by megan milks on Aug.06, 2010
Queer utopia, yknow: still pretty sexy, especially with the publication last year of José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. I’ll touch briefly on Muñoz here, expecting to return to him in later posts; but here and now instead of the past/future I will take up the past/present. In the meantime, may I direct you to the Gay Utopia project, especially Bert Stabler’s “Bottomless Anus of Perfected Wisdom,” my contribution to recent discussions on the ole ass/hole.
I recently interviewed Edie Fake, a Chicago-based artist:
and we talked some about his developing queer cartography project. He’s mapping Chicago’s queer heritage in some rad Edie Fake way, and the project has spilled over into other smaller projects, including an installation on display Wednesday at Archie’s bar in Chicago for a joint event co-sponsored by the Swimming Pool Project Space and Queer Social Club. Regrettably, I took no pictures. There were a number of box structures decorated and labeled with the names of Chicago gay bars no longer in existence, spread out on small tables sharing space with empty beer cans and hot pink cards inviting viewers to “celebrate the phenomena of intuitive queer space.”
The night brought a turnout — lots of folks. It was like any other queer night at a normally non-queer bar, only the adjacency of this night to its historical context of under-the-radar gay venues and illicit queer sociality was announced through Fake’s structures. I’d describe the juxtaposition as a kind of temporal drag, borrowing the concept from Elizabeth Freeman, who uses it to describe a crossing of time, a temporal transitivity that carries “all of the associations that the word ‘drag’ has with retrogression, delay, and the pull of the past upon the present,” alongside its associations with crossing and performativity.
Freeman uses this idea of temporal drag to read Elisabeth Subrin’s Shulie, a 1997 experimental film that, shot by shot, remakes an unreleased 1967 documentary of the same title which feature a young Shulamith Firestone, then unknown, a student at the Art Institute of Chicago who would soon jump ship to New York to found the New York Radical Women, the Redstockings, and the New York Radical Feminists; and write the radical feminist classic The Dialectic of Sex. The 1997 film restages the original, duplicating its camerawork and adding only a beginning montage and an ending text explaining that it’s an adaptation.
Bringing in Samuel Delany’s ideas on markers from an essay in About Writing, we might say the 1997 Shulie functions as art-and-its-marker, performing temporal drag to map out space, assign value and legacy to the original (and its subject). Delany pulls from Dean McCannell’s tourist (which Delany connects to Benajmin’s flaneur) in explaining markers as those signs scattered about the landscape from brochures to signboards, conferring importance:
There is a whole set of sites–often the spots where historical events took place–that are sites only because a marker sits on them, telling of the fact… Without markers, even the most beautiful spot on the map becomes one with the baseline of unmarked social reality.
And until something thinks to emit, erect, and/or stabilize a marker indicating it, no tourist site comes into being. (341)
As a marker and as a site in itself, Subrin’s Shulie, as Freeman puts it, “engage[s] with prior time as genuinely elsewhere” (735). It re-maps Firestone’s pre-history as history. In so doing the film implicitly critiques what’s been left out of history/herstory’s charting of the past and links the past and present in complicated and dynamic ways.
Similarly, Fake’s installation on Wednesday exposed the fuzzy boundaries between the then and the now, simultaneously undermining and reinforcing divisions between what we see as distinct “generations” of queers and queer activists. Instead of lopping off the issues of old generations as anachronistic to the goal of a narrative of progress, Fake’s models of long gone venues and their attendant histories united the then and there with the here and now, implying that those issues, those moments, “are not yet past and yet are not entirely present either” (Freeman 742). His other work being so interested in alternate realities, I’m interested to see where Fake further takes his queer cartography, how he interprets and charts the ‘reality’ of the ‘past’ (with apologies for gratuitous scare quotes).
Muñoz’s critical engagement with queer utopianism shares many ideas with Freeman; interested in collectivity and the past, Muñoz employs “a backward glance that enacts a future vision” (4). With regard to Fake’s installation and the scene that surrounded it, Muñoz seems applicable especially given the leaking through of one particular future onto the present – as only hours before, Prop 8 had been ruled unconstitutional, and the implications hung in the air. Muñoz seeing marriage as an antiutopian wish, a desire that “automatically rein[s] [itself] in, never daring to see or imagine the not-yet-conscious” (21), I wonder what he’d say about this messy confrontation between past, present, and future in this moment. In a certain sense, Fake’s temporal drag worked to bring what Muñoz would call “the no-longer-conscious” to bear on the present as well as on the future society, the “not yet conscious” – here, this is our past, just how anachronistic is it, and what do we want our future to look like?
I’ll return to Muñoz in a future post, maybe connected to Acker; and considering temporal drag as temporal push.
Delany, Samuel R. “A Para*doxa Interview: Inside and Outside the Canon.” About Writing. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2006.
Freeman, Elizabeth. “Packing History, Count(er)ing Generations.” New Literary History 31.4 (2000): 727-744.
Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press, 2009.