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
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

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)

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.)

Queer Utopia in the Shadow of Capital

It was with great sadness that I learned about the recent sudden death of the prominent queer theorist Jose Esteban Munoz. I had certainly heard of Munoz, even seen him give a talk, and read parts of Dissidentification but had not yet delved into his last major, and some would probably say defining now, book Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. It is a proudly polemical book and also just plain fun to read. In it Munoz insists again and again on the necessity of imagining utopia and the link between utopias and queerness.

On the first page he declares that “we are not yet queer,” and “queerness is not yet here.” Instead it belongs to the future, an ideality we may never touch. Like utopia, queerness is something that exists then and over there, in a not-present past or a not-yet-here future. The critical function of utopia for Munoz is the way it provokes us to critique are present conditions. Queerness as an utopia urges us to examine the current state of queer liberation, of the abandonment of even the language of liberation for pragmatic concerns of marriage and the military; in short, the homonormative decision to incorporate gay and lesbian lives into the kyriarchal capitalist structure instead of challenging it. The anger and sorrow Munoz feels over this detour in history is palpable and his method is to look back to queer moments in the past, mainly in the history of avant garde American art, as a way to imagine queer future utopias.

In reading Munoz I am not only struck by his keen critical intelligence and passion for queer liberation but also his concern for social justice in general. Munoz’s queer utopias often function to critique the contemporary gay rights movement but he never ignores the role capitalism plays in foreclosing the imagining of utopian futures. Indeed, my mind turned to Munoz while reading a recent lecture by Steven Shaviro on Accelerationism. Shaviro points out that in Marx’s view of capitalism its internal contradictions would someday become so great that they would necessarily tear capital apart, with the assistance of the communist movement. Yet, we are living in the time of greatest capitalist contradiction, to the point where capitalism is actively destroying any possible future for humans to even engage in the market, through the degradations of climate change.

It is not that there is any real technological impediment to this overcoming of capitalism - Shaviro points out that the real economic problem is not scarcity but abundance - but that there is no political organization to redistribute the productive forces of capitalism. Instead capitalist leaders insist that there is no alternative to capital, and so we are left with Mark Fisher’s concept of capitalist realism where capitalist ideology actively forecloses any real image of a post-capitalist future. The truly insidious part here is not only does capitalism foreclose the intellectual and artistic space to even imagine a future beyond it, but it also works to ensure that there will be no future to prove it wrong in the last instance!

In this situation it is all the more important to be bold in our imaginations of a post-capitalist, and utopian, world. This would seem to be one way of carrying on Munoz’s work, to imagine possible queer utopias. Interestingly, post-capitalist utopia may itself be quite queer. As Keynes puts it, in a society where all of our material conditions are met the real question will be how “to live wisely and agreeably and well.” This is a rather more expansive question than worrying where our food or shelter will come from. It is a question I can easily imagine Munoz dwelling on at length, looking for possibilities of an “agreeably” well-lived life in queer art and performance.

In a similar vein Marx wrote of a daily life where he would “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” Shaviro labels this a “19th-century aesthete view of self-fashioning” pursued not just by Marx and Keynes but also professional aesthetes like Oscar Wilde, William Morris, and other queer visionaries. Indeed, might not the post-capitalist utopia already be queer? In a society free of material want people could do as they want, creating new relations between people and things, cruising the world in ways intellectual, social, artistic, and sexual. The patriarchal family would not be necessary as a unit of production or control, nor perverse masculinities instantiated through the exchange of women. Capitalist fears of a post-work world may not just be a fear of losing their own power, but also a homophobic revulsion of a world that would unbound the linked meanings of work, masculinity, and heteronormativity.

In writing about utopia Munoz also emphasizes the importance of everyday utopias, the performance of actions and creations of spaces that gesture at the utopian. Munoz often identifies such moments in performance art and dance, queer drag shows, and other moments that disrupt the totality of straight time and heteronormative space. These moments gesture, in many of Munoz’s cases literally, at possible utopian worlds that would harbor and encourage queer intimacy and kinship. Aside from the space of performance, there’s two more spaces of everyday utopianism I would like to point out as an ending to this panegyric.

The first is tumblr itself, or more particularly some of the activities that take place on tumblr. Tumblr as company, and bought by yahoo, is already enmeshed in capitalist relations and indeed can only make profit off of the labor of its users. The labor of tumblr users is not merely a cryptic source of profit though, but in the variety of creativity and activity that can be found I think certain tumblr spaces gesture at utopian spaces of creative exchange. Whenever I take a look at, say, One Piece or Sleepy Hollow fandoms on tumblr I am awed at the amount of creative expression fans devote to their shows. While still acting out in the space of the market, fans articulate their own dreams and desires through various kins of self-expression, like fan art, fan fic, gif reactions, screenshots, tags, etc. If all this is done is the interstitial spaces outside work and school, then what creativity would be released in a post-work world? Through such tumblr fan communities I think it is possible to glimpse the potentials of utopias of creative expression and exchange.

The other everyday utopia I often witness and validate is the space of the liberal arts in higher education. Higher education itself of course is more and more financialized and commodified by the day. There should be no mistake in ignoring it as a battleground. Yet again in certain spaces, like the liberal arts college, I believe we can see potentials for utopia. Going back to the idea that the question of a post-work society is what exactly we will do with ourselves, one idea is to engage in creative economies while another is to turn the form of life itself into a kind of education. Not in the modern perverted form of endless degrees and endless debt, but instead as communities where people would teach and learn from each other what ever they desire, from criticism to bee-keeping. At its best this is what a liberal arts college should be, a space where students can engage in open learning free from the pressure of material wants and economic logic. Of course, most colleges and universities will not meet this standard but that is exactly what makes it utopic, worth imagining as Munoz would tell us. The queer utopia is not yet here, as now is Munoz, but that can only inspire us more to find it in the midst of our lives.

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
blog.lib.umn.edu
Disidentification by Jose Esteban Munoz

From a Queer Theory class, a page with some useful prompts and points about “disidentification”:

Disidentification is meant to be descriptive of 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.

Fleeting Feelings with Justin Vivian Bond, in “The Drift”

A Helix Critical Squad Review by Doug Keeler

Getting off is easy, staying still is hard.

– Justin Vivian Bond, “Wild Card”

Justin Vivian Bond knows how to subvert a performance, whether that performance is gender, a cabaret number, or a Brecht play.  And where traditional theater might aim to minimize disruptions in the performance (e.g. distressed divas, forgotten lines, sneezes in the audience), a Bond show delights in these breakdowns, and specializes in making them both entertaining and accessible.  Because after all, Bond loves performance, excels at it, and is rightfully famous for an improvisational instinct that shreds scripts and leaves audiences in a state of giddy shock.

Where v has previously done so through histrionics and hysteria, v’s cabaret show “The Drift” instead explores the softer disjunctures and dysphorias that defiantly emerge from a performance.  Using Tennessee Williams’ The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone as an entry point, “The Drift” elaborates upon these lonely, lucid breaks, and through v’s entrancing voice, challenges the audience to decorate otherwise unspectacular affects.  By decorating them, dressing them up in “jazz, poetry, and notions,” v produces an elongated sense of relief— like the feeling of flesh airing out after taking a bandage off a small, healed cut— that makes the show so, so soothing.

At its core, “The Drift” represents a determined act of self-care in response to the strict discipline of traditional theater.  (Bond spent this past winter enduring a starring role in Bertolt Brecht’s “A Man’s a Man” at Classic Stage Company.)  Swirling together source materials ranging from Tim and Jeff Buckley to the Landesmans’ The Nervous Set, the show serves to retrieve the pieces of Bond’s artistic voice that had been scattered and stashed away.  How fortunate that Justin Vivian Bond’s acts of self-care happen to also nourish and entertain v’s patrons, fans, and community!  It’s an awfully familiar challenge to reconcile caring for oneself and caring for one’s community, but v manages to do so with finesse, suggesting that perhaps the queer project of “world-making” can be less intimidating than it sounds.

A few months ago, I’d heard v speak at an event at NYU’s Performance Studies department.  Asked by the deeply missed José Esteban Muñoz what v thought of “the good life,” v began a verbose anecdote revolving around Karen Graham (The Estee Lauder Woman), fly-fishing, and striving to feel “serene.”  Justin Vivian’s reflections on the serene manifested similarly in “The Drift,” not as a resolution to be happy, but as a question of how to feel free and not feel empty, to drift and not drown.  Nowhere was this question (or anxiety) more directly felt than during Justin Vivian’s premiere of v’s new original song “Wild Card.”   The song’s soulful hook, “getting off is easy / staying still is hard,” captures Bond’s fear for a freneticism that must inevitably wane, whether in v’s love life or in v’s queer communities, a fear that we will not know how to feel or act or care when we lose our wildness.  Through “The Drift,” v experiments with performing a queer self that is voluntarily relaxed, rather than being filed down by force.  And that wildness hasn’t been forfeited completely either, but crucially inspires us to stay afloat.

Perhaps my favorite moment of “The Drift” is when Bond describes jumping into a nearby boat with a handsome man and drifting down a dark river, drunk on whiskey and high on “something that if you mixed with color you could use as makeup.”  Effortlessly, v sutures the queer survival strategies of getting high and getting pretty, an echo of Muñoz’s utopian prescription to “[take] ecstacy with one another, in as many ways as possible…”  In this fashion, the performance ornaments a series of sad and bad feelings, fleeting feelings that make themselves known as much in the wistful camp of Tennesse Williams’ The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone as in the nostalgic whimsy of Bambi Lake’s “Viking Dan.”

“The Drift” challenges its audience to find glamor in not only the hysterical breaks of v’s performances, but also in more mellow modes of distress, wherein we might feel in-between, adjacent, or adrift.  Justin Vivian’s rendition of Jeff Buckley’s “So Real” perfectly presents this challenge, as v’s voice washes over the room with Buckley’s haunting moans before frantically vocalizing the song’s instrumental break.  Aside from v’s vocal performance being simply stunning, it supplied a break in the performance that differed from the breakdowns that characterized Bond’s “Kiki and Herb” shows.  Rather than take audiences to the heights or depths of feeling, the breakdowns of “So Real,” and the emotional narrative of “The Drift” in its entirety, take us toward its horizon.  This alternative affective journey is crucial to what makes “The Drift” so enjoyable, because it allows Bond to be unpredictable, vulnerable, and nostalgic while still radiating with an incontrovertible sense of hope.

__________________________________

The Drift. Joe’s Pub, March 13 - April 11, 2014. Written & Performed by Justin Vivian Bond, Directed by Scott Wittman, Music Directed by Matt Ray. 

Photo by Earl Dax

Forwarded to UT Students by Ann Cvetkovich who said “I feel the need for  public feelings around this giant loss.”  The original author is Ann Pellegrini.

The Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality mourns the passing of our brilliant and beloved colleague and friend, José Esteban Muñoz (1967-2013).

José Muñoz was Professor of Performance Studies at NYU, and a long-time intellectual collaborator and frequent speaker at CSGS events. He is the author of two influential books: Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (University of Minnesota Press, 1999) and Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (NYU Press 2009); the co-editor of “Sexual Cultures,” a queer studies book series at NYU Press, co-editor of the volumes Everynight Life: Culture and Dance in Latin/o America (Duke University Press, 1997) and Pop Out: Queer Warhol (Duke University Press, 1996); as well as the author of dozens of influential articles, book chapters, and essays in journals, anthologies, and artist catalogues.

Through his teaching, writing, and deeply loving practices of friendship and care, José Muñoz forged capacious and still-expanding queer worlds. Those who have already encountered his work—and those for whom that deep and challenging pleasure awaits—now carry this torch, his torch. In Cruising Utopia José offered a “flight plan for a collective political belonging” and invited us to travel “out of this time and place to something fuller, vaster, more sensual, and brighter.”

I know my own world is “fuller, vaster, more sensual, and brighter” for José’s presence in it. And I know I am not alone in feeling this queer expansion in being on account of José Muñoz. I have such gratitude for him, to him, and such sorrow at his untimely passing. The straight time of life and death claimed him far too soon. But in another time—a queer time of cruising utopia?—may we yet meet.

– Ann Pellegrini
Director, Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality