Wednesday, July 4, 2012

This one's for all you losers...

...and I address you as "losers" lovingly and with admiration, as Judith Halberstam does in the book The Art of Queer Failure.  I was skeptical at first, since the book and its references (Finding Nemo, Dude, Where's My Car? as well as academic sources) seemed weird, random, and unlikely.  However, I'm kind of weird and random myself, so Queer Failure and I ended up getting along well for the most part.  While I don't think the book necessarily forms a cohesive whole, the parts are valuable.  The general premise is potentially life-changing, and I don't say that lightly.  Halberstam writes that based on what we symbolize in society, queers fail.  In fact, we're so good at failing that we turn it into an art form and even a way of life.  Failure isn't something to run away from (says Halberstam), but to embrace, as can be seen in the phrase "good at failing".  Rather than a success/failure binary (another binary?  Will it ever end?), where success is good and failure bad, now I can better see that both have something to offer.  While success can provide comfort and social status, failure can open up new ways of learning and of knowing.

Failure also needs to be recognized, in some cases, as something that is imposed from outside.  For instance, Occupy is consistently portrayed as a failure in my local media--the term "moribund" in particular comes to mind.  However, I've found it very successful as a way for politically-minded people to find community.

"...There is something powerful in being wrong, in losing, in failing, and that all our failures combined might just be enough, if we practice them well, to bring down the winner" (127).

Our current mode of success/failure is closely tied to our economic system, as Queer Failure mentions.  For one person to succeed, others must fail.  In fact many of us are set up to fail, since while we all want to "win", this is impossible.  Halberstam quotes Guy Hocquenghem:  "Capitalism turns its homosexuals into failed normal people [exactly what I believed I was, pre-asexuality], just as it turns its working class into an imitation of the middle class" (103). In this social framework, I'm already so far behind that I may never win.  Either I acknowledge that, or I try to pretend that I'm someone who can navigate this world with more ease than I actually can.  Maybe if we deny failure, then we give it more power than it really deserves; it becomes too scary to ever risk.  For so long, I've been trying to figure out some philosophy of life under which I could succeed, or somehow alchemize my losses into wins.  It's been extremely exhausting.  Perhaps it's the labeling--"succeed", "fail", "win", "lose" that needs to go, in favor of more dynamic, personalized language.

"You don't learn from a situation where you do something well. You enjoy it and you give yourself credit, but you don't really learn from that. You learn from trial and error, trial and error, all the time."
--Suzanne Farrell.  Quote seen on the wall of a dance studio.  Failure central, amirite?


Jessica said...

This is wonderful!

I have to say that I learn much more from success than failure. I learn what works, how to do something well, how to improve something, and I feel good and motivated and positive.

When I fail at something (which, sometimes, it feels like I ALWAYS FAIL, all the time, and never succeed),

-I become depressed
-I give up
-I think I'm no good at anything

So, failure debilitates me, it doesn't really teach me much.

That's just a personal thing, though.

The marvelous aspect of this post is the paradigm change that failure is to be embraced, and it's not bad. and also, that putting things into an either/or dichotomy is perhaps something that we can stop doing, and that seems to me to be a wonderful idea.

The whole post was great. Thanks for sharing it.

Ily said...

@ Jessica: Thank you, I'm glad to hear that you found this post valuable! :)

I think that in some ways, this whole "embracing failure" thing is counter-intuitive. Because if you embrace failure, then you don't give up when it seems like failure is imminent, and maybe by going further, you could end up succeeding. I don't know, I'm sort of just thinking out loud here.

So, I'm not an expert on Buddhism, but I've heard this idea mentioned there about "with small failures, I'll train for bigger ones". I tend to be one of those people who, if I go somewhere and it ends up being closed, I'm thinking, "I am such an idiot! I should have called first! Gosh I'm stupid!" That would be the kind of place to start training, I think. We all fail like that on a daily basis, and it's not *that* bad, so maybe those are places to start "failing well" or what have you.

One thing writing this blog has taught me is, if you see a binary, things are probably never that simple. Although for every individual binary, I seem to need to learn the lesson all over again :P