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The Queer Art of Failure : A John Hope Franklin Center Book - Jack Halberstam

The Queer Art of Failure

By: Jack Halberstam

Paperback | 19 September 2011

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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. Jack 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.

Industry Reviews
"...insightful and intellectually brave in places, and makes a significant intervention in the development of queer theory. The Queer Art of Failure is also utterly charming... For all the humour in its content and in its style, this is a very serious work." Robert Eaglestone, Times Higher Education "Halberstam explores queer history for forms of activism that avoid working with the established order, but also mines popular culture for ways of moving from childhood to adulthood that place collectivism over individualism." Juliet Jacques, New Statesman, August 24th 2012 "A lively and thought-provoking examination of how the homogenizing tendencies of modern society might be resisted through the creative application of failure, forgetting, and passivity, actions generally deemed of little value within today's capitalist models of success... A valiant attempt to find value in positions and attitudes such as negativity that our modern success-oriented society disdains, this study is never less than thrilling." Publishers Weekly "What's remakable about the work is her ability to move between Hollywood and high art, popular culture and high theory. In the eponymous chapter "The Queer Art of Failure", she approaches again the subject of failure as a way to alternative lives, but this time with a far more serious canon: the novels of Irving Welsh, the lives of Quintin Crisp and Gertrude Stein, the work of Walter Benjamin, the photographs of Brassai, Cecil Beaton, Diane Arbus and Monica Majoli. She argues forcefully the insight of many queer theorists, that those uninterested in reproducing heterosexual norms were consigned by hetero culture to lives named failure by that culture... This books stands as a model for the most useful and enjoyable kind of engagement with the popular. If it too often slides into the rhetoric of a kind of manifesto, it's good to remember that manifestos spur us to new relations with the world, and sometimes unqualified, declarative rhetoric succeeds in sweeping us away." David Banash, "The Queer Art of Failure is a manifesto for cultural studies. It self-consciously risks being dismissed or trashed in order to rescue alternative objects of analysis, methods of knowing, and ways of communicating. Its stakes are clear. It's not attempting to argue for the recovery of its materials from obscurity; it values forgetting and obsolescence. It's not claiming to retool our understanding of major work; it traffics unapologetically in the minor. And it doesn't pretend to comprehensive scholarship; it offers up plot summaries and allegorical readings with glee." Elizabeth Freeman, author of Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories "The Queer Art of Failure is inspired, provocative, and hilarious. More significantly, it is a deft evisceration of the regulative rigidities of disciplinarity and the pretensions of 'high theory.' Judith Halberstam's advocacy of 'silly archives' and 'low theory' is much more than a carnivalesque skewering of the earnest self-seriousness of much academic scholarship; it is a populist clarion call for expansive democratic visions of what it is we are writing about and for whom we think we are writing." Lisa Duggan, author of The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy "Failure abounds all around us: economies collapse, nation-states falter, and malfeasance rules. In the face of our dismal situation Judith Halberstam distils and repurposes the negative for the purpose of thinking outside the tyranny of success. The Queer Art of Failure finds a new vitality in not winning, accumulating, doing or knowing. Both counter intuitive and anti-anticipatable, this compelling book pushes beyond many of the impasses and blockages that limit our critical horizons today." Jose Esteban Munoz, author of Cruising Utopia: The Here and Now of Queer Futurity "All losers are the heirs of those who have lost before them.' The Queer Art of Failure narrates hilarious and swerving outlaw comedies of refusal, absurdity, and exuberant being, acting in solidarity with its resident artists--from SpongeBob SquarePants to Yoko Ono. But the book hums a dark tone, too. The arts of normative style, playing out on sexual, racialized, gendered, and colonial bodies and landscapes, are painful to witness, even here. No artist or critic can repair the damage, erasing history; but Judith Halberstam wields all of the weapons that intelligence (and cartoons) can bring against the harsh work of conventionality." Lauren Berlant, author of Cruel Optimism "Queer Theory using Spongebob Squarepants? Totally there... Underdogs and shoddy queers can take wordy, erudite solace in Halberstam's words." GT " is a book well worth the time and attention it takes to read it and to consider its implications. Most especially in that Judith Halberstam writes not only with authority, but also with genuine wit, which leaves the reader laughing out loud from time to time, something quite unknown until now in books of queer theory. Further, Ms. Halberstam presents her case with deep insight into human nature, and into our deepset cultural need to simplify our definition of the word success--and, up until now, our seeming need to ignore the creative implications of failure. " Vinton Rafe McCabe New York Journal of Books "Set against a backdrop of global fincial crisis this is a quirky explanation of the queer possibilities the concept of failure has to offer, opening with a quote from SpongeBob SquarePants." Diva "The Queer Art of Failure (Duke University Press) re-examines how we conceive of the idea of failure in our society, not so that we may correct ourselves, but so that we may see how our various "failures" may actually produce a preferable alternative to conformist lifestyles and the status quo...The book's prose style is deeply intellectual, yet playful, ironic, and most importantly, accessible to even those with no background in literary theory. Because Halberstam uses pop-culture examples, The Queer Art of Failure is an ideal text for introducing queer theory to beginners. The politics of heteronormativity and sexual dissidence has never appeared as lucid as it does now that we have SpongeBob SquarePants as our guide." Chase Dimock, Lambda Literary Review "Before the Stonewall Riots, 'queers' lurked in the cultural shadows, and Halberstam finds that environment to be fruitful and even revolutionary. This book is guaranteed to be controversial. It would make a good basis for discussion after seeing one of the movies, performances, or bodies of visual pieces that analyzed in its pages." - Jean Roberta, Gay & Lesbian Review/Worldwide "Declaring her intent to celebrate failure in its many forms, Halberstam invigorates this potentially droopy topic with a flair that feels almost inspirational." - Monica Nolan, Bitch "Flitting deftly between the complex theoretical paradigms of queer, Marxist, and radical feminist thought and a number of eccentric, sometimes bleak artifacts of popular culture, Halberstam dives headlong into explorations of 'animation, art, stupidity, and forgetfulness,' as well as 'the meaning of loss, masochism, and passivity' to realize a radical vision for alternative futures... The Queer Art of Failure has the potential to transform the way we think about our work in the world, encouraging us to re/create alternative futures." - Allison D. Carr, Enculturation "The Queer Art of Failure is an energetic and loving tribute to those of us who fail, lose, get lost, forget, get angry, become unruly, disrupt the normative order of things, and exist and behave in the world in ways that are considered antinormative, anticapitalist, and antidisciplinary... [T]his book is a must-read, particularly for scholars who work at the intersection of Media Studies and Queer Theory." - Liora Elias, International Journal of Communication "The Queer Art of Failure is a surprisingly fun read, and more than once I laughed out loud, which is a pretty unusual response to a Queer Theory text. It is also one of the most accessible books on Queer Art Theory that I've read, if accessibility is one of your criterion. Halberstam is my favorite theorist and excels pulling challenging ideas from the least challenging material. Halbertam is most successful introducing new ideas and applying them to popular culture." - Terri Griffith, Bad at Sports blog "This book takes us in a brilliantly rich, playfully hilarious, and intellectually stimulating journey through the realms of the stupid, silly, and failure, to provide us with new and productive (or not) ways of being and thinking in the world. This book is a must-read." - L. Ayu Saraswati, American Studies "In many ways, this work is a self-help guide for those of us caught up in our own way of seeing, our own way of life. Arguably it's a self-help guide for Halberstam's country." - Carol Wical, Media International Australia "The Queer Art of Failure builds an impressive archive and contributes to furthering queer thought around optimism, hope, and the surprising failures that might lead to counterhegemonic thought and action. Moreover, in her turn to animation and popular culture, Halberstam expands upon the kinds of genres and figures that queer theory might be inclined to investigate - bringing queer into dialogue with a changing popular visual landscape and thus continuing to hold out for new ways of reading (and failing) queerly." - Sam McBean, Sexualities

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