“Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity” by Jose Esteban Munoz— A Defining Work

Munoz, Jose Esteban. “Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity”, (Sexual Cultures), NYU Press, reprint, 2009, 2019.

A Defining Work

Amos Lassen

“Cruising Utopia” as first published in  2009 and insisted that ‘queerness must be reimagined as a futurity-bound phenomenon, an insistence on the potentiality of another world that would crack open the pragmatic present.” We saw this and, in fact, still see this as part manifesto, part love-letter to the past and the future. José Esteban Muñoz argues that the here and now is not enough and issued an urgent call for the revivification of the queer political imagination.

This new edition includes two essays that extend and expand the project of “Cruising Utopia”, as well as a new foreword by the current editors of Sexual Cultures, the book series  that writer Munoz co-founded with Ann Pellegrini 20 years ago. This 10th anniversary edition celebrates the lasting impact that  the book has had on the decade of queer of color critique that followed and it introduces a new generation of readers to a future not yet upon us. 

We are all aware that The LGBT agenda for too long has been dominated by pragmatic issues like same-sex marriage and gays in the military. It has been stifled by a myopic focus on the present, which is both short-sighted and assimilationist.

“Cruising Utopia” is here to help  break the present stagnancy by cruising ahead. José Esteban Muñoz draws on the work of Ernst Bloch to recall the queer past for guidance in presaging its future. He also looks at the work of seminal artists and writers such as Andy Warhol, LeRoi Jones, Frank O’Hara, Ray Johnson, Fred Herko, Samuel Delany, and Elizabeth Bishop and contemporary performance and visual artists like Dynasty Handbag, My Barbarian, Luke Dowd, Tony Just, and Kevin McCarty in order to decode and decipher the anticipatory illumination of art and its ability to open windows to the future.

This is a startling repudiation of what the LGBT movement has held dear with Munoz contending that queerness is instead a futurity bound phenomenon, a “not yet here” that critically engages pragmatic presentism. This is a fascinating study of identity and queerness that asks us to look to the future while ignoring the present. We gain “an archive of queer aesthetic practices from the present and the recent past.”

Munoz sees “gay liberation’s activist past and pragmatic present are merely prologue to a queer cultural future” that is a “critical condemnation of the political status quo.” He becomes a radical gay aesthetic through the prisms of literature, photography and performance and dismisses commonplace concerns like same-sex marriage as desires for ‘mere inclusion’ in a ‘corrupt’ mainstream.

Muñoz’s “critical refusal of queer pragmatism and his commitment to the utopian force of the radical attempt—the radical aesthetic, erotic, and philosophical experiment—is indispensable in an historical moment characterized by political surrender and intellectual timidity passing itself off as boldness.”

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