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115 7 Utopia’s Seating Chart Ray Johnson, Jill Johnston, and Queer Intermedia as System for Luke The solution to the problem of identity is, get lost. —Jill Johnston T h e Sto newa l l r i ot was a manifestation of pent-up energies that erupted on the streets of Greenwich Village in 1969. Today I live and work in the Village, and it is hard to find any residue of those energies. Yet the task of finding traces of those transformative political potentialities is nonetheless important, and in my research I often return to that moment of countercultural fecundity. Stonewall is of course the birth of the modern gay and lesbian movement and the initial eruption that led to a formalizing and formatting of gay and lesbian identities. Although this turn to the identitarian was important and even historically necessary, it is equally important to reflect on what was lost by this particular process of formalization. Before this bold rebellion there was another moment in which the countercultural map was perhaps a bit queerer, which is to say more expansive and including of various structures of feeling and habits of being that the relatively restrictive categories of gay and lesbian identities are incapable of catching. When I turn to the ephemeral archives of queer New York I am interested in locating the anti-identitarian germ of this rebellion. Avant-garde cultural work from this period can be viewed from a certain vantage point from which the complexity of these then inchoate identities can be seen clearly. This approach looks at the work of certain cultural producers as ephemeral archives of these previous understandings and cartographies of the world. I am most interested in identifying a certain utopian component in these archives. This archival turn is intended to do more than 116 Utopia’s Seating Chart simply unpack the past, to move from then to now. It is instead to calibrate a critical optic that can potentially perceive the residue of the utopian impulse that animated preidentitarian queer politics, and move from then to here. This move from then to here is a move to think about the coterminous nature of the temporal and spatial in the queer utopian methodology that I am suggesting. The time of the past helps mount a critique of the space of the present. This is not revisionary history or metahistory; it is a critical deployment of the past for the purpose of engaging the present and imagining the future. The purpose of calibrating such an optic is then to deploy the knowledge gleaned from queer ephemeral archives for the purposes of reanimating and reviving this utopian impulse. To that end, I turn to two figures from that period: cultural critic Jill Johnston and conceptual artist Ray Johnson. With the homophonic surnames acknowledged, the pairing has to do with similar antidisciplinary protocols in their artistic work, what I call the “intermedia” approach of their cultural production. This intermedia process leads to a perpetual unfinished system that is by its very nature antisystemological, and thus analogical to the preidentitarian moment in which I am so interested. Intermedia is a radical understanding of interdisciplinarity. The usage of intermedia that I am suggesting is interdisciplinary in relation to both artmaking protocols and taxonomies of race, gender, and sex.1 I transport Johnston and Johnson from their historical perch and attempt to understand them alongside each other, as well as in the historical moment that enabled their projects. The project here is to understand how this work represents a much larger communal vibe, not to cast the two cultural producers as some kind of individualistic heroes. The work of Ernst Bloch, especially his interest in discerning the utopian aura of art, is crucial to my endeavor. Once again, I follow a flight plan that by now has hopefully become familiar in this book: I turn to the past in an effort to imagine a future. But before I engage that project, I sketch a map of how I got from then to here. No one knows how many members belonged to the New York Correspondence School. I would like to think that the membership was vast and farreaching , a virtual army of lovers who mailed obtuse yet beautiful objects to one another, objects that remade the world in significant and startling ways. The New York Correspondence School (NYCS) debuted in 1970 at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art with the show “Ray Johnson: New York Correspondence School...


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