Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity.

Muñoz, José Esteban. 2009. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press.

Introduction: Feeling Utopia

Muñoz opens with the unattainability of queerness; queerness is an ideality of the future, and thus, here and now, we are not queer. Queerness is "not simply a being but a doing for and toward the future" (pg. 1). This book is influenced by the German idealist philosophies of Kant and Hegel, and concretized through the critical Marxist philosophy of Adorno, Benjamin, and Marcuse. He also engages with Bloch's The Principle of Hope as a theorization of utopia. He focuses on Concrete Utopias, which Block define as relational and historically situated, in contrast to Abstract Utopias, which are untethered to historical reality. Thus, Muñoz situates the vision of queer utopia around the time of the Stonewall riots of 1969. He uses his own experiences and historical events to promote "the idea of hope, which is both a critical affect and a methodology" (pg. 4).

He discusses the aesthetics of hope and optimism in performance art, and the work of pop artist Warhol and poet O'Hara, as expressing a queer relationality "imbued with a feeling of forward-dawning futurity" (pg. 7). He differentiates potentiality from possibility. Possibility is a thing that simply might happen, but potentiality is "a certain mode of nonbeing that is eminent, a thing that is present but not actually existing in the present tense" (pg. 9). For example, through the reading of a 1960s poem, Muñoz imagines a non-fully-manifested reality where men could love each other outside of the repression of heterosexuality. Reading potentiality is "the ways it might represent a mode of being and a feeling that was then not quite there [in the past or present] but nonetheless an opening" (pg 9).

Of course, hope can be met with disappointment. Muñoz positions disappointing me as a difficulty in his critical approach, but states that disappointment must be risked to resist political pessimism. His major thesis is fighting the antiutopian and antisocial queer theories emerging in academy during this time (2008). In particular, he is oppositional to Edelman's book No Future, which poses an "antirelational thesis" that denounces relationality by distancing queerness from race, gender, and "other particularities that taint the purity of sexuality as a singular trope of difference" (pg. 11). Muñoz argues that queerness must be undersood as collective. Further, contrasting Edelman's perspective that futurity is childish, Muñoz posits queerness as futurity and hope, as something always on the horizon.

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

This chapter starts from the past, what Boch called the "no-longer-conscious," the work the past does, the performative force of the past (pg. 19). Specifically, he visits the manifesto written in Gay Flames by Third World Gay Revolution in 1971 calling for a new revolutionary socialist society. The piece, at its time, called for a future society. Now, it also presents an opportunity to look back and readopt and reimagine its tenants for a future society. In contrast, more recent calls (in relation to the text) like Freedom to Marry do not imagine a liberation consistent with utopianism, because they employ a homonormative stance that benefits only a few. He feels that "gay pragmatic organizing is in direct opposition to the idealist thought that I associate as endemic to a forward-spawning queerness" (pg. 21). Instead, he seeks to look beyond the "hollow nature of the present" (ibid). He rejects "straight time" which posits no future beyond the here and now of everyday life. Looking to a future horizon does not reject everyday reality; rather, engagement with everyday reality should be utopian. Muñoz searches for utopian statements of queer relationality in poetry and art.

"Queerness is utopian, and there is something queer about the utopian" (pg. 26). He posits that it is queer to live within "straight time" but desire and imagine utopian times and places of collective futurity are available to all. He discusses a queer utopian hermeneutic, which seeks out queer relational formations within the social. "Ultimately, we must insist on a queer futurity because the present is so poisonous and insolvent" (pg. 30).

Ghosts of Public Sex: Utopian Longings, Queer Memories

He discusses Crimp's writings, Mourning and Militancy, on the loss of not only human life from the AIDS epidemic, but of sexual possibility. The essay engages with heternormative taboos of sexual practice, the mourning of a utopian vision of sex lost. Contrasting this, Bersani's famous "Is the rectum a grave?" critiques the bathhouse as a place of utopian gay sex. Pre- and post-AIDS, the bathhouse has always been an exclusionary space. Instead, he engages with an anti-relational lens that critiques every aspect of relational life and coalition building. Muñoz posits that queer politics requires utopianism, where we can imagine new worls not constrained by AIDS or institutionalized homophobia; utopia offers a critique of the present, through "queer utopian memory" (pg. 35). He specifically analyzes stories of public sex as "world-making," the performance of a queer utopian memory. Public sex is used as a utopian escapism from the "crushing presence and always expanding force field that is heternormativity" (pg. 39).

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

Muñoz questions why the future and the present must live in a rigid binary, and whether the future must inherently be a fantasy of heterosexual reproduction. He wants to disrupt the binarized logic around the future versus the present with the notion of "a future in the present" (pg. 49). He writes that we must "cut through the institutional and legislative barriers that outlaw contact relations and obscure glimpses of the whole" to focus on "glimpses and moments of contact ... that permits us to imagine and potentially make a queer world" (pg. 55). By glimpsing moments of utopia in the present, like James' glimpses of socialism in current factory worker solidarity, we can imagine a fully utopian future. Utopia, as Adorno writes is "'the determined negation of what merely is'" and thus the negation shows us what should be.

Gesture, Ephemera, and Queer Feeling

This chapter focuses on "queer evidence," where evidence has a contentious relationship with queerness that has historically used evidence of queerness to penalize queer acts. He writes: "When the historian of queer experience attempts to document a queer past, there is often a gatekeeper, representing a straight resent, who will labor to invalidate the historical fact of queer lives" (pg 65). Rather, "the key to queering evidence ... the ways in which we prove queerness and ead queerness, is by suturing it to the concept of ephemera" (pg. 65). He utilizes Derrida's concept of the trace to describe ephemera as ephemeral evidence that is rarely obvious because it stands against normative visibility and the "tyranny of the fact" when fact casts queerness as unnatural. He positions gesture as "[transmitting] ephemeral knowledge of lost queer histories and possibilities within a phobic majoritarian public" (pg. 67). Specifically focusing on queer dance, he discusses its ephemerality, how it "slip[s] through the fingers and comprehensions of those \who would use knowledge against us" (pg. 81).

Queer Failure, Queer Virtuosity

As previously described, disidentification is the reimagining of toxic and harmful symbols as queer; it represents a world-making project in which present limits are transgressed. He examines acts of disidentification to pose two queer utopian aesthetic practices: failure and virtuosity. Queer failure is understood as a failure because queerness rejects normative ideals and lifestyles. "In speech act theory it is the failure central to speech itself. It is blatantly and irrevocably antinormative" (pg. 173). Here, he states that "within straight time the queer can only fail; thus, an aesthetic of failure can be productively occupied by the queer artist for the purpose of delinieating the bias that underlies straight time's measure" (pg. 173-4). Failure can be imagined as a political refusal. Queer virtosity emerges out of queer failure; it is "a virtuosity born in the face of failure within straight time's measure" (pg. 178). Queer virtuosity, or artistic skill, may offer some escape from capitalist production and commodifiation.