Here is where I depart from the initial performance. Since the entirety of the Master’s Tool: Is Unpaid Labor Feminist Practice? was recorded and put online, I don’t really feel the need to read much more of it. Obviously, I concluded that unpaid labor within market-driven film work is in conflict with feminist critique and though I don’t believe in confining myself to reasonable debate, I also don’t think I stretched the point of reason. It was supposed to resemble grief… the waves of emotion that for better or worse brought me further from ‘collective’ ‘community’ or ‘participatory.’ ‘It’ had already happened. I had already withdrawn my support from these project whose flippant usage of queer feminism as a marketing line designed to sell me on the idea that donating labor and funds was not just generous but a form of activism… that it was a good cause… not an ego trip. The reparative will always be subjective so the negativity of the negativity from which I wrote Master’s Tool is perhaps in need of introducing so that’s what I’ve decided to let this conference be for me.
But first, I should say: I’m Mysti, a body barely standing before you today. When I’m at a table of artists, I say I’m a drag queen and when I’m at a table of drag queens I say I’m an artist. This presentation should hopefully illustrate that I am indeed neither. I don’t shave… the make up is wrong… and I’m too forthcoming to sustain the seduction necessary to mystify my audience with the belief that it’s art. I’m most interested in establishing what things are not. Lauren Berlant supports me in believing the most optimistic happening is finding the good in the negative… rolling in the negative long enough to know that it doesn’t destroy us. So looking at universals of love… love as good… family and the queer impulse to re-create or perform constructions of family… that these thoughts are natural or inevitable. However, when negative looks at family (she embodied here as me, Mysti), I look at family and see a site of domination. A naturalized environment where domination is performed as and believed to be love.
You, My Communion Wafer, is my favorite line from the whole piece. Beyond it’s hinting a damaged Catholicism, I’m really not joking when I say that this character is some self-identified Priest of queer community–resembling all the communicative and diplomatic power struggles of institutions like Uni or church. Daring to question the blind faith required to donate my body as a raw material later be cut with or without my approval felt like blasphemy. So performed early feminist conscious-raising drag while refusing to take questions…I embodied contradiction. Of course queer film Berlin wasn’t all bad, but complete affirmation is most suspect desire… in my presentation, I had labeled it a white heterosexual male thingy… the total togetherness assumed when a producer uses the word community instead of contracted workers rarely resurfaces at the end of a project, so what was the harm in saying so? Maybe there is nothing wrong with taking underemployed bodies, idol, and assembling them as a product to create a gaze of desire for them. We are a generation who loves to look at ourselves. But beyond the mere product, whatever its political agenda… successful or not… there is a failure to commit to the very subjective word community and its ambiguity is seemingly strategic. We are not simply a generation who loves to look at ourselves, but rather this is symptomatic of rugged individualism, which dominates not only work/career arrangements but love relationships as well. Our friendships. Is this the means with which a market driven filmmaker manages a staff under the confusing and abusive delusion of trust me friend I’ll get you back?
Under rugged individualism loyalty and love become premodern contracts… falsely shifted generations back. In Late Capitalism doing anything for love seems laughable now. I’m plagued with the responsibility to not hold my lover back and to recognize immediately when my lover is holding me back. We must manage our expectations. We are the divorce era, so the construction of love and family within queerness as community is naturally unstable… We’re all running from a different past so our new negiotiations with chosen families or alternative employment strategies don’t resemble less remedies as much as ‘by any means necessary.’ This is a militaristic mantra now praised when thought by the new workforce. We used to justify terrible things in the name of love… fighting for love… killing for love… while I do not recommend we return to violent metaphors of love practice, I’m horrified that the shift from love to loving work has been made natural. Breatriz Preciado in Testo Junkie recalls the SCUM Manifesto saying: “all of the grotesque characteristics that [Valerie] Solanas attributes to men in capitalist society at mid-twentieth century seem to have spread to women today (138).” Love is now a tool shamelessly invoked by those desiring labor (be it Neukölln entrepreneurs, corporate team work models or queer collectives) writing together work terms that require infinite agreeability, from sound… level-headed minds… The future conflict is who you work for and under what terms and I think Solanas knew this acutely. Art has in fact always been an unregulated work force with long interim periods of unpaid amorphous labor and it has always been done so under the guise of loving what you do as an artist of aspiring to be greater than life by being art. How is love of work, when it can manifest as very counterproductive anxiety, still honored; when simultaneously the refusal to work which can be exhibited so lovingly and with such reparative desire is recognized only as malfunction?
Let me shift a little and share my believe that post-modernity is passive aggressive. Of course I will fail to convey the myriad of ways in which this is true–remember I’m not a career minded person–but I’m hoping you my community might be willing to think in the gaps. Passive Aggressivity is the failure to assign appropriate gravity to emotional content… to mislabel feeling and suddenly burst. TO MISLABEL AND SUDDENLY BURST. Isn’t this the Neoliberal management of the market? The mandate for emotionless laborers is endemic of Neoliberal work environments… cut early, restructured but grateful to still have a job with revised pension… the subject must endure all this without emotion. Emotion is not seen in these cases as a rational response to a hostile living scenario but rather a bio-chemical episode for which there is a gigantic line of sedatives and uppers to keep you in your place and functioning. The newly manufactured scarcity of jobs or desirable skills manipulates out of the we the workers a dreadfully self-destructive sympathy for our employers. Isn’t this the same sympathetic gaze the required by artists who refuse to budget our worth? Doesn’t collectivity have a way of socially muzzling those who speak about the negative? Why are they immediately labeled as a threat to the body politic while the violence of hierarchy in queer community is continually written of as good intentions?
Art is a completely synthetic market. The discussions or rather negotiations of value both monetary and theoretical are blind guesses fueled by prejudice… discriminating tastes… and the evolution of this new queer inclusion in marketability requires attention. There are questions that need to be asked about what it is to utilize a scenery of human flesh within cinematic pictures in order to convincingly convey (or sell?) your concept. Are these bodies standing in agreement and endorsement of your vision even after dramas on set and strained or wounded friendships as a result of feeling exploitation? There is so much non-togetherness in these social spheres of production. When I see assemblages of bodies posing togetherness… performing queer picnics… I sincerely don’t know what I am supposed to interpret.
What is the move away from alien and trash culture? Have we really arrived at enough funding to refine our lens? Or does the sheen of professionalism, purchased by the sacrifice of the budgeting for bodies, present our hopes of being ‘there’ already on screen together having made ‘it’ together? These ‘making it’s or ‘almost there’s are very conspicuous Neoliberal constructions… dangerous assumptions of shared desire. Do they really get the cultural cache of political-consciousness-drag just cause they think queer means something in the positive? It doesn’t! Queer was never in the positive… it’s almost never productive in the traditional sense. Queer is about looking from the outside… not about creating an inside. Insides are made only with new arbitrary standards of exclusion. Queerness is the lightening rod of blame… the failure to perform belonging… the ‘You’re the reason we all can’t just be together’ ISN’T THAT WHAT GOT US HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE? Do we really want to exist in a community where one must donate labor and perform belonging? Moreover, a sense of belonging that is often only performed on screen? I don’t want to know where the mandates for these gestures bring us.