Writer in Residence

Thinking the Future through the Present

By Julie Joosten

To begin with: many thanks if you made it through yesterday’s post; you have my gratitude for sitting with uncertainty and/or dwelling in possibility.

To continue: I’ll now try to offer an account of what I find so compelling about José Muñoz’s and Lauren Berlant’s writings in relation to some of the things I’ve been posting about this month.

In my post “On the Otherwise of a Ship-Wrecked Singularity” I ended by expressing my concern about an impulse I’ve had in these posts: imagining the possibility of an altered future that emerges from practices in the present that acknowledge the past while working to change the implications of its legacy. What concerns me is the vagueness of the futures I imagine. I wrote that I worried about how “possibility might become material, giving shape to the otherwise that is so often imagined.” Muñoz and Berlant seem to me to have worked out a form of thought that is also a mode of action, one that draws on hope as an intellectual, affective, and political tool.

In “Living the Wrong Life Otherwise, Muñoz’s writes, “What Berlant describes as the vague futurities of normative affect is what I, after Bloch, describe as the category of an abstract utopian thinking. Abstract Utopian thinking falters precisely because of its over-arching vagueness, its refusal to image structural transformation. A more concrete utopianism should participate in a calculus that thinks the here and now along with the then and there.” So Muñoz argues for a “concrete queer utopianism.” This is crucial. How concrete does it have to be? How concrete or abstract is the imagining of “structural transformation”? And how future-oriented is utopianism?

To ground his argument in particulars, Muñoz considers the work of Mark Morrisoe, a visual artist. And here I repeat my quotation of Muñoz yesterday: “Morrisoe’s pictures visualize an affective world that is an emotional shift from a more realist photographic aesthetic. Berlant and I are invested in Adorno’s idea of an aesthetic that can suggest the otherwise. The otherwise of sex, gender and class reality that is encountered in Morrisoe is not change unto itself, it’s not automatic transformation. Instead, it’s potentially a part of a bigger story that I think a few of us are trying to tell. It is not about the speedy arrival at a “better” or reconstitutes good life that the aesthetic offers us but it is instead about the affective resources for otherwiseness that exists both in the realms of the aesthetic and the quotidian.”

The future, it seems, emerges, is conjured up, in practices in the present that reveal otherwiseness. If, as Adorno suggests, “Even in the most sublimated work of art there is a hidden ‘it should be otherwise,’” then aesthetic judgment entails a recognition of the implicit distinction between the artwork and its otherwiseness. Art and the everday have the potential to pierce forms of the given with the ghosted forms of their alternatives. M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! certainly performs this work: it makes the otherwise of histories, bodies, and voices manifest in the present. And this manifestation of otherwiseness can’t help but alter, however minutely, the fabric of the present, the present which builds towards the future. So, as Muñoz notes of Morrisoe’s work, Zong! doesn’t produce immediate change, doesn’t usher in the future systemically transformed. But certainly, as it complicates the past and the present, it complicates the future, too. This is hope as ambition.

So does the future need to be concretely imagined? Perhaps not. But modes and methods of intervening in the past and present must be.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.