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.

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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.

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.