Jack Halberstam's Gaga Feminism

Amophrast's picture

Notes from Halberstam's lecture. In general, I found the material accessible and engaging, which is one of the reasons why I think referencing Lady Gaga worked well. However, it did seem very hard for people to separate Halberstam's use of the word ("reclaiming" of the word) "gaga" from Lady Gaga.

Jack Halberstam Talk

-          He is wearing a black velvet suit—tartan elbow patches on the jacket. Pink long-sleeved shirt, no tie, black round-toed dress shoes. Yes, this is important.

-          In the past, has done a gendered reading of the movie “Babe the Pig”

-          Professor of English at USC

-          Current project: Gaga Feminism.

-          ALSO USES THE WORD “EDUTAIN” (education/entertainment)

-          Presenting last piece of the book, a manifesto—Gaga manifesto…”Going Gaga”

-          “No party or government, no army, school or institution will ever emancipate a single person.” Jacques Ranciere, The Ignorant Schoolmaster

-          “It cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions on ca nonly sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission…..” – Moten and Harney

-          “Organizations are obstacles to organizing ourselves.” The Invisible Committee

-          “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen,” Lady Gaga, “mother Monster Manifesto” –not originally by Gaga, right?

-          “Low theory”

  • Hierarchies of knowledge
  • Stuart Haoll – theory of hegemony was pitched too low—lacked complexity
    • Can you pitch something too low? What would that mean?
    • Pitched to political communities
  • Come up with a new form of critique interested in versatility
  • Dave Graber – one of the non-leaders of Occupy
    • Fragments towards an anarchist archaeology
    • Denied him tenure at yale
    • Why is it that academics are drawn to Marxism but not anarchism?
      • Becoming a more and more viable political format that we might want to think about/invest it
    • “Even more than high theory, what anarchism needs…is low theory”
  • High theory for complexifying, complicating.
  • Engaged in a transformative project à low theory
    • Less invested in this
  • Jack’s ideas
    • Accused of anti-intellectualism
      • Too critical of high theory
    • Not supposed to be a critique of or replace high theory
    • When there is something that is high, there is something inherently low (BINARIES) and thus judged as less
    • Refusing to sacrifice complexity for plain speech, but refuses to “dumb down”
      • Hold onto complexity without dumbing down
    • Speak to multiple audiences in multiple ways
    • Academy becomes increasingly isolated
    • Responding to a crisis in the academy (humanities) around relevance
      • Funders, potential donors want to know “what humanities are for”
    • If we don’t use low theory, we may lose this battle
    • Not an argument for the low rather than the high. Theory for theory’s sake is a purist form of knowledge. Different values to different communities
    • Ties to feminism and  queer theory
    • Is “subjugated knowledge” = (Foucault) not knowledge that has been suppressed that has to be unearthed. Made unthinkable by things that have becomes sciences. Things that have been made scientific, and thus taken as fact. Certain thoughts cannot exist in this context
    • Knowledge comes from the low and not only from above
    • Often knowledge comes from unexpected sources
    • Counter-intuitive thinking
    • Committed to a radical pedagogy
      • Not just to experts
      • Circulation of ideas, values, new sources for production of wisdom
    • Low theory is Gaga Feminism

-          Has studied drag king cultures :DDD

-          Rigor she brought to performing. Did not break from that performance

-          Joe Calderone is Lady Gaga’s boyfriend

-          “Will the real Lady Gaga come out?”

  • “I’m not real. I am theater!”
  • Can summarize like 20 years of queer theory

-          None of us are real, all of us are theater.

  • “I know you had Judith Butler and I know there was some sort of sense that she had something to say”
  • “A shrine would be nice”

-          Lady Gaga was accused of being gender ambiguous

  • “Which did not, as you can imagine, become a moment for educating about intersex bodies”
  • Did not say “I’m not a hermaphrodite, I’m not intersex”
  • Let the rumors stand because she knew it would be phobic to counter it

-          We are in a society with different power and social relations than Foucault was at time of writing

-          Andy Warhol – figure for relations that had shifted and changed in 50s and 60s

  • Art and culture
  • Art and business
  • Can do a similar thing with Gaga – a shift has happened

-          “Gaga” as referred to in book is not limited to Lady Gaga

-          Unstable concept of “woman”

-          Celebration of joining femininity to artifice – a refusal of mushy sentimentalism

-          Excess and outrageousness to the performance of self

-          Manifest politics

  • Spectacular greed of wall street
  • Engage in a very different form of politics. Didn’t come with a list of demands, but a form of refusal a certain kind of radical passivity
  • Also come through performance and display
  • People getting together, partying, celebrations, press would say “what do you want?”
    • We don’t want. We’re just here
  • That is a form of politics but doesn’t speak to action-oriented, demand-oriented politics
  • The punks in the UK didn’t want anything either – not this, not that, not now
  • Feels a need to tear down what is being offered to us as the inevitable
  • When that shift is made, something else will become possible, but you don’t know what that is yet
  • “Looting? Shoplifting or Anti-Capitalist riot?”
  • Many people threw out ideas of riots by saying that it wasn’t an insurrection, anti-capitalist
    • Many people argued against this
    • Run wild, in the process, grab things too
    • Bankers have been doing this too
  • Not just the right, it’s also the left
  • “Carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after when we will have to return to normal life.”
  • Message is: “We are allowed to think about alternatives”
  • Jack disagrees with “carnivals come cheap”
    • There is no return after these kinds of ruptures
    • Transformations of political status quo
    • Massive failure of the imagination he’s encouraging others to use
    • It’s important what you say if you’re a spokesperson for a movement that has not chosen spokespeople
  • New form of pop performance that is invested in carnival, festival, and display—performativity
  • Jack’s version of manifesto
    • Two popular manifestos: communist and SCUM. (Society for Cutting Up Men)
      • Life under patriarchy is boring…let’s get rid of men
    • You are told that it is a “funny image” for women to be put through a meat grinder—so is this.
    • Admire boldness of the manifesto
    • Make modest proposals – something catastrophic
    • Born this Way video
      • “It was just some weird sci-fi shit”
    • Pre-Born this Way Lady Gaga and Post
      • Jack is pre
      • But there might be post- post-….!
    • “In a crisis, do not remain calm”
      • Add to the chaos
      • What occupy was trying to do
      • Economic crisis, people were literally running riot
    • “The Coming Insurrection” – Glenn Beck said “going to bring down the government in the U.S.
      • Written after the riots in 2005
      • In Paris
      • Brings together feminism, queer theory, situationism, anarchism
      • “Organize beyond and against work”
      • “Everyone agrees it’s about to explode”
      • Build upon ruins of the social by reimagining relations
      • Nuclear family is tired, boring, not even there
      • Let’s take notice of these new social arrangements and make something of them
      • Single people now outnumber coupled people in the U.S.
      • Mostly women
        • Changes the meaning of heterosexual femininity
    • What other forms of economic co-existence can we imagine?
    • Gaga feminism says “don’t compete, cooperate”
    • Many animal groups survive by cooperating, not competing. You can share resources
      • Many animals die with competing
      • In contrast to Darwin
    • Anarchists: what would a cooperative society look like?
      • Currency revolve around something other than cash, more trade
    • Manifesto argues for “going gaga”
    • Think aesthetically about going Gaga
    • Gaga tends to get linked to other blonde performers who just engage in pop…maneuverings
    • Avant-garde tendencies, especially brought out with in collaboration with Yoko Ono
    • Yoko Ono was an original gaga feminist—incredibly rich, incredibly daring
      • Cut Piece
        • What kind of feminism is that?
        • Sit still and draw out masculine aggression
        • Feminism as being about activity, becoming, being
    • 2009 – Yoko Ono put out a new album (tremendous)
      • Bouncy, new wave element
      • One track that is Gaga/Ono
      • Performed in a more “performance-oriented venue”
      • Experimental jazz oriented sound, avant-garde feminism, not Britney Spears pop feminism
    • View video: it seems more focused on Gaga than Ono
      • Exaggerated dress, exaggerated movements, facial expressions
    • Flip to picture of Madonna/Britney Spears kiss. “That was a bit abrupt, sorry” laughter
    • Yoko Ono – darker view of feminism
      • Gaga lightens Ono, Ono makes Gaga darker and more experimental
      • Dark noise, circles of repetition, resistance to sense-making
      • Interest in the dark – “the sun is down”
      • Sonic space
      • Best way of explaining what it means to go gaga
    • Make connections
      • We make easy connections when we tell history.
      • We should find different kind of connections between people
      • Emma Goldman
      • Grace Jones
        • Did a cover of Joy Division’s I’ve Lost control
        • But because she’s not white and blond, she couldn’t rise to level of iconicity that Lady Gaga can
        • It is useful to make this connection, to go “backwards”
        • Ari Up
        • Poly Styrene
        • Screaming and wailing and whimpering in their music as environment
    • Find each other
      • Idea from the invisible committee
      • Finding other people requires a lot more work, a lot more imagination
      • Defies collectivity
      • Move from a politics of uniqueness to new forms of collectivity
      • Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”
        • Lots of harmonizing of voices
        • Turn individualism on its head and offer us something else
        • “I was raised to believe in I was somehow unique”
        • Snowflake analogy. Like a snowflake unique among snowflakes
        • Is this our language of politics? Is this all we can do?
        • One of the only unique things about the human body is the process that happens when a cell mutates
        • “Normal cells are identically normal. Malignant cells become happily malignant in unique ways”
          • Either you value mutation and difference, or stress the normal
        • People want to be uniquely normal
        • Next stanza of the song:
          • And now after some thinking I say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
          • But I don’t know what that will be
          • I’ll get back to you some day; soon you will see
        • Serving a higher cause in individualism
          • Was a romantic notion (socialism)
        • Lost any connection to the notion of collectivity
        • They don’t feel the need to name the version of collectivity that comes next
        • Openness about what comes next
        • The kind of politics that we should be embracing
    • Fantastic Mr. Fox
      • “My only justification is the fox thing”
      • Tale of liberation
      • Has a little sissy son – discourse of masculinity
      • Queer masculinity
      • Sissy son steals tail back and gives it back to the father—phallic gift
      • His response is that he loves the fact that his new tail is detachable
        • “Now you’re at Bryn Mawr. I don’t have to tell you…”(laughter, clapping) “…about the significance of a detachable tail”
        • Spectacle scene at the end of the tale
          • Wolf scene
          • Only way of communication is raising a fist
          • Controversial scene – an encounter between civilized, bourgeois Mr. Fox and everything that lies beyond that
          • Wolf is black. Exchange is in the form of what we recognize as a black power salute
            • Very different context for us now at the end of this talk
        • It’s worth raising the question. Don’t think it’s racist but we should discuss how the wild/other is racialized
        • Said that if he had to leave out this scene, he’d rather not make the film at all
        • Social change happens with or without us
        • Throw our fists to show our solidarity

-          Anass….

-          QUESTION TIME!!!!!!!

  • Very interested in reading of Joe Calderone…didn’t break at all during performance. Joe Calderone has a twitter now. Is it made problematic that Joe Calderone has not resurfaced? Or we’re always being offered new alternatives? Also, if these performances are creating new features, who gets excluded from these features?
    • Don’t need him to come back—interested in the performance, how much heft was given to the character
    • Return of the gaze, return of the desiring gaze
    • Doesn’t need to take on longevity.
    • When male rock stars take on personas, we’re interested in self-conscious performances that question the authentic, and whether or not there’s a self beyond the performance
    • Admiration – willingness to stay there and to go with it
    • Taking back the term gaga from Gaga
    • “Lady Gaga doesn’t do endorsements, but if she likes the book she might be seen carrying it”
    • Gaga is a French word for something that’s a little “off,” a little funny
    • 2nd question. The alternative cannot always be reduced to this. There has to be some other language of resistance that needs to come about
  • To build on that…would you hope to see the end of binaries to break down artificial categories?
    • Not my project… binaries will take on different meanings at different times. In a much more fractal way—we’re not bound by binaries anymore.
    • I rarely use that term
    • Not against categories, don’t want to get rid of them
    • Don’t think you can ever chip away at structures of language. What you can do is add to them.
    • Add more and more things until you can’t remember what the first thing was
    • “We’re not looking for the abolition of this or that, but the society that would require such abolitions in the first place”
  • Masochistic performances of femininity… Lana del Ray. What do you think?
    • Trying to inhabit some idealized version of a 50s woman
    • I thought she was a drag queen, actually
    • Kesha feminism – beaten to the finish line by my graduate student!
    • There are multiple forms of feminism, we know that. Please don’t understand me as just saying “let’s all get behind gaga”
    • Looking for a style, a style of politics wherever I can find it and I find a lot of it in some of her performances
  • How subversive do you think an artist can be when she’s in the top 40?
    • She wasn’t always in the musical 1%, and she might not be there for much longer
    • Let’s not confuse this with a biography of lady gaga
    • It’s about a style, a way of doing womanhood, a performance archive
    • A set of performances that are suggestive of something
    • Don’t care “how radical” she is
    • “Shut up, sing a song”
    • It’s not about what she says, what she thinks, she says “I’m not real, I’m theater”
  • Relevance of Duchamp… gender play. Connections? Is it more politicized now rather than art?
    • This is quite a dada-ist project
    • Gaga as a permutation of gaga
    • Early 20th century movements that broke into the real
    • “Really? What’s normal life, dude?”
  • Using the metaphor of performance with Ono/Gaga. Talk more about different feminisms coming together/working together with different manifestos
    • One of the reasons I think young people reject feminism is that they don’t identify with the people who represent these feminisms
    • Looking for fragments of feminism in different places
    • Gloria Steinem keeps getting wheeled out for these events, as if there are no other forms that came after her
    • We already know about that form of feminism, we don’t need another one
    • (Kind of like the stealth feminism that was brought up at Feministing)
  • If we are to find each other, to what extent do you theorize new forms of media, networking? Manifesto…interpolation to action. Is there an ethical imperative to what you theorize as low theory? Moral intervention?
    • Mixed opinion about social media. Facebook isn’t a collectivity, just a place for publicity
    • Role of social media has been really overstated in some of these riots/protest movements around the world, only a small part of what has happened in Arab spring
      • The WEST has overstated
    • Nobody has used social media as well as lady gaga has. Came to visibility at a moment where there was more potential for media than ever before in history
    • Secrets smuggled out of Iraq on a lady gaga CD
    • No ethical imperative in my manifesto. Not something that you “should” do
    • These are suggestions, openings more than anything.
    • Important to have a feminism that does not prescribe
    • Also don’t want to be heard as saying that academics should go out into communities
    • There are academics that are good at speaking to non academic communities, but it’s not usually these people who hold value in the academy
    • Move away from cheap, quick ways of classifying what is very difficult – making things accessible to a wide audience
  • Schneider: in tying it to gaga.. she doesn’t go back to Madonna, denying the queer culture that Madonna was biting from. Closes down possibilities—no one will acknowledge that moment. New embrace of queer culture…AIDS crisis, hardcore movement in DC. Madonna’s movement doesn’t speak to the movements before her. Beyond gender identity or desire. We don’t reference those folks, we just bring it back to Madonna
    •  It’s very important for it to be “feminism,” rather than gaga queerism, etc. The gay fight against AIDS didn’t become global. Very focused on gay men in U.S. rather than be nostalgic, ask why gay men didn’t turn their eyes to that bigger question in the world
    • I’m not nostalgic for that, personally
    • I am nostalgic for radical, rowdy feminism
    • Say that gaga has a connection to her, but it is not her. Madonna is a more problematic and complicit character than lady gaga
  • Reaching different audiences… children’s films that are trying to reach collectivity. Significance of some of these scenes being in children’s films
    • I use this word gaga because it’s a kid’s term… when you don’t have the word for something
    • Kids are naturally anarchistic (don’t want to say it this way, but…)
    • No social boundaries yet for that kid! Doesn’t have language, right/wrong, etc.
    • Kid’s films need to appeal to the not yet properly socialized piece of children
    • We should all reach back, find those pieces of our own pasts
    • Part of the human condition. What we call normalization and socialization is bringing this riotous child under control
    • How interesting that we have to tame children.
  • What do you think of current political views of feminine bodies…discourse? Self conscious femininity vs. male dominated conversation about female bodies.
    • Clearly this isn’t a feminism that’s looking for male approval
    • If these debates about birth control tell us anything, it’s that we do desperately need new forms of feminism.
    • Whether they’re gaga, kesha, or something else entirely, bring it on
    • Explain what it means to have control over women’s bodies

Comments

flannery's picture

fascinating stuff! halberstam

fascinating stuff! halberstam is such a doll.

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