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A 10th anniversary edition of this field defining work—an intellectual inspiration for a generation of LGBTQ scholars

Cruising Utopia arrived in 2009 to insist that queerness must be reimagined as a futurity-bound phenomenon, an insistence on the potentiality of another world that would crack open the pragmatic present. Part manifesto, part love-letter to the past and the future, José Esteban Muñoz argued that the here and now were not enough and issued an urgent call for the revivification of the queer political imagination.

On the anniversary of its original publication, this edition includes two essays that extend and expand the project of Cruising Utopia, as well as a new foreword by the current editors of Sexual Cultures, the book series he co-founded with Ann Pellegrini 20 years ago. This 10th anniversary edition celebrates the lasting impact that Cruising Utopia has had on the decade of queer of color critique that followed and introduces a new generation of readers to a future not yet here.
Year:
2019
Edition:
2nd (10th Anniversary Edition)
Publisher:
NYU Press
Language:
english
Pages:
280
ISBN 10:
1479874566
ISBN 13:
9781479874569
Series:
Sexual Cultures
File:
EPUB, 2.47 MB
Download (epub, 2.47 MB)

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Cruising Utopia





SEXUAL CULTURES

General Editors: Ann Pellegrini, Tavia Nyong’o, and Joshua Chambers-Letson

Founding Editors: José Esteban Muñoz and Ann Pellegrini

Titles in the series include:

Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

Samuel R. Delany

Private Affairs: Critical Ventures in the Culture of Social Relations

Phillip Brian Harper

In Your Face: 9 Sexual Studies

Mandy Merck

Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America

José A. Quiroga

Murdering Masculinities: Fantasies of Gender and Violence in the American Crime Novel Gregory Forter

Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest

Edited by Lauren Berlant and Lisa A. Duggan

Black Gay Man: Essays

Robert F. Reid-Pharr

Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion

Edited by Maria C. Sanchez and Linda Schlossberg

The Explanation for Everything: Essays on Sexual Subjectivity

Paul Morrison

The Queerest Art: Essays on Lesbian and Gay Theater

Edited by Alisa Solomon and Framji Minwalla

Queer Globalizations: Citizenship and the Afterlife of Colonialism

Edited by Arnaldo Cruz Malavé and Martin F. Manalansan IV

Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces

Juana María Rodríguez

Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance

Janet R. Jakobsen and Ann Pellegrini

Boricua Pop: Puerto Ricans and the Latinization of American Culture

Frances Négron-Muntaner

Manning the Race: Reforming Black Men in the Jim Crow Era

Marlon Ross

In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives

J. Jack Halberstam

Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality

Dwight A. McBride

God Hates Fags: The Rhetorics of Religious Violence

Michael Cobb

Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire, and the Black American Intellectual

Robert Reid-Pharr

The Latino Body: Crisis Identities in American Literary and Cultural Memory

Lázaro Lima

Arranging Grief: Sacred Time and the Body in Nineteenth-Century America

Dana Luciano

Cruising Utopia: The Then a; nd There of Queer Futurity

José Esteban Muñoz

Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism

Scott Herring

Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power, and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination

Darieck Scott

Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries

Karen Tongson

Beyond the Nation: Diasporic Filipino Literature and Queer Reading

Martin Joseph Ponce

Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled

Michael Cobb

Brown Boys and Rice Queens: Spellbinding Performance in the Asias

Eng-Beng Lim

Transforming Citizenships: Transgender Articulations of the Law

Isaac West

The Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture Vincent Woodard, Edited by Justin A. Joyce and Dwight A. McBride

Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures and Other Latina Longings

Juana María Rodríguez

Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism

Amber Jamilla Musser

The Exquisite Corpse of Asian America: Biopolitics, Biosociality, and Posthuman Ecologies

Rachel C. Lee

Not Gay: Sex between Straight White Men

Jane Ward

Embodied Avatars: Genealogies of Black Feminist Art and Performance

Uri McMillan

A Taste for Brown Bodies: Gay Modernity and Cosmopolitan Desire

Hiram Pérez

Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality

Katherine Franke

The Color of Kink: Black Women, BDSM and Pornography

Ariane Cruz

Archives of Flesh: African America, Spain, and Post-Humanist Critique

Robert F. Reid-Pharr

Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible

Malik Gaines

A Body, Undone: Living on After Great Pain

Christina Crosby

The Life and Death of Latisha King: A Critical Phenomenlogy of Transphobia

Gayle Salamon

Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody

Melissa M. Wilcox

After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life

Joshua Chambers-Letson

Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance

Amber Jamilla Musser

Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life

Tavia Nyong’o

Queer Times, Black Futures

Kara Keeling

Queer Faith: Reading Promiscuity and Race in the Secular Love Tradition

Melissa E. Sanchez

For a complete list of books in the series, see www.nyupress.org





Cruising Utopia,


10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION


The Then and There of Queer Futurity



José Esteban Muñoz

With two additional essays by the author and a new foreword by

Joshua Chambers-Letson,

Tavia Nyong’o, and Ann Pellegrini





NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PRESS

New York





NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PRESS

New York and London

www.nyupress.org

© 2009 by New York University

Foreword and two additional essays © 2019 by New York University

All rights reserved

“For Freddy, Fucking Again,” poem by Diane di Prima, from Freddie Poems (Point Reyes, CA: Eidolon Editions, 1974). Courtesy of the author.

“Having a Coke with You,” from The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, by Frank O’Hara, edited by Donald Allen. Copyright © 1971 by Maureen Granville-Smith, Administratrix of The Estate of Frank O’Hara. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

“A photograph,” Collected Poems, by James Schuyler. Copyright © 1993 by the Estate of James Schuyler. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

“One Art,” from The Complete Poems, 1927–1979, by Elizabeth Bishop. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Muñoz, José Esteban, author.

Title: Cruising utopia : the then and there of queer futurity / Jose Esteban Munoz; with new essays and a foreword by Joshua Chambers-Letson, Tavia Nyong’o, and Ann Pellegrini.

Description: 10th Anniversary Edition. | New York : New York University Press, [2019] | Series: Sexual cultures | Revised edition of the author’s Cruising utopia, c2009. | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2018046341| ISBN 9781479813780 (cl : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781479874569 (pb : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781479868780 (eISBN) | ISBN 9781479896226 (eISBN)

Subjects: LCSH: Queer theory. | Utopias. | Homosexuality and art. | Performance art. Classification: LCC HQ76.25 .M86 2019 | DDC 306.7601—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018046341





Contents


Foreword: Before and After

CRUISING UTOPIA

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Feeling Utopia

1. Queerness as Horizon: Utopian Hermeneutics in the Face of Gay Pragmatism

2. Ghosts of Public Sex: Utopian Longings, Queer Memories

3. The Future Is in the Present: Sexual Avant-Gardes and the Performance of Utopia

4. Gesture, Ephemera, and Queer Feeling: Approaching Kevin Aviance

5. Cruising the Toilet: LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Radical Black Traditions, and Queer Futurity

6. Stages: Queers, Punks, and the Utopian Performative

7. Utopia’s Seating Chart: Ray Johnson, Jill Johnston, and Queer Intermedia as System

8. Just Like Heaven: Queer Utopian Art and the Aesthetic Dimension

9. A Jeté Out the Window: Fred Herko’s Incandescent Illumination

10. After Jack: Queer Failure, Queer Virtuosity

Conclusion: “Take Ecstasy with Me”

TWO ADDITIONAL ESSAYS

Race, Sex, and the Incommensurate: Gary Fisher with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Hope in the Face of Heartbreak

Notes

Bibliography

Index

About the Author

Color illustrations appear following chapter 7.





Foreword


Before and After


By Joshua Chambers-Letson, Tavia Nyong’o, and Ann Pellegrini

One may not cast a picture of utopia in a positive manner. Every attempt to describe or portray utopia in a simple way, i.e., it will be like this, would be an attempt to avoid the antinomy of death and to speak about the elimination of death as if death did not exist. That is perhaps the most profound reason, the metaphysical reason, why one can actually talk about utopia only in a negative way . . .

—Theodor Adorno, in conversation with Ernst Bloch1



TO THINK, WRITE, dream, and live in the wake of heartbreak: this is the challenge posed by “Hope in the Face of Heartbreak,” the short essay that is published for the first time in this new edition of Cruising Utopia. It is also the charge we are faced with here: how to think and write after José Muñoz—and also for him—in the painful, temporally out of joint forever “after” of this foreword.

“Hope in the Face of Heartbreak” was written to be heard and was given as a talk, in September 2013, at the University of Toronto to celebrate the launch of the Women & Gender Studies Institute’s PhD Program. The manuscript bears the traces of the live occasion; it also carries the literal traces of the one who wrote and spoke its words aloud. “Hope’s biggest obstacle is failure,” the manuscript begins, its opening words neatly typed and printed. But, midway through the opening paragraph, the typeface is interrupted by hand-writing. The pivot by hand, to handed-ness, happens at a critical juncture where Muñoz is reminding his audience of a distinction made by Ernst Bloch (key interlocutor of Cruising Utopia), between abstract and concrete or educated hope:


In part we must take on a kind of abstract hope [that] is not much more than merely wishing and instead we need to participate in a more concrete hope, what Ernst Bloch would call an educated hope, the kind that is grounded and consequential, a mode of hoping that is cognizant of exactly what obstacles present themselves in the face of this hoping.



The words “this hoping” are crossed out. The revised sentence reads “. . . a mode of hoping that is cognizant of exactly what obstacles present themselves in the face of obstacles that so often feel insurmountable.” So, if the original sentence repeated the word “hoping,” the revised one doubles down on the “obstacles.” On the manuscript, we can glimpse the handwritten word “our,” also crossed out, before he settles on the word “obstacles.” Hope falters, gives way to more obstacles.

“Hope in the Face of Heartbreak” is revisiting and also expanding on arguments made in Cruising Utopia. At this early moment in the talk, it’s as if Muñoz needs to stress the “obstacles” as a wedge against overly hopeful or romanticizing readings of Cruising Utopia. In our conversations with our late friend and comrade, he occasionally expressed disappointment that his defense of utopia was enthusiastically read by some as uncritical optimism. His work testifies to the contrary. Hope is work; we are disappointed; what’s more, we repeatedly disappoint each other. But the crossing out of “this hoping” is neither the cancellation of grounds for hope, nor a discharge of the responsibility to work to change present reality. It is rather a call to describe the obstacle without being undone by that very effort.

A sentence later, still in the hand-written addition, there is another crossing out; obstacle is not a hard stop, it is a challenge: “. . . I have chosen to focus on two texts, one scholarly [Robyn Wiegman’s Object Lessons] and one cultural [Anna Margarita Albelo’s film Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?], that offer snapshots at of some of the obstacle challenge[s] we need to not only survive but surpass to achieve hope in the face of an often heart breaking reality.” The first page of the short manuscript ends with these hand-written words: “in the face of an often heart breaking reality.” We who survive are left to face this challenge without him. We are also charged by him to do so.

A common sight during his lifetime: Before giving a paper, he’s sitting on a panel, hunched over, crunching on ice, and listening intently to the person speaking. Multi-tasking, he simultaneously flips through the pages he’s set on the table in front of him, and takes his pen and scribbles something across the page: a revision in the text. Back to listening, pulling his right foot across his left knee, a glance out over the room to see who is there, before glancing down at another page and posing the pen for another revision.

One can only imagine what revisions he might have made for this edition of Cruising Utopia. The challenge we faced in writing this foreword is that a foreword or introduction assumes an anterior stance, with the authors and readers positioned before the text. But as we stand in the author’s stead, introducing the text by meditating on revisions that Muñoz cannot make, we do so because we introduce him in the time after his death.

If we have never been queer, as Muñoz famously asserts throughout the text, then there is a degree to which we are always standing before queer loss. This is the nature of queer grief. It is informed by life lived after the historical accumulation of queer deaths: a collection of losses that have taught us to know (because our survival depends upon this knowledge) that we are also standing before losses that have yet to come.

Queer grief is characterized by the simultaneity of grieving those we have loved and lost, alongside mourning for a queerness and the forms of queer life that we have not yet known and are still yet to lose. Lingering on Muñoz’s handwritten notes and imagining the types of revisions he might have made is a way of inhabiting the incommensurable simultaneity of before and after. It is to perform within the reparative matrix of queer temporality proposed by Muñoz’s teacher, Eve Sedgwick: “Because the [reparative] reader has room to realize that the future may be different from the present, it is also possible for her to entertain such profoundly painful, profoundly relieving, ethically crucial possibilities as that the past, in turn, could have happened differently from the way it actually did.”2 Throughout Cruising Utopia, Muñoz mines the past for glimmers of utopian potential that are rich with the possibility of a past that “could have happened differently from the way that it actually did.” He invites us to put these glimmers to work, both as we cast a negative or critical picture of the insufficiencies of the present, but also as we undertake the work of hoping for, rehearsing, dreaming, and charting news paths toward different and queerer futures.

Alexandra T. Vazquez, Muñoz’s student, writes that “our teachers leave behind care instructions for any and all kinds of arrivals and departures.”3 The students of Cruising Utopia (past, present, and future) might thus approach the text as an instruction manual for how to have hope both before and after the death of the teacher. To read the text in the time after Muñoz’s death is to be reminded, once more, that queer of color life occurs within this out-of-joint temporality such that queer of color death is not a negating after to Cruising Utopia. Rather, the negation that is queer death presupposes the text’s entire critical enterprise (and was crucial to the opening of his first book, Disidentifications, with its extended critical account of racial melancholia).4 To approach the text from this vantage is to be confronted with the question that animates Muñoz’s address: How are we to have hope while living simultaneously in the before and after of queer heartbreak? The answer, far from veering away from the discourse of negation, requires a counter-intuitive turn toward the negative. For utopia, though it bears many positive qualities, also bears negation, as originating from the Greek for “no place” or “not place.” Utopia is not the antithesis of negation in this sense, so much as it is a critical means of working with and through negation. Queer utopia is the impossible performance of the negation of the negation.

Since its publication ten years ago, Cruising Utopia has had a wide impact across and beyond a range of academic fields. Appearing at the height of the controversy regarding the anti-relational thesis in queer studies, the book invited the field to turn the page on a somewhat stalled debate by rearticulating the critical negativity associated with anti-relationality in a new way. Without acceding to the assimilationist vision of queer futures that underpinned homonormativity, it performed a negative dialectic that nevertheless expressed a politics of hope: “Here the negative becomes the resource for a certain mode of queer utopianism.”5 The audacious opening move of the book, to declare that we are “not yet” queer, drew on the critical utopianism of the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch as much as it was in dialogue with a still-expanding literature on queer temporality, whose interlocutors included Sedgwick, Carolyn Dinshaw, Jack Halberstam, and Elizabeth Freeman.6

Throughout Cruising Utopia, Muñoz presumes and builds upon the queer of color critique pioneered in his first book, Disidentifications. And, as with Disidentifications, a key reason for Cruising Utopia’s wide influence has been its astounding archive. The book moves promiscuously and enthusiastically across its sources in order to braid together the “no-longer-conscious” of queer world-making with the “not-yet-here” of critical utopianism. No doubt, the richly described worlds of the text stand in some tension with the tradition of negative utopianism he draws upon. For Bloch, and especially his interlocutor Adorno, utopian thought is first and foremost a negation; Bloch even characterizes the hope that inspirits utopian thinking as “the determined negation of that which continually makes the opposite of the hoped-for object possible.”7 It is through drawing out this almost apophatic concept of hope and of utopia that Muñoz is able ingeniously to reframe queer cruising. As one alert reviewer of the first edition noticed, cruising is a way of moving with “no specific destination”; the ultimate goal is “to get lost [. . .] in webs of relationality and queer sociality”8 Cruising, that is to say, is as much the method of the book as is critical utopianism.

After Muñoz’s death, his friend and colleague Barbara Browning issued a call for people to inscribe the following passage from the book’s opening paragraph in a paradigmatic location of queer cruising, the bathroom stall: “Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this 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 word, and ultimately new worlds.”9 People sporadically performed the act in bathrooms or other public spaces (including a bathroom in the department where Muñoz taught), sometimes posting a photo of the transgression (or of the encounter with its written trace) to social media. It circulated in other ways as well: a group of queer activists designed and distributed stickers with the passage printed across Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds (an installation of balloons discussed in the book’s eighth chapter). And in a statement to the Windy City Times discussing her gender transition, the film director Lilly Wachowski wrote: “I have a quote in my office . . . by José Muñoz given to me by a good friend. I stare at it in contemplation sometimes trying to decipher its meaning but the last sentence resonates: ‘Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality for another world.’”10

The popularity and circulation of this sentiment—which pits futurity against the present—is reflective of the general reception of Cruising Utopia since its publication, which draws upon and emphasizes the text’s positive elaborations on queerness, hope, and futurity by positioning them against the (negating) poverty of the present. As Muñoz insists throughout the book, “The present is not enough. It is impoverished and toxic for queers and other people who do not feel the privilege of majoritarian belonging, normative tastes, and ‘rational’ expectations.”11 But along these very lines, an overemphasis on futurity, a flat rejection of the present, and an over-romanticization of the past risk eliding Muñoz’s nuanced insistence on the political (if not revolutionary) dimension of a queer utopian imaginary as a negative dialectic.

Muñoz warned us against disappearing wholly into futurity since “one cannot afford” to simply “turn away from the present.” The present demands our ethical consideration and the task at hand is not to refuse the present altogether, but rather to maneuver from the present’s vantage point at the crossroads of life that is lived after catastrophe (as may be the case with queer, black, and brown life) and simultaneously before it. The utopian impulse yields the idealist power of the utopian imaginary to offer a negative critique of the present and past (framing the insufficiencies of both) while opening up different avenues through which we might construct alternative possibilities for queerness’s future beyond the limited options that are presently before us. That we are standing before the possibility, even likelihood, of hope’s disappointment does not so much negate the principle of hope as confirm it.

Throughout Cruising Utopia, Muñoz insists that “hope and disappointment operate within a dialectical tension in this notion of queer utopia.”12 The utopian imaginary is understood to be an act of failure in the face of a stultifying regime of pragmatism and normativity: “Utopia’s rejection of pragmatism is often associated with failure. And . . . utopianism represents a failure to be normal.”13 Queerness, blackness, brownness, minoritarian becoming, and the utopian imaginary thus resonate with each other as they all cohere around a certain “failure to be normal,” unwilling or unable to submit to the pragmatic dictates of majoritarian being. This failure, which is situated both after and before defeat does not counter-intuitively confirm the totality of defeat, however, so much as it opens up queer avenues for other potentials to flicker in (and out) of being.

Bloch described hope’s failure as the ontological grounds on which hope is defined: “It too can be, and will be, disappointed; indeed, it must be so, as a matter of honor, or else it would not be hope.” That hope will be disappointed, and fail us, is not its negation but its condition of possibility. When the acute failures and dangers of the present (of “normal”, “straight,” “white,” or “capitalist” time) threaten us, we turn to the utopian imaginary in order to activate queer and minoritarian ways of being in the world and being-together. We do so to survive the shattering experience of living within an impossible present, while charting the course for a new and different future.

The frequent and even necessary disappointment of hope is due to an incommensurability: things do not line up; loved objects (whether persons, theories, or social movements) let us down. Theories about identities and politics frequently miss actually existing subjects in their complexity, messiness, and plurality. To paraphrase Muñoz’s powerful concluding paragraph in “Hope in the Face of Heartbreak,” however, this missed encounter, this incommensurability, far from disqualifying queer of color critique or cultural production, is instead the very condition—however blasted and painful it can sometimes feel—of our being-with others. Hope may not be commensurate to reality; our hopeful actions may not produce—may not ever produce once and for all—the hoped-for end. But this prizing of the incommensurate over the equivalent is a queer angle of vision, a queer ethics for living through the gaps between what we need and what we get, what we allow ourselves to want and what we can survive and transform in the now.

The value and the challenge of the incommensurable are the focus of another essay published in this expanded edition of Cruising Utopia, “Race, Sex, and the Incommensurate: Gary Fisher with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.” In this essay, too, we can see Muñoz clarifying arguments he first made in Cruising Utopia. The focus of this essay, which was first published in Queer Futures: Reconsidering Ethics, Activism, and the Political, edited by Elahe Haschemi Yekani, Eveline Kilian, and Beatrice Michaelis, proleptically figures this foreword: Muñoz is writing about the collaboration between Fisher and Sedgwick. Fisher, like Muñoz, was one of Sedgwick’s graduate students (Fisher at Berkeley, Muñoz at Duke). When Fisher died in 1994, too young and “ahead of his time,” as the saying goes, Sedgwick took on the task of editing and publishing a collection of his short stories and poems, Gary in Your Pocket (1996). Muñoz is interested in the difficult reception of this text, and what it can tell us about “a kind of queer politics of the incommensurable”—an incommensurability characterized by differential power dynamics (advisor and student), race (Fisher’s blackness and Sedgwick’s whiteness), and gender. But he is equally referring to Fisher’s and Sedgwick’s collaboration and a communism begun in life, continued after the death of one of them, living on in their readers—known, anticipated, never imagined—after the death of all.

This mode of communism was anticipatory, but also material. Muñoz understood it as manifest, or performed, within the lived experiences of queers of color and in the brown commons. In “Race, Sex, and the Incommensurate,” he illustrates this mode of communism (as he did in Cruising Utopia) through stories about relationships between incommensurably different types of beings (here, Sedgwick and Fisher) as well as the aesthetic example (Fisher’s short story “Arabesque”). This commons was an experience of, in Muñoz’s words, “a dynamic that partially transpires under the sign of ‘queer of color,’ that is routinely misread by the lens of a politics of equivalence, but that becomes newly accessible as a sharing (out) of a nonequivalent, incommensurable, and incalculable sense of queerness.” This theorization of the queer of color commons anticipates the turn in his final works toward describing a brown commons. There, he was attending to the way certain racialized people (primarily Latinx, but not solely) are made to be brown through “global and local forces [that] constantly attempt to degrade their value and diminish their verve. But they are also brown insofar as they smolder with a life and persistence; they are brown because brown is a common color shared by a commons that is of and for the multitude.”14 This brown commons, like the mode of queer of color communism depicted in the essay on Sedgwick and Fisher, is “an example of collectivity with and through the incommensurable.”

As editors, we find ourselves incommensurate to the task of completing his work, even as we recognize that this form of adjacency was precisely what he sought to theorize in some of his very last writings on the concept of being singular plural. Some interpret this concept as a pretty but vague synonym for something like “community,” but community was a normative, even hegemonic term, of which Muñoz remained consistently skeptical. More than any actually existing collectivity in the here and now, his reconsideration of the ethics of Sedgwick’s being with Fisher leads to a proposal that we think of queer relationality as incommensurate with itself. His work, and our work on his work, point us to a spacing out in time—futures, pasts, and presents—in which we may not yet be queer, but can nonetheless orient ourselves to queerness’s horizon.





CRUISING UTOPIA





Acknowledgments


THIS BOOK HAS been in the works for over ten years. I cannot hope to properly acknowledge all the people who have been supportive of the writing and research that went into these pages. I have presented the writing that became these chapters at seemingly countless universities, museums, performance spaces, and conferences. At these various institutions many audiences listened to this work and engaged in beneficial ways. Queer friendship has proven to be the condition of possibility for imagining what queerness can and should mean. The actual relational circuits I am lucky enough to find myself belonging to whet my desire for future collectivity.

I have had the gift of extraordinary research assistance. Joshua Chambers-Letson has invested so much of his own energy and intelligence in this book. Sujay Pandit has been indispensable in my completing this project. The manuscript benefited from the attention of Julia Steinmetz and Chelsea Adewunmi. So many excellent students have proven to be such great interlocutors for this book as it emerged. This list will be woefully incomplete: Hypatia Vourloumis, Jeanne Vacarro, Frank Leon Roberts, Sandra Ruiz, Katie Brewer-Ball, Eser Selen, Tina Majkowski, Karen Jaime, Ellen Cleghorne, Beth Stinson, Alex Pittman, Lydia Brawner, Roy Peréz, Albert Laguna, Andre Carrington, Leticia Alvardo, Anna Fischer, Jonathan Mullins, Ronak Kapadia, Stephanie Weiss, and Justin Leroy. One of the greatest rewards in teaching is when your former students become your colleagues and friends: there are no better examples of this in my life than Christine Balance, Ricardo Montez, and Alexandra Vazquez. Also in that category is Shane Vogel, who also gave me great feedback on this volume. I teach in a relatively small department that I have chaired for the past few years, and I am grateful for the climate of mutual support and respect achieved in the Department of Performance Studies, Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Colleagues like Barbara Browning, Karen Shimakawa, Richard Schechner, André Lepecki, Diana Taylor, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblet, Allen Weiss, Anna Deavere Smith, Deborah Kapchan, Tavia Nyong’o, and Ann Pellegrini make institutional life rewarding. Ann has been a coeditor of the series this book appears in, and I could never have anticipated enjoying such a fun and harmonious working relationship. I cannot begin to express properly my gratitude to the staff at Performance Studies who enable my work as a chair, a faculty member, and a scholar. Thank you Noel Rodriguez, Patty Jang, and Laura Elena Fortes for your extreme competence and good humor. Many friends outside of Performance Studies at NYU need to be thanked for their contributions to the texture of my life and thinking. The first to be mentioned is Lisa Duggan, who has been a staunch ally, loving friend, and brilliant interlocutor. Other friends include Anna McCarthy, Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, Gayatri Gopinath, Ana Dopico, Phillip Brian Harper, and Carolyn Dinshaw.

The three scholars who have read this book for the press in different drafts offered me welcomed engagement. Elizabeth Freeman and I met each other as precocious graduate students on the conference circuit, and I see in her work some of the best thinking of my second-generation queer theory cohort. Judith Halberstam has simply been an ideal colleague and reader. She is also an amazing friend. I feel privileged to have the brilliant Fred Moten as a friend, comrade, and interlocutor. My editor, Eric Zinner, read this book with great care and skill. Ciara McLaughlin and Emily Park have been also been extremely helpful. A grant from the Tisch Dean’s Faculty Development Award has helped me include color images in this book. I am especially grateful to Marvin Taylor and Ann Butler at the Fales Library, New York University.

John Andrews showed up in the middle of this writing project. He has responded to my work with equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism. He has been a perfect reader and the very best company I could have asked for. My other great companions during the writing of this book have been my princess bulldogs. The late great Lady Bully showed me the grandeur of companion-species utopias, and Dulce Maria is herself the sturdy embodiment of the good life. My family are amazingly supportive. My brother Alex’s support is very touching. My cousin Albert strolled into my everyday life quite unexpectedly and has become a lovely presence, helping me watch the Northern Front. Sam Green is my kindred utopian spirit; his work and our bond inspire me. I am fortunate to know Jennifer Doyle, who has responded to my life and work with so much love, generosity, and intelligence. I owe a great debt to Kevin McCarty for helping me glimpse utopia. Luke Dowd has been my friend forever, and I continue to learn from his work and find beauty there. Tony Just’s images have also provided necessary aesthetic pleasure. Nao Bustamante is simply awesome. Her friendship and art mean the world to me. Time spent over the years with Jonathan Flatley has been extremely rewarding. Nick Terry’s friendship is treasured. I have enjoyed getting to know and write about My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alex Segade), Kalup Linzy, and Dynasty Handbag (Jibz Cameron). An incomplete list of scholars, artists, and collaborators who have read this work, pushed these ideas, or generally engaged me include Lauren Berlant, Ann Cvetkovich, Ricardo Ortíz, Carla Freccero, Licia Fiol-Mata, Rebecca Schneider, Henry Abelove, Michael Moon, José Quiroga, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, Alina Troyano/Carmelita Tropicana, Ela Troyano, Ana Margaret Sanchez, Karen Tongson, Carlos Carujo, David Román, Anjali Arondekar, Patricia Clough, Jasbir Puar, Michael Cobb, Josh Kun, Heather Lukes, Molly McGarry, George Haggerty, Gavin Butt, Dominic Johnson, Vaginal Davis, Janet Jacobsen, Kathleen McHugh, Chon Noriega, Eric Lott, Cindy Katz, Donald Pease, Michael Wang, Juana María Rodríguez, Rebecca Sumner Burgos, Coco Fusco, Abe Weintraub, and Shari Frilot. My foundational friendship with Antonio Viego makes this work and so much more possible. Guinevere Turner has kept things real in the most hallucinatory ways. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick passed as I finished this book. She has been my great friend and mentor. Her gentle touch and luminous inspiration is everywhere for me.





Introduction


Feeling Utopia


A map of the world that does not include utopia is not worth glancing at.

—Oscar Wilde



QUEERNESS IS NOT yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel 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 this 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 a longing that propels us onward, beyond romances of the negative and toiling in the present. Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing. Often we can glimpse the worlds proposed and promised by queerness in the realm of the aesthetic. The aesthetic, especially the queer aesthetic, frequently contains blueprints and schemata of a forward-dawning futurity. Both the ornamental and the quotidian can contain a map of the utopia that is queerness. Turning to the aesthetic in the case of queerness is nothing like an escape from the social realm, insofar as queer aesthetics map future social relations. Queerness is also a performative because it is not simply a being but a doing for and toward the future. Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.

That is the argument I make in Cruising Utopia, significantly influenced by the thinking and language of the German idealist tradition emanating from the work of Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. An aspect of that line of thought is concretized in the critical philosophy associated with the Frankfurt School, most notably in the work of Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse. Those three thinkers within the Marxist tradition have all grappled with the complexities of the utopian. Yet the voice and logic that most touches me, most animates my thinking, is that of the philosopher Ernst Bloch.

More loosely associated with the Frankfurt School than the aforementioned philosophers, Bloch’s work was taken up by both liberation theology and the Parisian student movements of 1968. He was born in 1885 to an assimilated Jewish railway employee in Ludwigshafen, Germany. During World War II, Bloch fled Nazi Germany, eventually settling for a time in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After the war Bloch returned to East Germany, where his Marxian philosophy was seen as too revisionary. At the same time he was derided for his various defenses of Stalinism by left commentators throughout Europe and the United States. He participated in the intellectual circles of Georg Simmel and, later, Max Weber. His friendship and sometime rivalries with Adorno, Benjamin, and Georg Lukács are noted in European left intellectual history.1 Bloch’s political inconsistencies and style, which has been described as both elliptical and lyrical, have led Bloch to an odd and uneven reception. Using Bloch for a project that understands itself as part of queer critique is also a risky move because it has been rumored that Bloch did not hold very progressive opinions on issues of gender and sexuality.2 These biographical facts are beside the point because I am using Bloch’s theory not as orthodoxy but instead to create an opening in queer thought. I am using the occasion and example of Bloch’s thought, along with that of Adorno, Marcuse, and other philosophers, as a portal to another mode of queer critique that deviates from dominant practices of thought existing within queer critique today. In my estimation a turn to a certain critical idealism can be an especially useful hermeneutic.

For some time now I have been working with Bloch’s three-volume philosophical treatise The Principle of Hope.3 In his exhaustive book Bloch considers an expanded idea of the utopian that surpasses Thomas More’s formulation of utopias based in fantasy. The Principle of Hope offers an encyclopedic approach to the phenomenon of utopia. In that text he discusses all manner of utopia including, but not limited to, social, literary, technological, medical, and geographic utopias. Bloch has had a shakier reception in the U.S. academy than have some of his friends and acquaintances—such as Benjamin. For me, Bloch’s utility has much to do with the way he theorizes utopia. He makes a critical distinction between abstract utopias and concrete utopias, valuing abstract utopias only insofar as they pose a critique function that fuels a critical and potentially transformative political imagination.4 Abstract utopias falter for Bloch because they are untethered from any historical consciousness. Concrete utopias are relational to historically situated struggles, a collectivity that is actualized or potential. In our everyday life abstract utopias are akin to banal optimism. (Recent calls for gay or queer optimism seem too close to elite homosexual evasion of politics.) Concrete utopias can also be daydreamlike, but they are the hopes of a collective, an emergent group, or even the solitary oddball who is the one who dreams for many. Concrete utopias are the realm of educated hope. In a 1961 lecture titled “Can Hope Be Disappointed?” Bloch describes different aspects of educated hope: “Not only hope’s affect (with its pendant, fear) but even more so, hope’s methodology (with its pendant, memory) dwells in the region of the not-yet, a place where entrance and, above all, final content are marked by an enduring indeterminacy.”5 This idea of indeterminacy in both affect and methodology speaks to a critical process that is attuned to what Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben describes as potentiality.6 Hope along with its other, fear, are affective structures that can be described as anticipatory.

Cruising Utopia’s first move is to describe a modality of queer utopianism that I locate within a historically specific nexus of cultural production before, around, and slightly after the Stonewall rebellion of 1969. A Blochian approach to aesthetic theory is invested in describing the anticipatory illumination of art, which can be characterized as the process of identifying certain properties that can be detected in representational practices helping us to see the not-yet-conscious.7 This not-yet-conscious is knowable, to some extent, as a utopian feeling. When Bloch describes the anticipatory illumination of art, one can understand this illumination as a surplus of both affect and meaning within the aesthetic. I track utopian feelings throughout the work of that Stonewall period. I attempt to counteract the logic of the historical case study by following an associative mode of analysis that leaps between one historical site and the present. To that end my writing brings in my own personal experience as another way to ground historical queer sites with lived queer experience. My intention in this aspect of the writing is not simply to wax anecdotally but, instead, to reach for other modes of associative argumentation and evidencing. Thus, when considering the work of a contemporary club performer such as Kevin Aviance, I engage a poem by Elizabeth Bishop and a personal recollection about movement and gender identity. When looking at Kevin McCarty’s photographs of contemporary queer and punk bars, I consider accounts about pre-Stonewall gay bars in Ohio and my personal story about growing up queer and punk in suburban Miami. Most of this book is fixated on a cluster of sites in the New York City of the fifties and sixties that include the New York School of poetry, the Judson Memorial Church’s dance theater, and Andy Warhol’s Factory. Cruising Utopia looks to figures from those temporal maps that have been less attended to than O’Hara and Warhol have been. Yet it seems useful to open this book by briefly discussing moments in the work of both the poet and the pop artist for the purposes of illustrating the project’s primary approach to the cultural and theoretical material it traverses. At the center of Cruising Utopia there is the idea of hope, which is both a critical affect and a methodology.

Bloch offers us hope as a hermeneutic, and from the point of view of political struggles today, such a critical optic is nothing short of necessary in order to combat the force of political pessimism. It is certainly difficult to argue for hope or critical utopianism at a moment when cultural analysis is dominated by an antiutopianism often functioning as a poor substitute for actual critical intervention. But before addressing the question of antiutopianism, it is worthwhile to sketch a portrait of a critical mode of hope that represents the concrete utopianism discussed here.

Jill Dolan offers her own partially Blochian-derived mode of performance studies critique in Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater.8 Dolan’s admirable book focuses on live theater as a site for “finding hope.” My approach to hope as a critical methodology can be best described as a backward glance that enacts a future vision. I see my project as resonating alongside a group of recent texts that have strategically displaced the live object of performance. Some texts that represent this aspect of the performance studies project include Gavin Butt’s excellent analysis of the queer performative force of gossip in the prewar New York art world,9 Jennifer Doyle’s powerful treatise on the formative and deforming force of “sex objects” in performance and visual studies,10 and Fred Moten’s beautiful In the Break, with its emphasis on providing a soaring description of the resistance of the object.11 I invoke those three texts in an effort to locate my own analysis in relation to the larger interdisciplinary project of performance studies.

The modern world is a thing of wonder for Bloch, who considers astonishment to be an important philosophical mode of contemplation.12 In a way, we can see this sense of astonishment in the work of both Warhol and O’Hara. Warhol was fond of making speech acts such as “wow” and “gee.” Although this aspect of Warhol’s performance of self is often described as an insincere performance of naiveté, I instead argue that it is a manifestation of the utopian feeling that is integral to much of Warhol’s art, speech, and writing. O’Hara, as even his casual readers know, was irrepressibly upbeat. What if we think of these modes of being in the world—Warhol’s liking of things, his “wows” and “gees,” and O’Hara’s poetry being saturated with feelings of fun and appreciation—as a mode of utopian feeling but also as hope’s methodology? This methodology is manifest in what Bloch described as a form of “astonished contemplation.”13 Perhaps we can understand the campy fascination that both men had with celebrity as being akin to this sense of astonishment. Warhol’s blue Liz Taylors or O’Hara’s perfect tribute to another starlet, in the poem “Lana Turner Has Collapsed,” offer, through glamour and astonishment, a kind of transport or a reprieve from what Bloch called the “darkness of the lived instant.”14 Astonishment helps one surpass the limitations of an alienating presentness and allows one to see a different time and place. Much of each artist’s work performs this astonishment in the world. O’Hara is constantly astonished by the city. He celebrates the city’s beauty and vastness, and in his work one often finds this sense of astonishment in quotidian things. O’Hara’s poems display urban landscapes of astonishment. The quotidian object has this same affective charge in Warhol’s visual work. Bloch theorized that one could detect wish-landscapes in painting and poetry.15 Such landscapes extend into the territory of futurity.

Let us begin by considering Warhol’s Coke Bottle alongside O’Hara’s poem “Having a Coke with You”:


Having a Coke with You

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne

or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona

partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian

partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt

partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches

partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary

it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still

as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them I look

at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world

except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick

which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time

and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism

just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me

and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank

or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully

as the horse

it seems they were all cheated of some marvellous experience which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it16



This poem tells us of a quotidian act, having a Coke with somebody, that signifies a vast lifeworld of queer relationality, an encrypted sociality, and a utopian potentiality. The quotidian act of sharing a Coke, consuming a common commodity with a beloved with whom one shares secret smiles, trumps fantastic moments in the history of art. Though the poem is clearly about the present, it is a present that is now squarely the past and in its queer relationality promises a future. The fun of having a Coke is a mode of exhilaration in which one views a restructured sociality. The poem tells us that mere beauty is insufficient for the aesthete speaker, which echoes Bloch’s own aesthetic theories concerning the utopian function of art. If art’s limit were beauty—according to Bloch—it is simply not enough.17 The utopian function is enacted by a certain surplus in the work that promises a futurity, something that is not quite here. O’Hara first mentions being wowed by a high-art object before he describes being wowed by the lover with whom he shares a Coke. Here, through queer-aesthete art consumption and queer relationality the writer describes moments imbued with a feeling of forward-dawning futurity.

The anticipatory illumination of certain objects is a kind of potentiality that is open, indeterminate, like the affective contours of hope itself. This illumination seems to radiate from Warhol’s own depiction of Coke bottles. Those silk screens, which I discuss in chapter 7, emphasize the product’s stylish design line. Potentiality for Bloch is often located in the ornamental. The ornament can be seen as a proto-pop phenomenon. Bloch warns us that mechanical reproduction, at first glance, voids the ornamental. But he then suggests that the ornamental and the potentiality he associates with it cannot be seen as directly oppositional to technology or mass production.18 The philosopher proposes the example of a modern bathroom as this age’s exemplary site to see a utopian potentiality, the site where nonfunctionality and total functionality merge.19 Part of what Warhol’s study of the Coke bottle and other mass-produced objects helps one to see is this particular tension between functionality and nonfunctionality, the promise and potentiality of the ornament. In the Philosophy of Andy Warhol the artist muses on the radically democratic potentiality he detects in Coca-Cola.


What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.20



This is the point where Warhol’s particular version of the queer utopian impulse crosses over with O’Hara’s. The Coke bottle is the everyday material that is represented in a different frame, laying bare its aesthetic dimension and the potentiality that it represents. In its everyday manifestation such an object would represent alienated production and consumption. But Warhol and O’Hara both detect something else in the object of a Coke bottle and in the act of drinking a Coke with someone. What we glean from Warhol’s philosophy is the understanding that utopia exists in the quotidian. Both queer cultural workers are able to detect an opening and indeterminacy in what for many people is a locked-down dead commodity.



Drawings, 1950s, Still-Life (Flowers), ballpoint ink on Manila paper, 16 ¾ × 13 ⅞ in. (42.5 × 35.2 cm), Andy Warhol (artist), The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., © 2008 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/ARS, New York.



Agamben’s reading of Aristotle’s De Anima makes the crucial point that the opposition between potentiality and actuality is a structuring binarism in Western metaphysics.21 Unlike a possibility, a thing that simply might happen, a potentiality is a certain mode of nonbeing that is eminent, a thing that is present but not actually existing in the present tense. Looking at a poem written in the 1960s, I see a certain potentiality, which at that point had not been fully manifested, a relational field where men could love each other outside the institutions of heterosexuality and share a world through the act of drinking a beverage with each other. Using Warhol’s musing on Coca-Cola in tandem with O’Hara’s words, I see the past and the potentiality imbued within an object, the ways it might represent a mode of being and feeling that was then not quite there but nonetheless an opening. Bloch would posit that such utopian feelings can and regularly will be disappointed.22 They are nonetheless indispensable to the act of imaging transformation.

This fear of both hope and utopia, as affective structures and approaches to challenges within the social, has been prone to disappointment, making this critical approach difficult. As Bloch would insist, hope can be disappointed. But such disappointment needs to be risked if certain impasses are to be resisted. A certain affective reanimation needs to transpire if a disabling political pessimism is to be displaced. Another way of understanding Bloch’s notion of hope is briefly to invoke the work of J. L. Austin. In How to Do Things with Words Austin displaces the true/false dichotomy that structures Western metaphysics with the much more conceptually supple distinction between the felicitous and infelicitous.23 Austin’s terms are derived from understanding the everyday speech act. Felicitous speech acts are linguistic articulations that do something as well as say something. But as Austin maps out the life of the felicitous speech act we see all the things that eventually go wrong and the failure or infelicity that is built into the speech act. Bloch’s hope resonates with Austin’s notion of the felicitous insofar as it is always eventually disappointed. The eventual disappointment of hope is not a reason to forsake it as a critical thought process, in the same way that even though we can know in advance that felicity of language ultimately falters, it is nonetheless essential.

The moment in which I write this book the critical imagination is in peril. The dominant academic climate into which this book is attempting to intervene is dominated by a dismissal of political idealism. Shouting down utopia is an easy move. It is perhaps even easier than smearing psychoanalytic or deconstructive reading practices with the charge of nihilism. The antiutopian critic of today has a well-worn war chest of poststructuralism pieties at her or his disposal to shut down lines of thought that delineate the concept of critical utopianism. Social theory that invokes the concept of utopia has always been vulnerable to charges of naiveté, impracticality, or lack of rigor. While participating on the Modern Language Association panel titled “The Anti-Social Thesis in Queer Theory,” I argued for replacing a faltering antirelational mode of queer theory with a queer utopianism that highlights a renewed investment in social theory (one that calls on not only relationality but also futurity). One of my co-panelists responded to my argument by exclaiming that there was nothing new or radical about utopia. To some degree that is true, insofar as I am calling on a well-established tradition of critical idealism. I am also not interested in a notion of the radical that merely connotes some notion of extremity, righteousness, or affirmation of newness. My investment in utopia and hope is my response to queer thinking that embraces a politics of the here and now that is underlined by what I consider to be today’s hamstrung pragmatic gay agenda. Some critics would call this cryptopragmatic approach tarrying with the negative. I would not. To some degree this book’s argument is a response to the polemic of the “antirelation.” Although the antirelational approach assisted in dismantling an anticritical understanding of queer community, it nonetheless quickly replaced the romance of community with the romance of singularity and negativity. The version of queer social relations that this book attempts to envision is critical of the communitarian as an absolute value and of its negation as an alternative all-encompassing value. In this sense the work of contemporary French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy and his notion of “being singular plural”24 seems especially important. For Nancy the postphenomenological category of being singular plural addresses the way in which the singularity that marks a singular existence is always coterminously plural—which is to say that an entity registers as both particular in its difference but at the same time always relational to other singularities. Thus, if one attempts to render the ontological signature of queerness through Nancy’s critical apparatus, it needs to be grasped as both antirelational and relational.

Antisocial queer theories are inspired by Leo Bersani’s book Homos, in which he first theorized the so-called thesis of antirelationality.25 I have long believed that the antirelational turn in queer studies was a partial response to critical approaches to a mode of queer studies that argued for the relational and contingent value of sexuality as a category. Many critics have followed Bersani’s antirelational turn, but arguably none as successfully as Lee Edelman in his book No Future.26 I have great respect for No Future, and Edelman’s earlier book offers an adroit reading of James Baldwin’s Just Above My Head.27 No Future is a brilliant and nothing short of inspiring polemic. Edelman clearly announces his mode of argumentation as being in the realm of the ethical, and this introduction is an anticipation of a reanimated political critique and should be read as an idiosyncratic allegiance to the polemical force of his argument and nothing like an easy dismissal. His argument and the seductive sway of the antirelational thesis energizes my argument in key ways.

Yet I nonetheless contend that most of the work with which I disagree under the provisional title of “antirelational thesis” moves to imagine an escape or denouncement of relationality as first and foremost a distancing of queerness from what some theorists seem to think of as the contamination of race, gender, or other particularities that taint the purity of sexuality as a singular trope of difference. In other words, antirelational approaches to queer theory are romances of the negative, wishful thinking, and investments in deferring various dreams of difference.

To some extent Cruising Utopia is a polemic that argues against antirelationality by insisting on the essential need for an understanding of queerness as collectivity. I respond to Edelman’s assertion that the future is the province of the child and therefore not for the queers by arguing that queerness is primarily about futurity and hope. That is to say that queerness is always in the horizon. I contend that if queerness is to have any value whatsoever, it must be viewed as being visible only in the horizon. My argument is therefore interested in critiquing the ontological certitude that I understand to be partnered with the politics of presentist and pragmatic contemporary gay identity. This mode of ontological certitude is often represented through a narration of disappearance and negativity that boils down to another game of fort-da.

What then does a Blochian approach offer instead of a powerful critical impulse toward negation? Bloch found solid grounds for a critique of a totalizing and naturalizing idea of the present in his concept of the no-longer-conscious.28 A turn to the no-longer-conscious enabled a critical hermeneutics attuned to comprehending the not-yet-here. This temporal calculus performed and utilized the past and the future as armaments to combat the devastating logic of the world of the here and now, a notion of nothing existing outside the sphere of the current moment, a version of reality that naturalizes cultural logics such as capitalism and heteronormativity. Concomitantly, Bloch also sharpens our critical imagination with his emphasis on hope. An antiutopian might understand himself as being critical in rejecting hope, but in the rush to denounce it, he would be missing the point that hope is spawned of a critical investment in utopia, which is nothing like naive but, instead, profoundly resistant to the stultifying temporal logic of a broken-down present. My turn to Bloch, hope, and utopia is a challenge to theoretical insights that have been stunted by the lull of presentness and various romances of negativity and have thus become routine and resoundingly anticritical. This antiutopian theoretical faltering is often nothing more than rote invocation of poststructuralist pieties. The critical practices often summarized as poststructuralism inform my analysis as much as any other source from which I draw. The corrective I wish to make by turning to utopia is attuned to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s critique of the way in which paranoid reading practices have become so nearly automatic in queer studies that they have, in many ways, ceased to be critical.29 Antiutopianism in queer studies, which is more often than not intertwined with antirelationality, has led many scholars to an impasse wherein they cannot see futurity for the life of them.30 Utopian readings are aligned with what Sedgwick would call reparative hermeneutics.31

Although Cruising Utopia routinely rejects what I describe as a “certain romance of negativity,” I do not want to dismiss the negative tout court. Indeed I find some theories of the negative to be important resources for the thinking of a critical utopianism. For example, Paolo Virno elegantly describes the negation of the negation in Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation. Virno resists an oppositional logic that clouds certain deployments of negativity32 and instead speaks to what he calls a negation that functions as a “modality of the possible,” “a regression to the infinite.”33 Virno sees a potentiality in negative affects that can be reshaped by negation and made to work in the service of enacting a mode of critical possibility. Virno’s theory of the negation of negation productively lines up with Shoshana Felman’s theory of radical negativity: “Radical negativity (or saying ‘no’) belongs neither to negation, nor to opposition nor to correction (‘normalization’), nor to contradiction (of positive and negative, normal and abnormal, ‘serious’ and ‘unserious,’ ‘clarity’ and ‘obscurity’)—it belongs precisely to scandal: to the scandal of their nonopposition.”34 Again, my argument with the celebration of negation in antirelational queer critique is its participation in what can only be seen as a binary logic of opposition. Radical negativity, like the negation of negation, offers us a mode of understanding negativity that is starkly different from the version of the negative proposed by the queer antirelationist. Here the negative becomes the resource for a certain mode of queer utopianism.

Once again I turn to a literary example with the hope of describing the performative force of that particular queer utopian writing project. A paragraph from Eileen Myles’s extraordinary memoir of coming into queer consciousness in the 1960s and ‘70s is especially salient for my purposes. Chelsea Girls is a ribald text full of fucking, drinking, and other modes of potentially lyrical self-destruction. Near the end of this testament to the aching madness of lesbian desire, a powerful yet diminished figure briefly enters the frame. At this point the young poet has become the part-time caretaker for the great queer voice of the New York School of poetry—James Schuyler. Myles attended to the old and infirmed Schuyler in his residential room at the legendary Chelsea Hotel.


From his bed he ran the show. It’s a talent a few people I know have, mostly Scorpios which he was. You’d be hesitatingly starting your story, or like a cartoon character running right in when you realized the long wharf you were taking a short run on, his attention was not there. It was hopeless. The yellow in his room became brighter, the air became crinkly your throat became parched—you felt you had simply become a jerk. The presence of his attention was so strong, so deeply passive—such a thing to bathe your tiny desperate words in that when it was gone you had to stop and hover in silence again. Then he might begin, or perhaps you could come up with something else once the brittleness, the void passed. You had to stay silent for a very long time somedays. He was like music, Jimmy was, and you had to be like music too to be with him, but understand in his room he was conductor. He directed the yellow air in room 625. It was marvelous to be around. It was huge and impassive. What emerged in the silence was a strong picture, more akin to a child or a beautiful animal.35



In the spirit of the counterpolemical swerve that this introduction has been taking I want to suggest that this passage could be seen as representing an anti-antirelationality that is both weirdly reparative and a prime example of the queer utopianism for which I am arguing. Anti-antiutopianism is a phrase that I borrow from Fredric Jameson and index when marking this passage in Myles as anti-antirelational.36 Anti-antiutopianism is not about a merely affirmative or positive investment in utopia. Gay and lesbian studies can too easily snap into the basically reactionary posture of denouncing a critical imagination that is not locked down by a shortsighted denial of anything but the here and now of this moment. This is the antiutopian stance that characterizes the antirelational turn. The prime examples of queer antirelationality in Bersani’s Homos, Edelman’s No Future, and all the other proponents of this turn in queer criticism are scenes of jouissance, which are always described as shattering orgasmic ruptures often associated with gay male sexual abandon or self-styled risky behavior. Maybe the best example of an anti-antirelational scene that I could invoke would be another spectacular instance of sexual transgression. The moments of pornographic communal rapture in Samuel Delany’s work come most immediately to mind.37 But instead I choose to focus on this relational line between a young white lesbian and an older gay white man because it does the kind of crossing that antirelational theorists are so keen on eschewing or ignoring.

Myles is paid to take care of Schuyler. On the level of political economy this relationship is easy to account for. But if we think of Delany’s championing of interclass contact within a service economy and the affective surplus it offers, the passage opens up quite beautifully.38 The younger poet notes a sense of “hopelessness” and feeling like a jerk as she works to take care of the older man, whose attention waxes and wanes. The relationality is not about simple positivity or affirmation. It is filled with all sorts of bad feelings, moments of silence and brittleness. But beyond the void that stands between the two poets, there is something else, a surplus that is manifest in the complexity of their moments of contact. Through quotidian service-economy interactions of care and simple conversation the solitary scene of an old man and his young assistant is transformed. A rhythm that is not simple relationality or routine antirelationality is established. This is the music that is Jimmy, this is the music of Eileen, this is the hum of their contact. This is Jimmy directing “the yellow air in room 625.” It is Eileen watching, listening. It is the sense of contemplative awe that I have identified in Warhol’s “wows” and O’Hara manic upbeat poetic cadence. It is the mood of reception in which Bloch asks us to participate. It is the being singular plural of queerness. It is like the radical negativity that Shoshana Felman invokes when trying to describe the failure that is intrinsic in J. L. Austin’s mapping of the performative. There is a becoming both animal and child that Myles ultimately glimpses in an infirmed Schuyler. In this passage we see the anticipatory illumination of the utopian canceling the relentless shadow play of absence and presence on which the antirelational thesis rests. The affective tone of this passage lights the way to the reparative.

This book has been written in nothing like a vacuum. I have written beside many beloved collaborators, interlocutors, and comrades. And while these friends have been a source of propulsion for me, they have expressed qualms about some of the theoretical moves I make in Cruising Utopia. For example, some friends have asked me why I have chosen to work with the more eccentric corpus of Bloch and not Benjamin’s more familiar takes on time, history, or loss. I have also been asked how I could turn to a text such as Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization after Michel Foucault famously critiqued that work in History of Sexuality, Volume 1. One reader of an earlier draft expressed concern that I take time to talk about Bloch in the context of Marxian thought but do not contextualize Heidegger in relation to Nazism. I have not had any simple or direct answers for these thoughtful readers. Their concerns have made me aware of a need to further situate this project. I have resisted Foucault and Benjamin because their thought has been well mined in the field of queer critique, so much so that these two thinkers’ paradigms now feel almost tailor-made for queer studies. I have wanted to look to other sites of theoretical traction. Bloch was noted as not being especially progressive about gender and sexuality, Heidegger’s eventual political turn was of course horrific, and Marcuse’s insistence on avowedly liberationist rhetoric may seem like something of a throwback. A fairly obvious reading of Foucault’s writing on the repressive hypothesis39 would perceive it as a direct response to Eros and Civilization. Although Marcuse’s version of surplus repression may potentially make reprehension the basic constitutive element for thinking about sex, it nonetheless offers a liberationist and critically utopian take on subjugation. Marcuse and Heidegger were not radical homosexuals like Foucault or romantic melancholics like Benjamin, with whom queers today can easily identify, but my turn to a certain modality of Marxian and phenomenological thought is calibrated to offer new thought images for queer critique, different paths to queerness.

Let me momentarily leave Bloch aside and instead look to the problematic figures of Marcuse and his onetime mentor Heidegger. My interest in their work (and Bloch’s, for that matter) pivots from their relationship to the tradition of German idealism. Marcuse’s Marxism sought out a philosophical concreteness that, in a provisional fashion, resonated with phenomenology and specifically with the interest of the Heidegger of Being and Time in pursuing a concrete philosophy. Both strains of thought rejected German idealism’s turn to abstraction and inwardness. Both craved a practical philosophy that described the world in historically salient fashion. Marcuse turned to Heidegger as a philosophical influence and a source during what was described as the crisis in Marxism in Germany during the 1920s. At that point a mode of scientism dominated Marxism and led to an antiphilosophical and mechanistic approach to Marx. Marcuse and Heidegger’s relationship famously faltered as Marcuse joined the Frankfurt School and Heidegger eventually joined the Nazi Party on May 1, 1933. Although we can now look at 1928’s Being and Time and locate philosophical models that were perhaps even then politically right-wing, it is precisely this relational and political failure on which I nonetheless want to dwell. Marcuse saw in Heidegger’s ontology a new route to better describe human existence. He was taken with his mentor’s notion of historicity and what it could potentially do for what was then a Marxism in duress. Much later, Marx’s 1844 manuscripts were discovered, and the concrete philosophical approach understood as historical materialism became fully manifest. Marcuse looked back and realized that the phenomenological version of historicity was not necessary. Although I too have a great disdain for what Heidegger’s writing became, I nonetheless look on it as failure worth knowing, a potential that faltered but can be nonetheless reworked in the service of a different politics and understanding of the world. The queer utopianism I am espousing would even look back on Heidegger’s notion of futurity in Being and Time and attach itself to aspects of that theory of temporality. In Heidegger’s version of historicity, historical existence in the past allowed for subjects to act with a mind toward “future possibilities.” Thus, futurity becomes history’s dominant principle. In a similar fashion I think of queerness as a temporal arrangement in which the past is a field of possibility in which subjects can act in the present in the service of a new futurity. Is my thesis ultimately corrupted because it finds some kind of historical resonance with the now politically reprehensible Heidegger? Readers can clearly glimpse the trace of Marcuse’s renounced mentor in his later writing, and indeed that problematic influence is part of the theoretical force of his left philosophy. To draw from such sources and ultimately make them serve another project, one that the author himself would have quickly denounced, serves as a critical engagement—critique as willful disloyalty to the master. Heidegger is therefore not the theoretical protagonist of my argument; more nearly, he is an opportunity and occasion to think queerness or queerly. Heidegger is then philosophical master and abject political failure. Thus, we see the thematic of virtuosity and failure that I describe in chapter 10 as queerness’s way.

Thinking beyond the moment and against static historicisms is a project that is deeply sympathetic to Judith Halberstam’s work on queer temporality’s relation to spatiality, most immediately the notion of straight time. It also draws on Carla Freccero’s notion of fantasmatic historiography, Elizabeth Freeman’s theory of temporal drag, Carolyn Dinshaw’s approach to “touching the past,” Gayatri Gopinath’s theorizing of the time and place of queer diaspora as an “impossible desire,” and Jill Dolan’s work on the utopian in performance.40 Along those lines, although this writing project is not always explicitly about race, it does share much political urgency with a vibrant list of scholars working on the particularities of queers of color and their politics.41 I have spent some time arguing against the antirelational move in queer theory. Queer feminist and queer of color critiques are the powerful counterweight to the antirelational. I situate my work squarely in those quarters.

Certainly Lauren Berlant’s work on the politics of affect in public life has had a structuring influence on this project. In a 1994 essay, titled “’68 or Something,” Berlant explained the article’s project in a way that resonates with much of the powerful writing that has followed it: “This essay is written in favor of refusing to learn the lessons of history, of refusing to relinquish utopian practice, of refusing the apparently inevitable movement from tragedy to farce that has marked so much of the analysis of social movements generated post ’68.”42 The refusal of empiricist historiography and its denouncement of utopian longing has been an important cue for this project. Berlant’s insistence on the refusal of normative affect reminds me of the Great Refusal for which Marcuse called years earlier. Cruising Utopia is a critical move that has been forged in relation to the work of Berlant and other scholars with whom I have had the luxury to work under the banner of the Public Feelings Group.43 That theoretical project has had an important activist component thanks to the inspired work of the Chicago Feel Tank.44 The very idea that we can even venture to feel utopian in the here and now has been nourished through my fortunate association with this collegial cohort.

Ultimately, this book offers a theory of queer futurity that is attentive to the past for the purposes of critiquing a present. This mode of queer critique depends on critical practices that stave off the failures of imagination that I understand as antirelationality and antiutopianism in queer critique. The mode of “cruising” for which this book calls is not only or even primarily “cruising for sex.” I do see an unlimited potentiality in actual queer sex, but books of criticism that simply glamorize the ontology of gay male cruising are more often than not simply boring. In this book I do nonetheless distill some real theoretical energy from historical accounts of fucking and utopia, such as John Giorno’s journals (chapter 2) and Samuel Delany’s memoir, The Motion of Light and Water (chapter 3). That may have something to with the historical texture those texts provide. Indeed this book asks one to cruise the fields of the visual and not so visual in an effort to see in the anticipatory illumination of the utopian. If, as indicated by the famous quotation from Oscar Wilde that appears in the epigraph, “a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at,” then affective and cognitive maps45 of the world that a critically queer utopianism can create, maps that do include utopia, need to be attended to in a fashion that indeed resembles a kind of politicized cruising. In the place of various exhausted theoretical stances Cruising Utopia not only asks readers to reconsider ideas such as hope and utopia but also challenges them to feel hope and to feel utopia, which is to say challenges them to approach the queer critique from a renewed and newly animated sense of the social, carefully cruising for the varied potentialities that may abound within that field.





1


Queerness as Horizon


Utopian Hermeneutics in the Face of Gay Pragmatism


for John

I BEGIN THIS chapter on futurity and a desire that is utopian by turning to a text from the past—more specifically, to those words that emanate from the spatiotemporal coordinate Bloch referred to as the no-longer-conscious, a term that attempts to enact a more precise understanding of the work that the past does, what can be understood as the performative force of the past. A 1971 issue of the gay liberation journal Gay Flames included a manifesto by a group calling itself Third World Gay Revolution. The text, titled “What We Want, What We Believe,” offered a detailed list of demands that included the abolition of capital punishment, the abolishment of institutional religion, and the end of the bourgeois family. The entire list of sixteen demands culminated with a request that was especially radical and poignant when compared to the anemic political agenda that dominates contemporary LGBT politics in North America today.


16.) We want a new society—a revolutionary socialist society. We want liberation of humanity, free food, free shelter, free clothing, free transportation, free health care, free utilities, free education, free art for all. We want a society where the needs of the people come first.

We believe that all people should share the labor and products of society, according to each one’s needs and abilities, regardless of race, sex, age or sexual preferences. We believe the land, technology and the means of production belong to the people, and must be shared by the people collectively for the liberation of all.1



When we consider the extremely pragmatic agenda that organizes LGBT activism in North America today, the demand “we want a new society” may seem naive by the present’s standards. Many people would dismiss these demands as impractical or merely utopian. Yet I contend that there is great value in pulling these words from the no-longer-conscious to arm a critique of the present. The use of “we” in this manifesto can be mistakenly read as the “we” implicit in the identity politics that emerged after the Third World Gay Revolution group. Such a reading would miss the point. This “we” does not speak to a merely identitarian logic but instead to a logic of futurity. The “we” speaks to a “we” that is “not yet conscious,” the future society that is being invoked and addressed at the same moment. The “we” is not content to describe who the collective is but more nearly describes what the collective and the larger social order could be, what it should be. The particularities that are listed—“race, sex, age or sexual preferences”—are not things in and of themselves that format this “we”; indeed the statement’s “we” is “regardless” of these markers, which is not to say that it is beyond such distinctions or due to these differences but, instead, that it is beside them. This is to say that the field of utopian possibility is one in which multiple forms of belonging in difference adhere to a belonging in collectivity.

Such multiple forms of belonging-in-difference and expansive critiques of social asymmetries are absent in the dominant LGBT leadership community and in many aspects of queer critique. One manifesto from today’s movement that seems especially representative of the anemic, shortsighted, and retrograde politics of the present is “All Together Now (A Blueprint for the Movement),”2 a text written by pro-gay-marriage lawyer Evan Wolfson that appeared on his website, freedomtomarry.org. Wolfson’s single-minded text identifies the social recognition and financial advantages offered by traditional marriage pacts as the key to what he calls “freedom.” Freedom for Wolfson is mere inclusion in a corrupt and bankrupt social order. Wolfson cannot critique the larger ideological regime that represents marriage as something desirable, natural, and good. His assimilationist gay politics posits an “all” that is in fact a few: queers with enough access to capital to imagine a life integrated within North American capitalist culture. It goes almost without saying that the “all” invoked by the gay lawyer and his followers are normative citizen-subjects with a host of rights only afforded to some (and not all) queer people. Arguments against gay marriage have been articulated with great acumen by Lisa Duggan and Richard Kim.3 But it is Wolfson’s invocation of the term freedom that is most unsettling.

Wolfson and his website’s rhetoric degrade the concept of freedom. Homonormative cultural and political lobbyists such as Wolfson have degraded the political and conceptual force of concepts such as freedom in the same way that the current political regime of the United States has degraded the term liberation in the case of recent Middle Eastern foreign policy. I invoke Wolfson here not so much as this chapter’s problem or foil but merely as a recent symptom of the erosion of the gay and lesbian political imagination. Wolfson represents many homonormative interests leading the contemporary LGBT movement toward the goal of “naturalizing” the flawed and toxic ideological formation known as marriage. The aping of traditional straight relationality, especially marriage, for gays and lesbians announces itself as a pragmatic strategy when it is in fact a deeply ideological project that is hardly practical. In this way gay marriage’s detractors are absolutely right: gay marriage is not natural—but then again, neither is marriage for any individual.

A similar but more nuanced form of what I am referring to as gay pragmatic thought can be seen in Biddy Martin’s work, especially her psychoanalytically inspired diagnosis that queer critique suffers from an androcentric bias in which queerness presents itself as the “extraordinary” while at the same time fleeing the charge of being “ordinary.” Being ordinary and being married are both antiutopian wishes, desires that automatically rein themselves in, never daring to see or imagine the not-yet-conscious. This line of thought that I am identifying as pragmatic is taken from its vernacular register. I am not referring to the actual philosophical tradition of American pragmatism of Charles Peirce, William James, or John Dewey. But the current gay political strategy I am describing does share an interest in empiricism with that school. Gay pragmatic organizing is in direct opposition to the idealist thought that I associate as endemic to a forward-dawning queerness that calls on a no-longer-conscious in the service of imagining a futurity.

The not-quite-conscious is the realm of potentiality that must be called on, and insisted on, if we are ever to look beyond the pragmatic sphere of the here and now, the hollow nature of the present. Thus, I wish to argue that queerness is not quite here; it is, in the language of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, a potentiality.4 Alain Badiou refers to that which follows the event as the thing-that-is-not-yet-imagined,5 and in my estimation queerness too should be understood to have a similar valence. But my turn to this notion of the not-quite-conscious is again indebted to Bloch and his massive three-volume text The Principle of Hope.6 That treatise, both a continuation and an amplification of German idealist practices of thought, is a critical discourse—which is to say that it does not avert or turn away from the present. Rather, it critiques an autonaturalizing temporality that we might call straight time. Straight time tells us that there is no future but the here and now of our everyday life.7 The only futurity promised is that of reproductive majoritarian heterosexuality, the spectacle of the state refurbishing its ranks through overt and subsidized acts of reproduction. In No Future, Lee Edelman advises queers that the future is “kid stuff.”8 Although I believe that there is a lot to like about Edelman’s polemic—mostly its disdain for the culture of the child—I ultimately want to speak for a notion of queer futurity by turning to Bloch’s critical notion of utopia.

It is equally polemical to argue that we are not quite queer yet, that queerness, what we will really know as queerness, does not yet exist. I suggest that holding queerness in a sort of ontologically humble state, under a conceptual grid in which we do not claim to always already know queerness in the world, potentially staves off the ossifying effects of neoliberal ideology and the degradation of politics brought about by representations of queerness in contemporary popular culture.

A posterior glance at different moments, objects, and spaces might offer us an anticipatory illumination of queerness. We cannot trust in the manifestations of what some people would call queerness in the present, especially as embodied in the pragmatic debates that dominate contemporary gay and lesbian politics. (Here, again, I most pointedly mean U.S. queers clamoring for their right to participate in the suspect institution of marriage and, maybe worse, to serve in the military.) None of this is to say that there are not avatars of a queer futurity, both in the past and the present, especially in sites of cultural production. What I am suggesting is that we gain a greater conceptual and theoretical leverage if we see queerness as something that is not yet here. In this sense it is useful to consider Edmund Husserl, phenomenology’s founder, and his invitation to look to horizons of being.9 Indeed to access queer visuality we may need to squint, to strain our vision and force it to see otherwise, beyond the limited vista of the here and now.

To critique an overarching “here and now” is not to turn one’s face away from the everyday. Roland Barthes wrote that the mark of the utopian is the quotidian.10 Such an argument would stress that the utopian is an impulse that we see in everyday life. This impulse is to be glimpsed as something that is extra to the everyday transaction of heteronormative capitalism. This quotidian example of the utopian can be glimpsed in utopian bonds, affiliations, designs, and gestures that exist within the present moment. Turning to the New York School of poetry, a moment that is one of the cultural touchstones for my research, we can consider a poem by James Schuyler that speaks of a hope and desire that is clearly utopian. The poem, like most of Schuyler’s body of work, is clearly rooted in an observation of the affective realm of the present. Yet there is an excess that the poet also conveys, a type of affective excess that presents the enabling force of a forward-dawning futurity that is queerness. In the poem “A photograph,” published in 1974 in the collection Hymn to Life, a picture that resides on the speaker’s desk sparks a recollection of domestic bliss.


A photograph

Shows you in a London

room; books, a painting,

your smile, a silky

tie, a suit. And more.

It looks so like you

and I see it every day

(here, on my desk)

which I don’t you. Last

Friday was grand.

We went out, we came

back, we went wild. You

slept. Me too. The pup

woke you and you dressed

and walked him. When

you left, I was sleeping.

When I woke there was

just time to make the

train to a country dinner

and talk about ecstasy.

Which I think comes in

two sorts: that which you

Know “Now I am ecstatic”

Like my strange scream

last Friday night. And

another kind, that you

know only in retrospect:

“Why, that joy I felt

and didn’t think about

when his feet were in

my lap, or when I looked

down and saw his slanty

eyes shut, that too was

ecstasy. Nor is there

necessarily a downer from

it” Do I believe in

the perfectibility of

man? Strangely enough,

(I’ve known unhappiness enough) I

do. I mean it.

I really do believe

future generations can

live without the intervals of anxious

fear we know between our

bouts and strolls of

ecstasy. The struck ball

finds the pocket. You

smile some years back

in London, I have

known ecstasy and calm:

haven’t you too? Let’s

try to understand, my

handsome friend who

wears his nose awry.11



The speaker remembers the grandness of an unspectacular Friday in which he and his addressee slept in and then scrambled to catch a train to a dinner out in the country. He attempts to explain the ecstasy he felt that night, indicating that one moment of ecstasy, a moment he identifies as being marked both by self-consciousness and obliviousness, possesses a potentially transformative charge. He then considers another moment of ecstasy in retrospect, a looking back at a no-longer-conscious that provides an affective enclave in the present that staves off the sense of “bad feelings” that mark the affective disjuncture of being queer in straight time.

The moment in the poem of deeper introspection—beginning “Do I believe in / the perfectibility of /man?”—is an example of a utopian desire inspired by queer relationality. Moments of queer relational bliss, what the poet names as ecstasies, are viewed as having the ability to rewrite a larger map of everyday life. When “future generations” are invoked, the poet is signaling a queerness to come, a way of being in the world that is glimpsed through reveries in a quotidian life that challenges the dominance of an affective world, a present, full of anxiousness and fear. These future generations are, like the “we” invoked in the manifesto by the Third World Gay Revolution group, not an identitarian formulation but, instead, the invocation of a future collectivity, a queerness that registers as the illumination of a horizon of existence.

The poem speaks of multiple temporalities and the affective mode known as ecstasy, which resonates alongside the work of Martin Heidegger. In Being and Time Heidegger reflects on the activity of timeliness and its relation to ekstatisch (ecstasy), signaling for Heidegger the ecstatic unity of temporality—Past, Present, and Future.12 The ecstasy the speaker feels and remembers in “A photograph” is not consigned to one moment. It steps out from the past and remarks on the unity of an expansive version of temporality; hence, future generations are invoked. To know ecstasy in the way in which the poem’s speaker does is to have a sense of timeliness’s motion, to understand a temporal unity that is important to what I attempt to describe as the time of queerness. Queerness’s time is a stepping out of the linearity of straight time. Straight time is a self-naturalizing temporality. Straight time’s “presentness” needs to be phenomenologically questioned, and this is the fundamental value of a queer utopian hermeneutics. Queerness’s ecstatic and horizonal temporality is a path and a movement to a greater openness to the world.

It would be difficult to mistake Schuyler’s poem for one of Frank O’Hara’s upbeat reveries. O’Hara’s optimism is a contagious happiness within the quotidian that I would also describe as having a utopian quality. Schuyler’s poetry is not so much about optimism but instead about a hope that is distinctly utopian and distinctly queer. The poem imagines another collective belonging, an enclave in the future where readers will not be beset with feelings of nervousness and fear. These feelings are the affective results of being outside of straight time. He writes from a depressive position, “(I’ve known un- / happiness enough),” but reaches beyond the affective force-field of the present.

Hope for Bloch is an essential characteristic of not only the utopian but also the human condition. Thus, I talk about the human as a relatively stable category. But queerness in its utopian connotations promises a human that is not yet here, thus disrupting any ossified understanding of the human. The point is to stave off a gay and lesbian antiutopianism that is very much tainted with a polemics of the pragmatic rights discourse that in and of itself hamstrings not only politics but also desire. Queerness as utopian formation is a formation based on an economy of desire and desiring. This desire is always directed at that thing that is not yet here, objects and moments that burn with anticipation and promise. The desire that propels Schuyler’s “A photograph” is born of the no-longer-conscious, the rich resonance of remembrance, distinct pleasures felt in the past. And thus past pleasures stave off the affective perils of the present while they enable a desire that is queer futurity’s core.

Queerness is utopian, and there is something queer about the utopian. Fredric Jameson described the utopian as the oddball or the maniac.13 Indeed, to live inside straight time and ask for, desire, and imagine another time and place is to represent and perform a desire that is both utopian and queer. To participate in such an endeavor is not to imagine an isolated future for the individual but instead to participate in a hermeneutic that wishes to describe a collective futurity, a notion of futurity that functions as a historical materialist critique. In the two textual examples I have employed we see an overt utopianism that is explicit in the Third World Gay Revolution manifesto, and what I am identifying as a utopian impulse is perceivable in Schuyler’s poetry. One requires a utopian hermeneutic to see an already operative principle of hope that hums in the poet’s work. The other text, the manifesto, does another type of performative work; it does utopia.

To “read” the performative, along the lines of thought first inaugurated by J. L. Austin, is implicitly to critique the epistemological.14 Performativity and utopia both call into question what is epistemologically there and signal a highly ephemeral ontological field that can be characterized as a doing in futurity. Thus, a manifesto is a call to a doing in and for the future. The utopian impulse to be gleaned from the poem is a call for “doing” that is a becoming: the becoming of and for “future generations.” This rejection of the here and now, the ontologically static, is indeed, by the measure of homonormative codes, a maniacal and oddball endeavor. The queer utopian project addressed here turns to the fringe of political and cultural production to offset the tyranny of the homonormative. It is drawn to tastes, ideologies, and aesthetics that can only seem odd, strange, or indeed queer next to the muted striving of the practical and normalcy-desiring homosexual.

The turn to the call of the no-longer-conscious is not a turn to normative historical analysis. Indeed it is important to complicate queer history and understand it as doing more than the flawed process of merely evidencing. Evidencing protocols often fail to enact real hermeneutical inquiry and instead opt to reinstate that which is known in advance. Thus, practices of knowledge production that are content merely to cull selectively from the past, while striking a pose of positivist undertaking or empirical knowledge retrieval, often nullify the political imagination. Jameson’s Marxian dictate “always historicize”15 is not a methodological call for empirical data collection. Instead, it is a dialectical injunction, suggesting we animate our critical faculties by bringing the past to bear on the present and the future. Utopian hermeneutics offer us a refined lens to view queerness, insofar as queerness, if it is indeed not quite here, is nonetheless intensely relational with the past.

The present is not enough. It is impoverished and toxic for queers and other people who do not feel the privilege of majoritarian belonging, normative tastes, and “rational” expectations. (I address the question of rationalism shortly). Let me be clear that the idea is not simply to turn away from the present. One cannot afford such a maneuver, and if one thinks one can, one has resisted the present in favor of folly. The present must be known in relation to the alternative temporal and spatial maps provided by a perception of past and future affective worlds.

Utopian thinking gets maligned for being naively romantic. Of course, much of it has been naive. We know that any history of actualized utopian communities would be replete with failures. No one, other than perhaps Marx himself, has been more cognizant about this fact than Bloch. But it is through this Marxian tradition, not beside or against it, that the problem of the present is addressed. In the following quotation we begin to glimpse the importance of the Marxian tradition for the here and now.


Marxism, above all, was first to bring a concept of knowledge into the world that essentially refers to Becomeness, but to the tendency of what is coming up; thus for the first time it brings future into our conceptual and theoretical grasp. Such recognition of tendency is necessary to remember, and to open up the No-Longer-Conscious.16



Thus we see Bloch’s model for approaching the past. The idea is not to attempt merely to represent it with simplistic strokes. More nearly, it is important to call on the past, to animate it, understanding that the past has a performative nature, which is to say that rather than being static and fixed, the past does things. It is in this very way that the past is performative. Following a Blochian thread, it seems important to put the past into play with the present, calling into view the tautological nature of the present. The present, which is almost exclusively conceived through the parameters of straight time, is a self-naturalizing endeavor. Opening up a queer past is enabled by Marxian ideological tactics. Bloch explains that


Marxism thus rescued the rational core of utopia and made it concrete as well as the core of the still idealistic tendency of dialectics. Romanticism does not understand utopia, not even its own, but utopia that has become concrete understands Romanticism and makes inroads into it, in so far as archaic material in its archetypes and work, contain a not yet voiced, undischarged element.17



Bloch invites us to look to this no-longer-conscious, a past that is akin to what Derrida described as the trace. These ephemeral traces, flickering illuminations from other times and places, are sites that may indeed appear merely romantic, even to themselves. Nonetheless they assist those of us who wish to follow queerness’s promise, its still unrealized potential, to see something else, a component that the German aesthetician would call cultural surplus. I build on this idea to suggest that the surplus is both cultural and affective. More distinctly, I point to a queer feeling of hope in the face of hopeless heteronormative maps of the present where futurity is indeed the province of normative reproduction. This hope takes on the philosophical contours of idealism.

A queer utopian hermeneutic would thus be queer in its aim to look for queer relational formations within the social. It is also about this temporal project that I align with queerness, a work shaped by its idealist trajectory; indeed it is the work of not settling for the present, of asking and looking beyond the here and now. Such a hermeneutic would then be epistemologically and ontologically humble in that it would not claim the epistemological certitude of a queerness that we simply “know” but, instead, strain to activate the no-longer-conscious and to extend a glance toward that which is forward-dawning, anticipatory illuminations of the not-yet-conscious. The purpose of such temporal maneuvers is to wrest ourselves from the present’s stultifying hold, to know our queerness as a belonging in particularity that is not dictated or organized around the spirit of political impasse that characterizes the present.

Jameson has suggested that for Bloch the present is provincial.18 This spatialization of time makes sense in relation to the history of utopian thought, most famously described as an island by Thomas More. To mark the present as provincial is not to ridicule or demean the spots on queerness’s map that do not signify as metropolitan. The here and now has an opposite number, and that would be the then and there. I have argued that the then that disrupts the tyranny of the now is both past and future. Along