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  • Illustrations ix

    Acknowledgments xii

    Introduction: Low Theory 1

    1. Animating Revolt and Revolting Animation 27

    2. Dude, Where's My Phallus? Forgetting, Losing, Looping 53

    3. The Queer Art of Failure 87

    4. Shadow Feminisms: Queer Negativity and Radical Passivity 123

    5. "The Killer in Me Is the Killer in You": Homosexuality and Fascism 147

    6. Animating Failure: Ending, Fleeing, Surviving 173

    Notes 189

    Bibliography 193

    Index 201
  • 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

    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

    “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

    “Halberstam is most convincing is in contrasting liberal narratives of queer progress, in which freedoms gradually unfold, with wider radical histories in which struggles often end in defeat, from the Paris Commune of 1871 to the insurrection of May 1968 and beyond, and from which lessons have to be drawn. What becomes clear is that the victory of equality in a conservative world may be pyrrhic, and that making failure into a style (as it was for Quentin Crisp) or even a way of life (as for Foucault) may bring far more positive results than the unquestioning pursuit of ‘success.’” — Juliet Jacques, New Statesman

    “Halberstam’s book is at its best when she reads the utopian possibilities in failure as key narrative threads, particularly in contemporary animated movies that she calls “Pixarvolt”, films like Fantastic Mr. Fox or Bee Movie. . . . Perhaps the best reading in the book, certainly the funniest, is her densely textured interpretation of Dude, Where’s My Car?. Halberstam is having fun here, and she invites her readers to laugh with her at taking the stoner comedy seriously. . . . [T]here is the tremendous intellectual energy animating this book.” — David Banash, PopMatters (Selected as a Best Nonfiction Book of 2011)

    “Judith Halberstam . . . is 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.” — Robert Eaglestone, Times Higher Education Supplement

    “[H]ere 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

    “Queer Theory using Spongebob Squarepants? Totally there... Underdogs and shoddy queers can take wordy, erudite solace in Halberstam’s words.” — Gay Times

    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]s a close reader of popular culture, she is exemplary, and as 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

    Reviews

  • 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

    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

    “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

    “Halberstam is most convincing is in contrasting liberal narratives of queer progress, in which freedoms gradually unfold, with wider radical histories in which struggles often end in defeat, from the Paris Commune of 1871 to the insurrection of May 1968 and beyond, and from which lessons have to be drawn. What becomes clear is that the victory of equality in a conservative world may be pyrrhic, and that making failure into a style (as it was for Quentin Crisp) or even a way of life (as for Foucault) may bring far more positive results than the unquestioning pursuit of ‘success.’” — Juliet Jacques, New Statesman

    “Halberstam’s book is at its best when she reads the utopian possibilities in failure as key narrative threads, particularly in contemporary animated movies that she calls “Pixarvolt”, films like Fantastic Mr. Fox or Bee Movie. . . . Perhaps the best reading in the book, certainly the funniest, is her densely textured interpretation of Dude, Where’s My Car?. Halberstam is having fun here, and she invites her readers to laugh with her at taking the stoner comedy seriously. . . . [T]here is the tremendous intellectual energy animating this book.” — David Banash, PopMatters (Selected as a Best Nonfiction Book of 2011)

    “Judith Halberstam . . . is 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.” — Robert Eaglestone, Times Higher Education Supplement

    “[H]ere 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

    “Queer Theory using Spongebob Squarepants? Totally there... Underdogs and shoddy queers can take wordy, erudite solace in Halberstam’s words.” — Gay Times

    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]s a close reader of popular culture, she is exemplary, and as 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

  • “‘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

    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 distills and repurposes the negative in order to think outside the tyranny of success. The Queer Art of Failure finds a new vitality in not winning, accumulating, doing, or knowing. Both counterintuitive and anti-anticipatable, this compelling book pushes beyond many of the impasses and blockages that limit our critical horizons today.” — José Esteban Muñoz, author of Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity

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  • Description

    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. Judith 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. She 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.

    About The Author(s)

    Judith Halberstam is Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. Halberstam is the author of In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, as well as Female Masculinity and Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, both also published by Duke University Press.

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