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.

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.