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The Queer Art of Failure is about finding alternatives - to conventional understandings of success in a heteronormative, capitalist society; to academic disciplines that confirm what is already known according to approved methods of knowing; and to cultural criticism that claims to break new ground but cleaves to conventional archives. Halberstam proposes "low theory" as a mode of thinking and writing that operates at many different levels at once. Low theory is derived from eccentric archives. It runs the risk of not being taken seriously. It entails a willingness to fail and to lose one's way, to pursue difficult questions about complicity, and to find counterintuitive forms of resistance. Tacking back and forth between high theory and low theory, high culture and low culture, Halberstam looks for the unexpected and subversive in popular culture, avant-garde performance, and queer art. Halberstam pays particular attention to animated children's films, revealing narratives filled with unexpected encounters between the childish, the transformative, and the queer. Failure sometimes offers more creative, cooperative, and surprising ways of being in the world, even as it forces us to face the dark side of life, love, and libido.
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- Anonymous User
More Disturbing/Fatalistic than Interesting
I don't think I've ever felt more intensely ambivalent about a text in my life, nor a book that presented interesting and personally relevant ideas only to cut them up and destroy any semblance of decency and hope I had for the endeavor and the world writ large.
Off the bat I must admit the narrator was wonderful, I listened to another book read by him a while back and both were brilliant.
As to the book and its contents, for as much as it is dedicated to 'low theory,' I found its discussions of negativity and queerness often employed a lot of academic jargon that were just confusing and difficult to slog through for those not in the know. This is deeper than an audience and tone problem because the subject matter is incomprehensibly dark at times for the uninitiated, and having a little Foucault under the belt would have softened the blow.
Though in its introduction Jack invokes Beclett's notion of "failing better," through the book, I'd argue that many of the book's nessages amount to teaching someone how to fail WORSE, outside of the handful of interesting and positive examples it provides from its so-called 'Pixar-volt' film analysis. It is also self-contradictory in a deeply problematic way. An entire chapter is devoted to forgetting in relation to its power to circumvent the passing on of societal and person trauma and dominant narratives, and yet in future chapters dealig with destruction, femininity, and negative views of queerness it unironically cites Freud's notion of the death drive and criticizes the attempt of queer people to be seen as worthy of legitimacy (not in their quest for respectability politics, but in their rejection of failure and pain).
This book, if taken seriously or even with a half-hearted "whoa, that's deep bro" pothead sensibility, is fundamentally accelerationist. It was written in 2011 (narration is what's from 2019) and its emphasis on negativity includes positive and/or netral notions of self-destruction as a response to elude genderization for women, colonization, etc. When you hear/read a phrase like "cutting is a feminist aesthetic" (in context referring to a depiction in a deeply disturbing film), it doesn't exactly give you confidence in the intentions of the author (though they are not a cishet person nor a fascist by any means) and the view of failure and refusal the text fits into.
In an era full of doomers and white male antisocial rage, a world post-Trump administration and a pandemic in which millions have died and no one is happy, frankly no one who is queer or on the left gives a damn about the 'interesting possibilies' an antisocial feminism involving masochism could provide. Some of us want to live and love, and find the book's notion that queer people challenge straight people by revealing 'the impossibility of love/desire' offensive. This is painful to say because I want a feminism and queer politics that can understand and work with and dismantle oppression while also understanding the ways in which a woman might desire her own unbecoming and destruction, but a raw presentation and celebration of suicidality and self harm is not the way to go about it. I don't want the destruction of colonial narratives and subjects to have to be through the refusal of a colonized people to have families, I don't want queer liberation to have to involve identifying with loneliness and melancholy, and I don't want to embrace the same destructive tendencies that I can readily watch play out in heterosexual family members' lives for the purpose of being outside the normative notions of relationships or whatever. I wanted a book centered on failure to be good and interesting, but of that low bar it only succeeded in keeping my attention.
If there ever could be such a thing as the 'alt-left,' it would be some of the notions offered in this book, and I'm a socialist who thinks equating neofascists with unpopular forms of leftism is factually wrong. It shares the same accelerationist outlook towards destruction and lack of understanding. To quote Elizabeth Sandifer, from Neoreaction: A Basilisk, about the subject: "the essential horror of the abyss is stupidity. That's why it's an abyss. The unique and exquisite danger of stupidity is that by its nature, it is beyond reason. There is nothing that can be said to it, because by definition it wouldn't understand. It is an ur-basilisk - the one terrifying possibility that haunts every single argument that has ever been made ... It is, in its way, the only approach that can never lose an argument." This book is a collection of interesting notions found from recognizing queer failure drowned in an abyss of stupidity. It a sort of celebration of limits and despair and destruction as queer legacies and resistance rather than a learning exercise or exploration. It is, in that sense, accelerationist: accelerationist in its approach towards death, pain, self-shattering, the broken state of the world, and negativity. Should you be of unstable or concerned for your mental health, don't buy this or even take a step near it. It will hurt you, and god knows depending on your own level of self-acceptance you might end up running away to whatever homophobic evangelical religion you grew up with to make sense of the world. "A thing cannoy be unknown. The only solution is to never encounter these ideas in the first place," and no matter how much I might want to empathize with and learn from someone's passivity, stupidity, and suidical urges, I'm not going to promote a book that explores and venerates these things as a powerful queer rebellion against society or that treats them on equal footing with resistance and trying to be and exist. Jack, in the introduction, mentions that they were once considered "unteachable" in school, and for as much as I want to take the conclusions and intellectuals journeys they came to seriously, the deeper I fell into the book the more that fact looks like a red flag about them.
If you don't like stupidity and/or have a notion of queer positivity, don't buy this. If you're looking for a book about learning something valuable or actually resisting oppression through failure (like I was), you will be sorely disappointed: don't buy this book. If you're queer and also religious, don't read this book. If you have any sort of suicidal ideation or behavior, don't even think about buying this book. Buy this book if, and only if, you're a postmodernist who is also content to swim in its negativity and engagement with failing forms of subjective experience without finding any real solutions, hope, or positive imagination after the deconstruction.
5 people found this helpful
- Gregory Griffith
An unfocused book with little of interest to say, but much to say it with.