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83 5 Cruising the Toilet LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Radical Black Traditions, and Queer Futurity A mi r i B a r a k a d en o u nce d much of the life of LeRoi Jones, a writer, editor, and bon vivant in the bohemia of New York City’s Greenwich Village during the late 1950s and early 1960s. A difficult play by LeRoi Jones (Baraka), The Toilet, is emblematic of the life that Baraka eschews with hardly a backward glance.1 The Toilet was produced in 1964, on a double bill with a play by Frank O’Hara, one of the members of the demimonde that Jones inhabited. Though I read the play as a narrative of violence and negation, it does nonetheless generate the possibility of a critical and utopian practice of hope in the face of loss. The Toilet signals a queer past with which Baraka, through tragedy in his own life, must reconcile. Following Ernst Bloch’s Principle of Hope, I am interested in the socially symbolic performative dimension of certain aesthetic processes that promote a modality of political idealism.2 I see myself participating in a counternarrative to political nihilism, a form of inquiry that promotes what I am calling queer futurity. Previous aesthetic and cultural production —such as this somewhat minor play that was performed within a now-expired artistic enclave—offers a powerful critique via counterexample of the political impasse of the present. This temporal operation is enabled by a Blochian investment in both the not-yet-here (the future) and the no-longer-conscious (the past). The Toilet represents a violent and tragic queer past that, when seen through the optic of queer utopia, becomes a source for a critique of a limited and problematic straight time. I suggest that the performative force of the gesture interrupts straight time and the temporal strictures it enacts. This chapter takes its lead from Fred Moten’s brilliant In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition.3 Moten describes the conterminous relationship between black radical politics and improvisational 84 Cruising the Toilet aesthetic practices associated with blackness. Looking at the racial blind spots in Sally Banes’s historiography of New York’s historical downtown bohemia, Greenwich Village 1963: Avant-Garde Performance and the Effervescent Body,4 Moten counters Banes’s now almost canonical rendering of a downtown art scene that excludes black artists such as LeRoi Jones, Cecil Taylor, and Samuel Delany. Here I am interested in casting light on not only those important historical figures but also others such as Mario Montez (the Warhol screen superstar who played Juanita Castro) or Dorothy Dean (the black woman who was the acknowledged ultimate fag hag of the day and worked as the sharp-tongued bouncer at Max’s Kansas City). These characters inhabit what Moten calls the B-side of this avantgarde ’s history, in which Banes is uninterested.5 Although I am not proposing an alternative canon of what is an already existing, and in some ways already “alternative,” canon of the American avant-garde, I do want to look at these minoritized historical players because they disrupt dominant historiographies of queer avant-gardism and radical aesthetics and politics.6 Gloria Anzaldúa famously indicated that jotería (queers) could be found at the base of every liberationist social movement.7 And while tales of social movements in the United States continue to ignore jotería, to an even larger degree disciplinary accounts of avant-garde aesthetics underplay both explicitly queer presences and (perhaps especially) racialized participation, labor, and influence. Anzaldúa’s injunction to look for jotería is a call to deploy a narrative of the past to enable better understanding and critiquing of a faltering present. In this sense her call for mestiza consciousness is a looking back to a fecund no-longer-conscious in the service of a futurity that resists the various violent asymmetries that dominate the present. The Toilet holds a pivotal place in Jones/Baraka’s history of artistic production . It has been called the most homoerotic play in a spate of other homoerotic or queerly valenced works by Jones/Baraka, such as The Baptism , mostly produced during the early 1960s. My project here, however, is not to “bring out” Jones or Baraka. Any such gesture would be reductive . Instead, I want to discuss the negotiation of animating queer energies in The Toilet to consider what queerness might tell us about the temporal particularity...


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