Tuesday, June 26, 2018

José Esteban Muñoz

Muñoz is a Cuban-American queer theorist. I very heavily drew on his work--in particular his book Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity--for my doctoral dissertation. It was interesting stuff with a lot of explanatory power, and it's influenced my thinking to this day (also, he and I share an alma mater, for what it's worth). I mean, I don't spend a lot of time reading critical theory just for kicks (although maybe I should), but I value it significantly. Recently, I had cause to call on Muñoz's work again for the final project of my MA in TESOL, so I googled him to find out what he'd been up to lately...only to find, to my dismay, that he'd died of heart failure at the age of forty-six, less than a year after I'd finished my doctorate. I think we can all agree that that's pretty much THE WORST.

His big thing--at least the big thing that I used--was "potentiality," which is a potent concept and one certainly valuable for our current times. "Unlike a possibility," he explains, "a thing that simply might happen, a potentiality is a certain mode of non-being that is eminent, a thing that is present but not actually existing in the present tense." He posits that

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.

He's focused on sexuality here, obviously, but this concept doesn't have to be limited to that arena. You can think of the United States as it exists now--an absolute fucking shithole, ruled by sociopathic authoritarians and white supremacists. But, you can still, as it were "feel" a more hopeful future, and try to incorporate it into the present to the extent you're able. Live the future you want to see now. I know that may sound intolerably glib when people are suffering in real, concrete, non-theoretical-bullshit ways, right here right now, but regardless of what's happening, we still need to figure out how to survive as best we can, and I think potentiality is an important tool in that fight.

Anyway, a belated but sincere Rest In Peace to Muñoz.


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