Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

23 August 2011

Back to (Talking About) the Future

Sometimes it takes me a little while to get to things.

I had initially put José Esteban Muñoz's Cruising Utopia: the Then and There of Queer Futurity on my comprehensive exam list for Critical Race Theory, but it eventually (and wisely) got replaced by my professor in a move to include more foundational texts on my reading list.

And, well, there are a lot of things to read. I have shelves of books I haven't gotten to yet.

But as I have been writing (and writing and writing – made it to page 27 today) I have noticed my own debt to queer theory, not simply because it is the discipline in which I have done the most reading (though it is) but also because queer theories have allowed me to have an easier life. I have found these theories helpful in explaining my own world, the life-worlds of the students who come to me needing advice, and situations in which my friends and I find ourselves. Today I wrote the following paragraph for the dissertation as a sort of apology-cum-acknowledgement of the place of queer theory in a dissertation that is supposed to be in the field of theatre studies:

If this book seems heavily dependent on the field of queer theory and on theories of sexuality, it is because those fields of study have felt comfortable and capable addressing questions that other fields have deemed unworthy of interest and shameful. This is, of course, not a book about queerness per se, but rape, no matter the genders of the persons involved, is not a normative sexual experience by any measure. Male/male rape in particular is queer because it replicates and perverts a homosexual sex act, and queer because rapists and victims both frequently understand themselves to be heterosexual. We might further understand male/male rape as queer because rape is an act invariably and ineradicably linked to criminality, shame, and secrecy – attributes still considered immanent to queerness itself in many parts of the world.

And so tonight I picked up Cruising Utopia – it's a relatively thin volume, after all – to read a little more in this discipline I so love and for which I am so grateful. Muñoz begins the book like this, and the genius of such an opening struck me immediately. I highlighted the page in its entirety beginning with his first sentence:

Queerness is not yet here.

What??!?! Oh yes:

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.

And a little later down the page:

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.

If this all resonates with me in particular in this moment, it may be because I have lately been so down on myself for trying to imagine the future, because I have been striving so hard to live in the moment.

And it makes me wonder. Fantasies and imaginings of the future are part of the pleasure of the present. Perhaps instead of focusing on only the present it might be possible to conceive of temporalities in altogether different ways, where the present and the future are not mutually exclusive of one another.

More on this soon, I am sure.