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49 3 The Future Is in the Present Sexual Avant-Gardes and the Performance of Utopia F u t u r it y can be a problem. Heterosexual culture depends on a notion of the future: as the song goes, “the children are our future.” But that is not the case for different cultures of sexual dissidence. Rather than invest in a deferred future, the queer citizen-subject labors to live in a present that is calibrated, through the protocols of state power, to sacrifice our liveness for what Lauren Berlant has called the “dead citizenship” of heterosexuality.1 This dead citizenship is formatted, in part, through the sacrifice of the present for a fantasmatic future. On oil dance floors, sites of public sex, various theatrical stages, music festivals, and arenas both subterranean and aboveground, queers live, labor, and enact queer worlds in the present. But must the future and the present exist in this rigid binary ? Can the future stop being a fantasy of heterosexual reproduction? In this chapter I argue for the disruption of this binarized logic and the enactment of what I call, following C. L. R. James, a future in the present.2 To call for this notion of the future in the present is to summon a refunctioned notion of utopia in the service of subaltern politics. Certain performances of queer citizenship contain what I call an anticipatory illumination of a queer world, a sign of an actually existing queer reality, a kernel of political possibility within a stultifying heterosexual present. I gesture to sites of embodied and performed queer politics and describe them as outposts of actually existing queer worlds. The sites I consider are sites of mass gatherings, performances that can be understood as defiantly public and glimpses into an ensemble of social actors performing a queer world. The Past for the Future: Queer Happenings I begin this study of the future in the present by turning to the past. Samuel R. Delany’s memoir The Motion of Light in Water periodizes the 50 The Future Is in the Present advent of postmodernity through the evidence provided by two modes of avant-garde performance. These performances do more than represent an epistemic shift; they enable the memoirist to procure a new vista on the world. The writer describes images from his then present (now squarely the past), and these pictures purchase a vision of the future. I want to suggest that these performances that are described by Delany announced and enacted a new formation within the social. The first of these performances was held in a Second Avenue studio apartment in New York’s East Village during the summer of 1960. Delany and a cousin had stumbled on a performance of Allan Kaprow’s entitled “Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts.” It was the first time the word happening had been used in a performance context. Delany explained that “many times now Kaprow’s piece (today we would call it performance art) has been cited by historians as the equally arbitrary transition between the modern and the postmodern in cultural developments. But I don’t believe I’ve read a firsthand account of it by any of its original audience.”3 However , the memoirist has missed some of the most interesting accounts of this performance genre, for there is in fact a fascinating literature chronicling and documenting this artistic movement.4 Delany’s account is nonetheless valuable. He remembers entering an apartment that was taken up by polyethylene walls on painted wood frames. These walls divided the performance space into six sections of about eight feet by eight feet. The sections were accessible from a door-wide space on the outside but were separated from one another by semitranslucent walls through which one could make out “the ghost” of what was happening in the adjoining section . There were half a dozen or so wooden folding chairs in each room. The remembered performance that Delany narrates consisted of a child’s windup toy being set on the ground and let run and then wound up again and again over the twenty-minute running time of the performance. Through the plastic walls the sounds and sights of other happenings partially filtered into the writer’s cubicle. He could make out the buttery glow of a candle in one room, while in another he heard the sounds of a drum. The writer’s expectations were severely challenged by this performance. He had assumed that the work would...


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