The Aesthetic Utopian

Let’s think about the “then and there” in the subtitle of Cruising Utopia: the Then and There of Queer Futurity, for these deictics are insistently aligned with the now-central question of how to induce utopian futures from within a negating present. The answer of course is that the aesthetic provides the affective ballast and concrete means to induce exuberant futures. José Muñoz uses everything he knows — life experience to aesthetic archives to anecdotes to biographical lives — to stage a new architecture (there) of being potentialized (then). Not surprisingly for a book about concrete utopianism, urban spaces matter a lot here too, providing folds for poets, performers, and lovers within which to feel connected beyond the immediate event to past and future actualizations.

José writes from within an historical experience of a utopia both immanent and shaped in affect: poetry, critical theory, experience, art he’s seen, music he’s heard, memory. In tracking critical affect across different kinds of exempla he combats the blockages of critical and political pessimism that just see form as blockage. Against blockage, Bloch. The astonishing theoretical work in this book engenders different synergies among utopian registers in the ongoing present. José needs futures: he thinks that we need futures in order to stay attuned to desire.

The book overflows with fantastic readings of Amiri Baraka (in his now and then), Tony Just, Elisabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore as well as dance collaboratives whose work is beautifully rendered. I love the “Public Sex” and “After Jack” chapters the best, and think the O’Hara discussion is brilliant and perfectly emblematic of the project to extract the utopian from moments of affective density that are lived. But all of the writing is astonishing, vibrant and memorable. Sexual happiness and exuberance provide much the utopian energy in the book; so does art, here appearing unapologetically as a concentrated burst of activity that wants a world.
Photo: The Grinning Cat comes to NY. Accessed 21 June 2010.

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