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Reviewed by:
  • Queer Times, Black Futures by Kara Keeling
  • Brenna M. Casey
Kara Keeling. Queer Times, Black Futures. New York: New York UP, 2019. 286 pp. $30.00.

On a gray day last December, I stood in Birmingham’s Elmwood Cemetery with three friends looking desultorily down at a very nondescript lawn-level headstone marking the grave of cosmic philosopher and free jazz impresario Sun Ra. For a musician whose most iconic looks relied upon gold lamé, sequins, and Nemes crowns, the bare granite seemed somehow disparaging.

It is with Sun Ra’s signature shine that Kara Keeling launches her latest rumination on the space and time of Black liberation. Beginning with the pulsing, postapocalyptic lyrical interrogatory “It’s after the end of the world (Don’t you [End Page 342] know that yet?)” from Sun Ra’s 1974 film Space is the Place, Keeling asks how to begin without a past, in a present of lingering catastrophe with the future positioned as time’s only remainder. Transiting through the disciplines of philosophy, film and media studies, literature, finance capital, physics, and ethnic and gender studies, Queer Times, Black Futures attempts to chart the potentiality of Afrofuturism’s communion with queer connection. This desirous entanglement Keeling heralds— but not before rehearsing the attendant obstacles of a neoliberal supremacist patriarchy on the brink of environmental disaster—may “call forth new relations for all” (34). While Keeling takes pains not to overdetermine these as-of-yet unrealized potentials, the author does offer transnational citizenship and what she terms a voluntary “cosmic mode” of belonging as glimmering possibilities (194).

Keeling’s conceit is this: If credit and speculation emerged to manage the imagined risks that accompanied global capital’s treacherous consubstantiation with colonization, enslavement, land enclosure, racial consolidation, and anti-Black racism, these assumed outcomes also intimate futures that were wholly unconsidered in the obfuscating calculus of oppression and domination. Here, she cites Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s iconic formulation that the Haitian Revolution “entered history with the peculiar characteristic of being unthinkable even as it happened” (qtd. in 23). Modernity produced self-replicating quotidian violences to maintain what Michel Foucault has called “the order of things,” but its clumsy modes of producing value and commensuration leave much substantively and capriciously unaccounted for. Leaning heavily on Édouard Glissant’s theories of opacity and the poetics of relation throughout the monograph, Keeling charts chances for detecting the social dimensions that undergird capital, the accumulations of risk that adhere to social and cultural life, and the emancipatory possibilities indicated by the conjugation of queer temporality, “a dimension of time that produces risk,” with Black existence (19). Queer is disentangled from its identitarian registers, celebrated for its capacities to carve out connection within difference, and proffered as a structuring antagonism to the social as well as the institutions that seek social regulation and control. Keeling insists upon “the antifragility of freedom dreams” (22), appraises perceptible forms of wealth lingering in escrow, and makes a case for the surprise safeguarded in poetics. Keeling begs the question: What is beyond capital’s measure?

Queer Times, Black Futures turns to cinema for many of its materials, mediations, and meditations. The book contributes to a burgeoning field of scholarship that interrogates the relationship between race and film epitomized by contemporary scholars like Nicole Fleetwood, Michael Boyce Gillespie, Alice Maurice, and Tina Campt, among others. Pulling predominantly from US-based Black film, the book interrogates the constitutive elements of Afrofuturism—imagination, technology, future, and liberation—under the thrall of capital’s manipulations of a would-be future. With its emphasis on mythmaking and music, sound and speculative fiction, Space is the Place troubles the fictitiously inviolable boundaries of Western ontology and allows Keeling to forward Gilbert Simondon’s collective concept of “transindividuation” as a viable model of being. Looking for Langston (Isaac Julien, 1989), The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), Brother to Brother (Rodney Evans, 2004), and The Aggressives (Daniel Peddle, 2005) provide a fruitful terrain for considering how filmic organizations of time render present political possibilities. The Last Angel of History (John Akomfrah, 1996) and Love is the Message, the Message is Death (Arthur Jafa, 2016) serve as portals for...


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pp. 342-345
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