Wednesday, March 03, 2010

From José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia

by J J Cohen

Feeling inspired in my own work while rereading these words, and thought I'd share them:

"We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality ... an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness' domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see the future beyond the quagmire of the present. The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now's totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of the moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds ... Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world."

-- Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity


Anonymous said...

Am I missing something there, or is he in fact arguing that though we might be queer yesterday or tomorrow there can never be queer today? Politically, I think that's really quite problematic. And theoretically I also struggle with it; if this other world exists in the same moment, how can a chronological distinction operate? Queerness is, I would have said, about the enlargement of the perceived here and now to accommodate more of the range of things that actually exist. If the Other was only potential we'd never have change because everything would only be what is.

So okay, I must be missing something. Is there a background to the use of this term I have skipped over?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks for that great, important question Jonathan: the passage does beg it, doesn't it?

José is arguing from a point of exhaustion: he states that contemporary queer theory has come to an impasse, propelled there by certain restrictive modes of thinking about relationality and futurity. José turns to the past (which for him I must admit mostly extends back only into the late 1960s or so) to find moments of utopian promise that, although present, were never activated or fulfilled -- say, in the work of Andy Warhol, or -- to go back further -- German idealists like Ernst Bloch. José's project is to reinsert educated utopian striving into contemporary discourse over the queer to try to bring about a less restricted, more open, more multiplicitous future. So when you write, quite well that:
Queerness is, I would have said, about the enlargement of the perceived here and now to accommodate more of the range of things that actually exist.
I think that José would add:
Queerness is .. about the enlargement of the perceived then and about to be, to accommodate more of the range of things that can exist.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou, Jeffrey, that makes much more sense, and also catches me in an oddly presentist mien it seems. My politics and my medievalism rarely meet; this would be one point where they might find a conversation.