Judith HalberstamThe Queer Art of Failure

Duke University Press, 2011

by Elizabeth Heineman on February 3, 2012

Judith Halberstam

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Tell me, who can resist a book called The Queer Art of Failure? Not me. Especially once I learned that its heroines are the likes of Ginger (of *Chicken Run*) and Dory (of *Finding Nemo*). Children – the intended audience of 3D animated blockbusters – are revolting little creatures, it turns out, happy to wreak havoc on prescribed gender roles, distinctions between humans and animals (or toys, for that matter), and anything particularly orderly. In other words, they instinctively – and queerly – resist the markers of success in heteropatriarchal, capitalist society. OK, maybe they don’t use those terms. But you get the point.

Judith (“Jack”) Halberstam, Professor of English, Gender Studies, and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, presents forgetting, stupidity, lack of discipline, and losing as strategies of resistance against the constraints of success. Though even the term “strategies of resistance” suggests a heroic (if alternative) model of success that Halberstam, well, resists. Queers are, so to speak, champions of these kinds of failure. They can’t fulfill the model of heteronormativity – they lose! They deny the imperative to pass knowledge and memory through the generations – they forget!

But there’s also a darker side to all of this. Feminists, queers, and (post)-colonial subjects might discover that complete self-negation is the only way to fully opt out of heteropatriarchal and capitalist-defined success. And those who would claim alternative identities must grapple with their own complicity in oppression – a failure of failure, as it were. Consider the case of homosexual Nazis, as Halberstam daringly does.

Listen to the interview, read the book. And then you can join me in watching *Dude, Where’s My Car?*, a Halberstam-recommended Failure Film I seem to have missed.

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