in the Slacker economy—the tape of the student hostage-taker, “oblique strategy” cards, the old man’s cassette—and sometimes not even in there (the Madonna pap smear). The transactions themselves often involve bartering, charity, or the aforementioned law-breaking:  when the old anarchist tells the would-be burglar to “look around, take anything [he] like[s]”, or the guys steal the car parts from the pick n’ pull. What makes the economy of Slacker go ’round may not be typical goods or exchange transactions, but both are still present.

Madisonduarte’s observation that there is much happening on the periphery of the film is important, I think, because in a standard narrative we wouldn’t be asked to concern ourselves with it. Slacker draws out peripheries from peripheries from peripheries, and, as a result, is peripheral itself in both in its non-normative form, subversive content and cast of ephemeral “ultimate losers”. As such, the film lends itself to a queer reading that encounters these decentralizing, disruptive elements as a rejection of standardization, normative historical methods and adherence with the global exchange economy.

Quicksand, the Aesthetic Gaze and the Heterogeneous Subject

I would like to look at how the role of aesthetics in Quicksand relates to the “irritation” noted by Sianne Ngai in Ugly Feelings  and informs Helga’s racial consciousness.

Helga relies on the semiotic capabilities of beauty in order to string together a rational narrative of her life from the outside in, despite the inconsistency and tumult of her psyche. It is evident from the beginning, when Helga “smiles inwardly” at the message her small hats and elegant shoes send to the prim-minded employees of Naxos, who find them “positively indecent”(52). Early on, too, we learn that her entire life Helga has “loved and longed” for beautiful and pleasing “things” (41). It is in this desire for material beauty that we can find Helga’s method of anestheticizing the pervasive irritation that motivates her throughout the novel.

When the signifiers of her appearance are co-opted by the Dahls Helga enjoys it—at first. Helga invests her emotional capital in the “business” of her manufacture as an exotic aesthetic product, “[giving] herself up wholly to the fascinating business of being seen, gaped at, desired” (104). It is important to remember that Helga consents to this “aestheticization” in the beginning and that it is “intensely pleasant to her” (104). The eventual pleasure Helga finds in her beautiful appearance dissolves the initial “perturbation” (103) or irritation Helga experiences at being a “peacock” (103). In this moment Helga rejects any racial obligation to feel ashamed of her marketability in Copenhagen as an exotic and beautiful object. Her willingness to “try on” the identity the Dahls fashion for her, to try to locate her subjectivity through the eyes of her aunt, uncle and Copenhagen society, echoes the impulsiveness with which she relocates herself geographically. Helga’s attempt to locate or identify herself from the outside-in can be viewed as an attempt to arrest the queer condition of her ontological flux and non-binary racial consciousness. By cultivating her own objectification Helga obtains the ontological glue, so to speak, that temporarily alleviates her riven condition.

In Copenhagen Helga purposefully seeks to claim her blackness through the gaze of the Danish. “Intentionally” she speaks the “slow, faltering Danish” she thinks makes her more attractive for its indication of foreignness, and is gratified by the attention she receives (104). In the same turn Helga criticizes black Americans as hypocritical, denouncing that they “didn’t want to be like themselves”, and desired instead to “be like their white overlords” and “were ashamed to be Negroes, but not ashamed to beg to be something else. Something inferior” (104). In adopting her aestheticized and fetishized identity Helga cultivates a counterintuitive racial pride in opposition to both whiteness and blackness. In her above critique we can read Helga’s earlier criticisms of racial uplift, here characterized as the white washing of an essential quality of blackness. That this critique emerges from Helga’s being recast as a fetish object—a luxury item with the power to promote social buoyancy—is problematic, to say the least. Helga’s attempt to locate or identify herself from the outside-in can be viewed as an attempt to arrest the queer condition of her ontological flux and non-binary racial consciousness.

If Helga’s racial consciousness only manifests from the outside-in, as mediated by her beautiful environment, possessions, or appearance, then it follows that this identification exists only in that it is refracted through the eyes of another. In accordance with this triangulated aesthetic gaze, instances of beauty in the novel become representative of a symbolic observer that has the power to confer upon Helga a particular kind of social capital. Aesthetically objectified and “appraised” (81), Helga is contracted into a value (product) and thereby unified into a singular subject (paradoxically) by another’s objectifying gaze.

To be beautiful and to have beautiful things is a way to surrender to the gaze of another and so solicit the unified value that evades her internally. The pursuit and attainment of beauty alleviates temporarily the irritation Helga cannot seem to escape. In Helga’s characteristic attraction to beauty we can read her desire to anestheticize the irritation that stems from her incongruity with an ever-nagging racial binary. Even the “miraculously beautiful” (149) community she experiences in Alabama is refracted through the fervently religious eyes of Reverend Pleasant Green, her marriage to whom was tonic to the irritative rupture that occurred after her final meeting with Dr. Anderson. Helga chose, chased and conquered the Reverend as a way to still herself, to arrest her roaming consciousness and identity in favor of the numb bliss of religiosity and domesticity. Of course, at the end of the novel, in the bed after childbirth, Helga returns to her nomadic state, if only psychologically, and by the last sentence teeters on the edge of self-obliteration.

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.

Thoughts on Slacker

I found the movie Slacker to be fascinating. I loved how the characters and the plot were constantly moving. When the movie began, the guy in the taxi was describing his dreams about the possibility of a multitude of alternate realities. The film’s focus on so many people’s different lives play into this idea of consciousness and how everyone lives in their own sort of separate reality. This was also explored through the suspicion of alternate histories, or conspiracies.

The way that time passed in the movie was also interesting. It was mostly linear, but I felt like it passed at a different pace for different people. For example, the initial scene where the man killed his mother felt like it dragged on forever. Part of this was probably because I was uncomfortable. I was reminded of the Helmer’s article on queer time, where this lingering or wandering would be considered unproductive.

I am thinking of writing my final paper on this question of how time and space function in the movie. The hint of alternative realities relates to Halberstam’s method of using “detours” or alternate modes of thinking to approach queer theory. The dreaming mentioned in the beginning of Slacker could represent a liminal space used to think about life and the choices we have to make in it. I also mentioned in one of my previous posts how Vincent’s car acts as this constantly moving, liminal space where he can solely think instead of act. I also suspect there is something to be said about lingering and time, but I’m not quite sure how to approach it.

Another interesting component of this movie that we touched on in our Thursday session is that all of these people are of the same class. This reminds me of the group’s discussion of the Adorno reading during Tuesday’s class. One of the conclusions we drew was that an equality without difference has no potential because of the lack of creativity, etc. I think this is ironic because all of these white students (who have the most potential based on their social position) are considered slackers, possibly because they have no one different to alter their perspective.

Pursuing Adorno’s argument that “totality is false” further, I think it’s important to note how the lives of all the characters were fragmented by the constant shifting of perspective. We didn’t get to see any of the characters develop, so by society’s standards, they are all unsuccessful. It seems that all of our characters who resist moving forward by participating in a form of work (Vincent… Murphy) are considered failures.

I also think it’s interesting that many of these so called “slackers” were college students. I wonder if Linklater was trying to make an underlying critique of capitalism for viewing labor as constructive, while knowledge unproductive. In other words, the exchange of theories or ideas as opposed to marketable assets is “valueless.” We can maybe talk later about how things such as knowledge are considered “priceless.”
Lastly, someone in class (I don’t remember who) mentioned how all of these college kids probably rely on their parents for money. I think the generational aspect of this deserves to be pursued further. I find it strange how the man killed his own mother, but also has had a type of shrine built in honor of her. During this scene, the camera also lingered on the video recording of his mother pushing him off on his bike with a kick. I think this symbolizes his frustration that despite her wanting him to launch, he is still living at home. That is however, if they were living together. (I feel like they were, but I also don’t know how his mom wouldn’t notice the shrine). Either way, I am interested in exploring these questions and contradictions further. Overall it was a really fun movie to watch.

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.

A Giant Rant About Failure Followed by the Actual Assignment

Just to get this out of the way, in class we were asked what we hated about Berlant’s writing (for those of us that were bothered), and though I’m no enemy of complexity or difficulty per se, what does bother me is suspiciously full-sounding, but indecipherable and empty writing. While I do appreciate parts of the essay, I’m really bummed-out by moments like this: “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” (emphasis mine, 214). Okay, so we are reading an essay deeply invested in an interpretation of the body and the way the body reflects and responds to the environment in which it operates. In such an essay, a soundtrack of “subdermal quietness” might be one thzt operates beneath the “grimace” of the neoliberal subject. Perhaps its quietness operates on the level of musculature, shaping and sustaining the grimace through its refusal of dynamism. It could really work for Berlant, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t for a number of reasons, the first is that the focus on the “visage” or the affect as seen has been central to the consideration of affect theory found in the essay. Secondly, “subdermal” in this sentence is modifying the quietness of the soundtrack, which makes very little sense to me because if the soundtrack is having a subdermal effect (one we can feel under our skin) I would tend to associate that phenomenon with loudness. Third, if subdermal quietness is a quietness that is connected to affect theory it could equally well be understood to mean an effect that fails to become rise to the affective because it remains hidden by the visage. Lastly (and this is simply the last of the ways I am going to mention of the sentences failures, not the last of its failures), writing that the music is “almost” subdermally quiet makes even less sense. From what angle does it almost reach subdermality? Does it not quite penetrate the skin? Does it not quite pass the muscle/fat/cartilage/bone underneath the skin, remaining trapped in a sub-subdermal zone? I mean honestly.

The biggest issue I take with this essay (and those similarly written), is that it passes the realm of clever metaphoric play and enters into a very real parody of itself. A parody that really does damage to introducing new and interesting ways of thinking about the body in a politically-viable or engaging way. Instead, to me at least, it appears as an attempt to drape a veil of defensive and perplexing faux-coherence (through the use of associated descriptors) over an already worthwhile argument. Perhaps this deflationary move fits neatly within our course’s concerns (an unavoidable self-sabotage perhaps?), but I find it off-putting in the extreme. There is no sin in difficult writing that is a by-product of the argument’s inherent complexity. However, needless interpretive roadblocks signal–again, to me–a unnecessary complicity in the upkeep of the “expert” class of academic professionalism that Halberstam so usefully identifies as suspect.

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.