Class Reflection 4/28: The Feminist Killjoy

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As our last "formal" class of the semester, our discussion on happiness and the feminist killjoy seemed to me to nicely wrap up many of the ongoing themes and motifs that have framed our semester together.


Because thinking and writing chronologically is hard for me, even with my tape recording, I am going to jump around and reflect more on the broad ideas that we brought forth, rather than give a play-by-play synopsis of our discussion. I am also going to leave out some of our tangential remarks, and unrelated conversational diverges. Lastly, I apologize in advance if I miss quote or reference someone or something.


Throughout the semester Sara mentioned a few times how much she was looking forward to our class on Ahmed. Having never read Ahmed myself, I couldn't identify with her excited. But now, I have bought Queer Phenomenology and hope to read it over the summer. At the core of the argument to me is the merging to two highly serious questions: the first via Becky, and the second via my own random declarations.  The Ahmed readings and our discussion could easily be simplified to the following - "can you be a feminist and still be a beacon of positivity?" (Why, how, where, and when) and "yeah but then are you a trouble-making or just an asshole?" (Or something else all together?).


After Raechel and I established that we knew have of the trans-folk on the Sociological Images post, and we had a brief conversation about the controversial film, "Ticked off Trannies with Knifes" we turned our attention to Debbie Downer, thanks to Sara's blog posts.  Debbie Downer raised many questions for us in terms of understanding her as a feminist killjoy. Most notably, and almost expectedly, we began our discussion with intention. Was it Debbie Downer's intention to "ruin the moment" or is she just obvious? I raised questions about being the contextual aspect of being a Debbie Downer, (when, where, and how) and we talked about the randomness of some of her assertions. Becky wondered if Debbie the cause or a product of the affect of the "downing" and suggested that there might be some "middle way" to bringing up important (feminist) insights without swashing the conversation.


This thought lead Shannon to ask about the place that naïveté, knowledge, and ignorance play in the feminist killjoy.  If we take Ahmed's definition of the feminist killjoy to be someone who interrupts a moment of uncritical acceptance/performance of a socially constructed notion of "happiness," Shannon, Becky, Sophie and Raechel want us to link this to the idea that "ignorance is bliss" and that the feminist killjoy is ending a privileged kind of naïveté.


Like she has in many other discussions, Sophie then asked us to address the theoretical definition of the terms we were using and the terms the theorist was interrogating. For Sophie, and I agree with her, Ahmed was working with "happiness" in a very binary framework throughout the "Killing Joy" piece. In Sophie's understanding of it, the happiness Ahmed was speaking of was a very particular heteronormative, socially validated, happiness, and asking feminists to embrace the opposite, not the "unhappy" but the "non- happy." I believe we all agreed that Ahmed was indeed speaking of this particular kind of happiness, and felt equally troubled by the seemingly binary depiction of happy and non happy that were positioned as options.


For Sophie this is nothing new, and for Sara it is a direct response to the growing, but undeniable Aristotelian, discourse on our pursuit of happiness. This lead to me to express my frustration with the Western framework that Ahmed was using. Certainly, she was answering to a specific genealogy of thought, and we cannot fault her from not referencing another framework, but I agree with Sophie in that none of this is new. In fact, her entire argument and call for the significance of the feminist killjoy, is what Buddhist/Eastern philosophy understands as The Middle Path, The EightFold Path, The Four Noble Truths, and essentially the circle of Nirvana and Namsara. I will spare you all my crazy connections here, but its real. lol.


Raechel turned our conversation to the other Ahmed article we read and the idea of unhappiness in terms of a queer politics. After Elizabeth's anecdote about her sister's wedding we discussed how this script of happiness pervades everything, and how queers do or do not interrupt that script. Raechel (brilliantly, I think) connected this to "Judy B's" ideas of intelligibility and livability. I asked us to also think about "non-happiness" in terms of "being beside oneself". Although these connections and questions were raised we really didn't go much farther into this, other than saying that we wished both JB and Ahmed did more to connect theory to practicality. I am certain we could have gone on and on about the theoretical overlap and difference here, but we got distracted with our plans to get " I <3 JB" and "WWJBD" tattoos. (Which should really happen, BTW).


Sara cleverly pivoted our tattoo aspirations into a discussion of her dissertation project on virtue ethnics. Becky proclaimed that in light of this conversation the "whole order of things" needs to shift, (how we understand the purpose of life, happiness, etc) asking, "how we got here" as a culture. And I again expressed my frustration that Ahmed was presenting these thoughts as something new, when these exactly conceptions and questions have been being asked (and answered) in the "east" for thousands of years. You all know how I am.


Sophie wondered if this entire conversation was misguided to begin with, because really no one is actually happy. We all thought a moment about this, and seemed to agree but continued the dicussion unwaveringly. Raechel then raised questions in terms of how privilege is related to the feminist killjoy. Do killjoys have a certain amount of privilege that distances them from the oppression they are invoking and allows them to invoke it? And/or do those whose joy is killed have a certain amount of privilege to allow them to ignore the oppression the killjoy invokes? As always we concluded that the answer is complicated and complex.


Our discussion then turned to idea of being a killjoy on accident, simply by existing. We wondered if this was the same kind of killjoy or different in some way than an intentional killing of joy. This brought us around again to intention, because we had yet to decide if feminists were intending to kill joy or trying to do something else. Becky and Sophie began to talk about how guilt was connected to having your joy killed, and Raechel, Sara, and Elizabeth joined the conversation by discussing the productive and/or nonproductive aspects of guilt. Lastly, we returned to my brother's "19 and drunk" humor and how humor can both be killed by feminists and used by feminists to raise consciousness.


Although we did not come to many conclusions, our conversation as a whole was quite productive (even with Mr. Roboto, tattoo planning, and references to the Vagina Monologues and Steven Colbert). I think it is safe to say that we understand the feminist killjoy as a troublemaker, if indeed an important and often problematic one. All of us had personal experiences as the feminist killjoy, and our lasting questions seemed to revolve around the lived-reality, and utility of the killjoy and the related state of "non-happiness." I wont speak for the rest of you, but our conversation sparked a number of ideas for me that I plan on exploring futher, in a critically "non-happy" manner. :-)


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