Diablog: Ahmed

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I think possibly the best way for me to do this is to go through by scanning what I read and summarizing what I believe Ahmed is saying and then following with questions that I had when reading it.
So let's begin Chapter 3: Unhappy Queers.

Ahmed references the book, Spring Fire, and how the ending of the book (about two lesbians) had to have an unhappy ending or publishers wouldn't take it. Vin Packer resigned to this limitation but ironically, it turned out as a good thing. "The unhappy ending becomes a political gift: it provides a means through which queer fiction could be published." (88) Basically, the book served to satisfy everyone: the general populous because the ending was sad, and the queer community because there was finally a book about them.
This brings to mind Machiavelli and The Prince, which is a philosophical novel in which Machiavelli sends the message "the end justifies the means."
Do you think it's ok for Spring Fire to end badly just for the sake of having a book about queers? Or would it be better to not sacrifice the integrity of your novel the way you wrote it and simply not have it published?
It seems to almost go against what Judith Butler is saying about creating trouble- I feel like she would probably have sacrificed the book and left it unpublished than have sacrificed the conclusion of the book just to have it published.
Although it's true that "we are not obliged to 'believe' in the unhappy ending by taking it literally, as 'evidence' that lesbians and gays must turn straight, die, or go mad' it is a kind of statement, intentionally or not, that the first book about queers ends horribly.

However, the ending of the book led Ahmed into a discussion about the importance of acknowledging that society looks at queer life as difficult or hard or wrong depending on who you're talking to. She says, "Rather than reading unhappy endings as a sign of the withholding of moral approval for queer lives, we must consider how unhappiness circulates within and around this archive, and what it allows us to do." (89)
To me, what's she's saying is that it's crucial for us to see the unhappiness of queer life, but perhaps more importantly, the genesis of the unhappiness.
She goes into how we view happiness and how the statement, "I am happy if you are happy" does't necessarily mean what we think it does. The logic follows:
1. I am happy if you are happy.
2. I will only be happy if you are.
3. I will be unhappy if you are.
4. Your unhappiness would threaten my happiness.
5. You have a duty to be happy for me.
Do you think this is a legitimate argument?
Ahmed clarifies that not all speech can be read this way, but she does say that "we [should] note the swiftness of conversion between desire and duty; the very desire for the happiness of other can be the point at which others are bound to be happy for us." (92)
To further illustrate this point, Ahmed takes an excerpt from Annie on My Mind when the father is telling the daughter what he thinks her life will be like should she choose to embrace the fact that she is a lesbian.
"I've never thought gay people can be very happy-- no children for one thing, no real family life. Honey, you are probably going to be a damn good architect-- but I want you to be happy in other ways, too, as your mother is, to have a husband and children. I know you can do both. . . ." I am happy, I tried to tell him with my eyes. I'm happy with Annie; she and my work are all I'l ever need; she's happy, too-- we both were until this happened." (93)
Ahmed explains that what the daughter means by "until" which is "the moment that the father speaks his disapproval. . .The unhappy queer is here the queer who is judged to be unhappy: the judgment of unhappiness creates unhappiness." (93) The question the follows, for me, is "how much unhappiness is caused by the expectation of unhappiness?" Especially within a family unit, I think Ahmed may be inherently right in that your happiness depends on the happiness of everyone else within the unit not only because your tied by blood but also because you are in such close proximity with one another.

Later in the Chapter Ahmed talks about a different view of happiness and draws illustrations for the concepts from the book The Well of Loneliness. There's a scene in the novel where a group of people are collected in an are and Adolphe Blanc, a character who has been shunned from society along with the rest of the people in this group, talks to the two main characters, Stephen and Mary. Referencing the greater part of society, those who aren't queer, Adolphe says, "The are thoughtless, these happy people who sleep." (96) Ahmed says that this statement speaks "the truth of the novel: the happiness of the straight world is a form of injustice."
So is this true? Does the happiness of straights and the fact that it's an expectation that a straight person will be happy affect the happiness of queers? Is the argument "Straights will be happy, queers are not straight, and thus queers will not be happy" a valid one?
I think The Well of Loneliness attempts to argue that yes, it is valid. The end of the book is sad as Stephen gives Mary over to a man because she can never be happy with Mary because by doing that she will make Mary an outsider and deprive her of the happiness she might receive from other people by being with a man. Ahmed explains this as "Certain subjects might appear as sad or wretched, or might even become sad or wretched, because they are perceived as lacking what causes happiness, and as causing unhappiness in their lack."
The end of the book was clearly unhappy, but perhaps unhappy in a different sort of way. Mary ended up with a man at the end of the novel, but there was clearly unhappiness surrounding the arrangement and for Stephen there was absolutely nothing happy about giving up Mary. Stephen also proclaims hatred for those people who pretend to be straight and by doing so, never having to go through what she is going through now: "As for those who were ashamed to declare themselves, lying low for the sake of peaceful existence, she utterly despised such of them as had brains; they were traitors to themselves and their fellows she insisted."
This brings to mind the idea of "ignorance as bliss." Personally, I don't believe in that saying, but I think the concept should be brought up. What Adolphe said earlier in the novel about the happy people who sleep also feels like it's referencing the "ignorance is bliss" idea. 
It seems like straight people are grouped together as one collective source of discrimination. And this group doesn't really intentionally discriminate against queers, but instead chooses to ignore their existence altogether, which may be worse or not, but the result is that they don't need to acknowledge the fact that there are people who are different and because of that, they are outsiders who feel like they don't belong because the straight community makes them feel that way because they think the queers feel that way. (Follow that?) So, again, bliss belongs to the straight and the queers are left with unhappiness.
It's as if the world is empty to the queer community and is a constant backdrop for unhappiness, wretchedness and disappointment. In the movie, Lost and Delirious, there is a scene where one of the characters, Paulie, who is lesbian, kills herself- kind of. She and a bird who she had found and brought back to health fly away together. She jumps off the roof of a building and "Paulie becomes the bird, or the bird becomes Paulie, the open sky above the school signifying both the prmise of another world and the wrtched emptiness of the one they leave behind." (105)
All of these examples, Ahmed says, should help us to realize that it's important to embrace the "unhappy queer." "The unhappy queer is unhappy with the world that reads queers as unhappy. The risk of promoting the happy queer is that the unhappiness of this world could disappear from view. We use stay unhappy with this world."
She also says that "in being acceptable you must become acceptable to a world that has already decided what is acceptable," (105) meaning, I think, that through literature and other media the queer community can display to the straight community what it truly means to be queer and possible convey to them that it's really the straight community that causes queer unhappiness- not that queers are unhappy being queer.

Ahmed also talks about the actual idea of happiness and what it really means, and how being "happily queer" is not necessarily synonymous with being a "happy queer." In the book, Rubyfruit Jungle, on of the characters, Molly, has this refusal to be put back into place and loves the fact that she is a lesbian and she is perfectly happy to be a lesbian even if that means being made fun of and constantly being a source of unhappiness for those around her. She is essentially the exact opposite of Shirley Temple, who she brings up and uses her symbolic image negatively as opposed to positively as one would assume most everyone in our society today would have. Is it fair to use her image in this way? To make her out to be a spineless, typical girl, who conforms to every stereotype the straight world can create?
Later in the novel Molly, explains to the dean why she is lesbian: "I know it's not normal for people in this world to be happy, and I'm happy." (117)
What do you think Molly means by this? Ahmed explains that Molly has performed "the ultimate act of defiance by claiming her unhappiness as abnormal." (117)

1 Comment

I really enjoyed your analysis over Ahmed's claim about being happy. It made me think about how happy I personally am. I now think that happiness is compromised between how you feel about yourself and how others feel about you. Her argument is very plausible, because she knows how people think, and trust me--most people think about how their happiness is affected and determined. It is a duty, especially in a relationship to be happy for the other person; it takes two for a relationship to work--it's not a one way street.

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