Abstract

Abstract:

James Schuyler has often been read as a poet singularly devoted to the beauty of the world as it exists, a seemingly unanimous consensus that makes it surprising that he figures so prominently in José Esteban Muñoz's Cruising Utopia as a radical partisan of the future. This essay considers the apparent tension between Schuyler's commitment to the here and now and what Muñoz calls "the there and then of queer futurity," suggesting that the key to understanding these seemingly contradictory commitments is to recognize his career-long investigation into the idea of potentiality. From his very first published poem, Schuyler's works are concerned with the problem of the relation between potentiality and what Giorgio Agamben calls impotence or impotentiality: the potential to not be that is central to the experience of potentiality as such. Attending to various forms of impotence and impotentiality, both figurative and literal, Schuyler's poem conjure a lyric present that allows for a capacious present tense that contains not only the presence of the future, as recently suggested by Paul Saint-Amour, but also a sense of contingency and a wide range of experiences that will never pass into actuality: the beauty of unrealized intentions, the frisson of friends that might become lovers, the insight of poems never written. Attending to this dynamic offers an opportunity to extend theoretical insights into the creative power of bad feelings and failure. But it also underscores the limitations of such arguments, helping us to recognize the power of powerlessness without romanticizing it or losing sight of its debilitating effects. Schuyler's poems thus offer a moving picture of the way that poetry becomes the specific circumstance in which making nothing happen can be a beautiful accomplishment.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-661X
Print ISSN
0028-6087
Pages
pp. 567-586
Launched on MUSE
2020-10-03
Open Access
No
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