jose-esteban-munoz

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

Jose Esteban Munoz

Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity

2009

We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality….The future is queerness’ domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see the future beyond the quagmire of the present….We must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds….Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.
—  José Muñoz, 1967-2013
Jose Esteban Munoz, “Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity”
English | 2009-11-30 | ISBN: 0814757286, 0814757278 | 234 pages | PDF | 24.87 mb


The LGBT agenda for too long has been dominated by pragmatic issues like same-sex marriage and gays in the military. It has been stifled by this myopic focus on the present, which is short-sighted and assimilationist.

Cruising Utopia seeks to break the present stagnancy by cruising ahead. Drawing on the work of Ernst Bloch, José Esteban Muñoz recalls the queer past for guidance in presaging its future. He considers the work of seminal artists and writers such as Andy Warhol, LeRoi Jones, Frank O’Hara, Ray Johnson, Fred Herko, Samuel Delany, and Elizabeth Bishop, alongside contemporary performance and visual artists like Dynasty Handbag, My Barbarian, Luke Dowd, Tony Just, and Kevin McCarty in order to decipher the anticipatory illumination of art and its uncanny ability to open windows to the future.

In a startling repudiation of what the LGBT movement has held dear, Muñoz contends that queerness is instead a futurity bound phenomenon, a “not yet here” that critically engages pragmatic presentism. Part manifesto, part love-letter to the past and the future, Cruising Utopia argues that the here and now are not enough and issues an urgent call for the revivification of the queer political imagination.

Link

As queer of color analysis claims an interest in social formations, it locates itself within the mode of critique known as historical materialism. Since historical materialism has traditionally privileged class over other social relations, queer of color critique cannot take it up without revision, must not employ it without disidentification. If to disidentify means to “[recycle] and [rethink] encoded meaning, and “to use the code [of the majority] as raw material for representing a disempowered politics of positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture,” then disidentification resembles Louis Althusser’s rereading of historical materialism. Queer of color analysis disidentifies with historical materialism to rethink its categories and how they might conceal the materiality of race, gender, and sexuality. In this instance, to disidentify in no way means to discard.
— 

Roderick Ferguson, “Introduction: Queer of Color Critique, Historical Materialism, and Canonical Sociology,” Aberrations in Black: Towards a Queer of Color Critique, pg.5 (x)

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 that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing.
— 

José Esteban Muñoz,Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity

We are saddened to learn about the passing of theorist José Esteban Muñoz. Today we revisit his 2011 Bad at Sports interview and mourn the loss of such a great thinker –> http://bit.ly/1jqmrrW

On Radical Self-Care, Theatre, and The Failed Project of Being Good To One Another

I wrote this ‘manifesto’ for an academic conference called ATHE (Association for Theatre in Higher Education). Pardon the academic jargon. Feedback welcome.

            The fact is this: queer people of color are under siege in the contemporary neoliberal moment of post-raciality, homonormativity, and the continuing upward distribution of wealth. My research is a direct response to this. I theorize radical self-care. For me, radical self-care is a theatrical and activist performance praxis of affective and political sustainment for queer people of color that foregrounds, in its rehearsal and production processes, a collective, liberatory, analysis of race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, body size, nationality, and so forth. Within radical self-care, artivist performance suspends the structures of feelings associated with living through systemic inequality so that queer people of color might be healed and energized into direct collective action in the movement against such systems. Direct collective action is so crucial in this context because power is never voluntarily given away and a practice of self-care is nothing if it does not actively strive to dismantle the systems that necessitate it. My project confronts ableist and colonial neoliberal logics by privileging an ethic of interdependence and thus debunking the assumption that self-care necessarily implies an individual taking care of themselves by themselves. In short, radical self-care is a praxis of community care and collective action, we need each other and we need sustainable movements aimed at dismantling systemic oppression.

            Having thus briefly described my project and its ethics, I wish now to address one of the central ethical questions of my project and its implications for our work in the theatre: what does it mean to be good to one another? As a baseline, I believe that being good to one another means recognizing each other’s needs, accounting for them, and collectively ensuring that all of our needs are met. As such, truly being good to one another should be erotic as Audre Lorde describes the erotic. Goodness requires intimate communal knowledge and action. It requires the fullest possible understanding of the other and a refusal to turn away from them and their needs.

            Now, as theatre and performance makers, scholars, and spectators I am sure we have all heard some version of the following statement: ‘you can’t expect every performance to account for everyone or everything. There is no politically perfect performance!”  Of course, I couldn’t disagree with this statement more. We MUST expect every performance to account for everyone and everything. Let’s not get it twisted. The dismissal of political perfection in performance emerges from a white supremacist cisheteropatriarchal logic that would privilege neoliberal economies of theatrical production over the material and affective violences that such a statement inevitably does to marginalized communities, queer communities of color among them. This logic is lazy, and it is harmful. It says- 'there is no way that no one walks away from my show without being offended, so why worry about it?’

            Why worry about it: nobel peace prize winner Desmond Tutu says “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” If we put this quotation in conversation with the notion of politically perfect performance, it suggests that those of us who are not, to the best of our ability, actively and always using our performance practices to disrupt all forms systemic inequality and oppression have chosen the side of the oppressor and are especially complicit in systemic violence. No one in this room is innocent. We are not doing good enough. We must do better.

            But, how? What does this mean for our practice? This means that it is no longer appropriate to uncritically stage or restage stories with white straight male protagonists engaging in heteronormative narratives. We must, rather, center trans women, queer women, fat women, indigenous women, disabled women, black women and other women of color, yes, ALL WOMEN- on our stages and in our narratives. Furthermore, it is no longer enough to stage allegories and metaphors for racial and sexual justice without casting people of color and LGBTSTQIAGNC individuals. Make the metaphors explicit. It is also no longer enough to engage with theatrical production without being mindful, intentionally and simultaneously, of topics so broad as settler colonialism, prison abolition, reproductive justice, disability justice, accessibility and so forth. It is no longer okay, nor was it ever, to engage in rehearsal processes without an explicit and careful engagement with the identities of those in the rehearsal room and the identities at stake in the material being produced. To all of the many compelling critiques of identity politics, I respond thus: I am unwilling to let go of identity politics because identity politics are unwilling to let go of me.

            Now, of course, I understand the impossibility of the artivist dream that I’m describing. No matter how intentional and precise we are with the bodies, symbols and signs that we put on stage, we can’t control the way those signs will signifiy to an audience with diverse subject positions and relationships to power. We can’t. Singular performances yield multiple meanings, some inspiring and empowering, others dangerous and hurtful. This is the magnificent risk of our craft.

            What’s more, no matter how many books we read, how many ally trainings we participate in, or how sharp an analysis of power we think we have, we can never totally know one another. We will never have a complete knowledge of how not to hurt another human being. We can have a million conversations but I will never know what it feels like to live inside your body and the meanings that are attached to it. You can never truly know what it feels like to live inside my body and the meanings that are attached to it. And if we can never truly know one another, how can we ever truly be good to one another?

            The project of being good to one another is, ultimately, a failed project. But we must be good to one another; we must try and fail and try again and fail again and try forever more. A performance of political perfection is always already a performance of failure. The so-called politically perfect performance has all the color and distance of José Muñoz’s queer utopian horizon. We are not yet queer, we are not yet liberated, and therefore, every single performance we enact, whether on stage or in the everyday, must strive for political perfection, must move ALL of us closer to liberation. And we will fail- we know that we will fuck up and someone will get hurt-  but we must still do everything we can to battle collective ignorance and redistribute capital. A practice of radical self-care for queer people of color requires this collective commitment to failing better in order to flourish. Queer people of color deserve to flourish.

The Disidentifications of Vaginal Davis & José Esteban Muñoz

When I tell other artists I am studying performance art, they usually ask- “Like Guillermo Gomez-Peña?” But really, they should be asking me, “Like Vaginal Davis?” In the introduction to his book of essays, Disidentification: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (1999), José Esteban Muñoz describes disidentification as, “the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship” (Muñoz 4). But Muñoz also clarifies that disidentification doesn’t work for all, “At times, resistance needs to be pronounced and direct; on other occasions, queers of color and other minority subjects need to follow a conformist path if they hope to survive a hostile public sphere” (Muñoz 5). Muñoz is referring to his own early history when he dated white men in order to have access to a world he wouldn’t have had access to, otherwise. In his seminal queer black performance video, Tongues Untied (1989), Marlon Riggs describes his first white love as both, “a blessing and a curse.”

(Vaginal Davis wearing the bra from Pat Benatar’s early video. Photo credit Michele “Hell” Carr of Jabberjaw)

However, to relate disidentification simply to who one is dating, or making love to, would be  unjust to what the word can really signify- or how it can be used. As a young, closeted-gay, inner-city Chicano (we used the word Vato, back then) I was pressured to join a gang. Which is fine by me, my freshly pressed size-50 Dickies pants, and shaved head with one-foot rat tail hid the fact that I was a also a raging homosexual. I was the fiercest of the group, and nobody would have guessed my secrets- until much later, when my fashion got even more drag. Meanwhile, I had a friend who when you told him to, “Suck my Dick,” as an insult, he would get on his knees and yell, “Pull it out, let’s do this, don’t be a Pussy!” Both shocking and defeating his homophobic friends. That friend might as well have been a former incarnation of LA conceptual drag artist Vaginal Davis. In his essay, “‘The White to Be Angry’: Vaginal Creme Davis’s Terrorist Drag,” Muñoz discusses his affinity for punk rock music as a teen, despite the common homophobic and racist messages he already endured in real life. And how some people, such as Vaginal Davis, are able to not only be respected, but thrive in this environment- despite being a Black/Chicano who doesn’t look manly, feminine, or more importantly- white.

(Vaginal Davis reveals the secret to her pearly whites, Date/Source unknown)

Davis originally explored issues of blackness with her LA punk zine, Fertile La Toyah Jackson, and later her musical group Afro Sisters- which she fronted with two white girls as back-up dressed in extravagant afro’s reminiscent of Angela Davis and 60’s revolutionary Black fashion- whom which she borrowed her name. She also played with Latino conventions, with her music group Cholita! which is billed as the “female Menudo.” Quite ironic, when you consider that menudo is most commonly made by women- and demands more than 24-hours of slow-cooked attention. Davis describes this transition perfectly, “Vaginal emerged as a filtering of Angela through humor.” Which is where The White to Be Angry comes in. In that performance she played a black woman who has had both racial and gender reconstructive surgery to become a bearded, bald, white supremacist male. During her performance her layers are literally dropped off, revealing a man dressed as a “woman” within. Muñoz explains, “Her uses of humor and parody function as disidentificatory strategies whose effect on the dominant public sphere is that of a counterpublic terrorism” (Muñoz 100).

(Press Photo Head for: “Vaginal Davis, Beware the Holy Retarded Whore;" Photo by John Vlautin; styling and make-up Glen Meadmore; Gown by Rick Owens, 2002)

Suddenly, so much of what I do, so much of what I have lived- and artistically, so much of what I intend to produce and accomplish- makes more sense to me.  Muñoz “Disidentification” applies to me from my being the first in my huge Mexican-American family to attend graduate school, and my lovely white fiancé (who might as well be "Chicano”- an Irish gentleman who grew up Southern Baptist in rural Texas), to my elaborate, multilayered performances where I often portray a multitude of races, genders, characters to tell a story about my family history. But Davis’s performances, and Muñoz critical art theory- are opening up new avenues of thinking- what is next? How can I push the boundaries further; without myself, becoming complacent with satisfying the white majority (hello Portland, OR) around me? How can I stay “underground,” while also entertaining said audience? Sticking to parody and humor seems an excellent way for me to address these issues, because after all, they aren’t “issues” or problems to me; rather, they are different avenues of expressing myself as a queer, Chicano, performance artist. New layers added to my growing stories, characters and performances.

(Photo of José Esteban Muñoz at NYU; Muñoz passed on December 4th, 2013. He will be missed dearly, may he forever Rest in Peace.)

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.
—  Jose Esteban Munoz, Cruising Utopia
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.
—  jose esteban munoz, in cruising utopia