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97 6 Stages Queers, Punks, and the Utopian Performative You can’t tell who was and who wasn’t in a band. We did not like poseurs but we liked to pose for pictures. Because we knew there was something about the night that would be remembered even if we couldn’t remember it. We were young and naive in a way that seems to be a lost art. We weresnottyandcompassionateanddeliberateandrecklessbutweknew exactly what we were doing. We were ghosts then and we are ghosts now. We will haunt your malls and catwalks forever. Ha Ha. —Exene Cervenka1 Utopian Performatives How does one stage utopia? Which is to say, how do we enact utopia ? In the various chapters of this book, some form of that question is almost always articulated. It is one of those good questions that help writers clarify their arguments, to propel their thinking forward. One thing I have learned from this question is that utopia is an ideal, something that should mobilize us, push us forward. Utopia is not prescriptive ; it renders potential blueprints of a world not quite here, a horizon of possibility, not a fixed schema. It is productive to think about utopia as flux, a temporal disorganization, as a moment when the here and the now is transcended by a then and a there that could be and indeed should be. But on some level utopia is about a politics of emotion; it is central to what Ernst Bloch called a “principle of hope.”2 It is my belief that minoritarian subjects are cast as hopeless in a world without utopia. This is not to say that hope is the only modality of emotional recognition that structures belonging; sometimes shame, disgust, hate, and other “negative” emotions bind people together—certainly punk rock’s rejection of normative feelings stands as the most significant example of the emotional work of negative affect. But in this instance, I dwell on hope because I wish to think 98 Stages about futurity; and hope, I argue, is the emotional modality that permits us to access futurity, par excellence. Queers, for example, especially those who do not choose to be biologically reproductive, a people without children, are, within the dominant culture, people without a future. They are cast as people who are developmentally stalled, forsaken, who do not have the complete life promised by heterosexual temporality.3 This reminds one of the way in which worried parents deal with wild queer children, how they sometimes protect themselves from the fact of queerness by making it a “stage,” a developmental hiccup, a moment of misalignment that will, hopefully, correct itself or be corrected by savage pseudoscience and coercive religion, sometimes masquerading as psychology. In this chapter, I consider the idea of queerness as a “stage” in a way that rescues that term from delusional parents and others who attempt to manage and contain the potentiality that is queer youth. In this chapter I enact a utopian performative change in the signification of the phrase “it is only a ‘stage,’” deployed in the name of the queer child—in this case, the queer wild child of punk subculture. I enact this change through a reading of visual artist Kevin McCarty’s representations of illuminated stages at gay bars and independent rock clubs and through a more general reading of punk rock’s ethos as conjured and connoted by McCarty’s images and my readings of them. I argue that the artist’s work indexes a punk/queer utopian scene that I read for its utopian potentiality and also, furthermore, that the work itself is a photographic instance of the utopian performative.4 This argument is not aligned with any of the dominant performance theories that held sway during the early nineties, such as Peggy Phelan’s axiom that the ontology of performance was disappearance and that performance itself represented a unique mode of representation without reproduction.5 Instead, a materialist current influences this analysis. For example, I see this project working in tandem with a book such as Miranda Joseph’s Against the Romance of Community. In that book, Joseph offers an important critique of Phelan’s version of the performance’s power: “in order to claim that performance resists exchange value, or equivalence, and thereby approaches the unrepresentable real itself, Phelan discounts the work of the audience; their productive consumption of the work, their act of witness is for her the memory of something presented by somebody else.”6 Joseph, then...


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