- A Queer Divine Dissatisfaction
Death does something. Death stretches affect, slowly, mournfully, thoughtfully. Death transits from life to not-life, not only for the dead, but for the living, too. What was is no more. Ideas are displaced. Memories are reconfigured and cast in new shadows. Futurity is marked by an absence of the visceral and presence of a utopian vision. Death is a highly individual enactment, certainly for the one whom death has become, but for the survivors as well. What does death do?Inthe case of José Esteban Muñoz, his death is undoubtedly a highly personal, deeply felt loss for his partner, family, and friends.1 For those of us who knew him only as a scholar, his death is an opportunity to listen to his voice, reflect, perform a distant but genuine sorrow, and engage, as though for the first time, his utopian aspirations.
José Muñoz understood art, its genesis and impact, and in this brief article, I reflect on his understanding of visionary form against a reading of Lamentation, a choreographic work of Martha Graham.2 In Lamentation, Graham is alone on the stage, seated on a bench, adorned in a body-tube of muted blue jersey cotton. Her legs are spread, pelvis open, body tilted forward, and she starts to displace all that is around her, left to right, in small percussive movements. The piano music begins (a composition by Zoltán Kodály), and Graham thrusts her head upward and to the right, showing her face, striking, strident, queer. She attends to the folds in the garment, the interaction between her body, movement, and the physical forces of her psyche. “The fold,” writes Muñoz in his introduction to a collection of essays on the space between psychoanalysis and affect, “permits one to see the inside as merely the other side of the outside or surface.”3 And so it moves in Lamentation, where “an inner psychic phenomenon registers on the [End Page 142] body.”4 Graham clutches the inside of the fabric with her left hand and encloses her cloaked left hand with an exposed right hand, contrasting the folds of the skin with the folds of the fabric, moving from highly protective gestures to images of vulnerability. Throughout the course of the dance, the lines of the fabric express the many aspects of lament, physical, psychological, spiritual, and psychic, and at a particular moment, the fabric becomes a tissue, and her tears, absent, are recognized as elements of beauty.
There is, too, a mournful beauty emanating from the writing of José Esteban Muñoz. “The here and now is a prison house,” he writes. “We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there.”5 The performing arts exist in space and time, they happen in the moment, but it is challenging to consider that a work of art speaks concurrently to past, present, and future. The moment is a prison if we let it become so, and must not. The art within the moment speaks to an audience not present, the spectator who will arrive in a day, a year, in a century, without documentation. The lone figure in Lamentation is wrapped in fabric, cloaked but not bound. The fabric brings the grieving, longing persona from the physical reality of the here and now to an amorphous reach outward. She stretches in that wretched, beautiful manner for which Graham is so well known. To read Lamentation as sorrow and grief solely as torments is thin. The dance yearns, reaches inward, outward, and strives. It is a dance for the future, recollecting one’s personal legacy of losses, expressed in that moment of performing and conversing with that person who, through relational interaction, understands the reach within the act.
Lamentation examines the complexities of skin. “The garment that is worn is just a tube of material,” she said in a preface to the dance, “but it’s as though you were stretching inside your own skin.”6 She rotates on the bench and strikes a series of Greek postures, grief stricken, hunched...