The Beauty of José Esteban Muñoz


beauty post

by Frederick C. Moten, University of California, Riverside


At bottom, above all, in the heart of it all, for José queerness is a utopian project whose temporal dimensionality is manifest not only as projection into the future but also as projection of a certain futurity into and onto the present and the past, piercing their previous arrangement and administration. Queerness also has a spatial dimension for José, but only insofar as it is located in displacement, at sites that are both temporary and shifting, in underground, virtual neighborhoods, ephemeral, disappearing clubs and ordinary, everyday venues broken and reconstructed by extraordinary everynight presences whose traces animate his writing with the sound and feel—as well as the principle—of hope. Like Heidegger, but wholly against Heidegger’s grain, José inhabits the convergence of “ecstasy” as spatio-temporal derangement with “existence” as stepping in and out of time. He studies study’s performative appearance in and as the social life of the alternative. He knows that sometimes the alternative is lost. That sometimes it has to get lost. That sometimes the alternative is loss. To be or to get lost might be neither to hide nor to disappear. Similarly: to lose, to relinquish or to veer away from—even if within—a given economy of accumulation—José thinks this in relation to, or as a certain disruption of, property, of propriety, of possession and self-possession, of the modes of subjectivity these engender especially in fucked-up, Locke/d down, America. Inappropriateness such as José’s—which is his, and his alone, because it is not his, because he gave it to us from wherever he was and gives it to us from wherever he is—remains undefined by the interplay of regulation and accumulation that it induces.

Consider (which is to say feel, which is to say dig) Kevin Aviance (deviance and perfume, the trace of another scent and gest and groove) as José approaches (which is to dances with, which is to say grounds with) him—accursed share and shard, cracked vessel of essence-in-motion, counterfetish instantiating the critique of possession that only the dispossessed can make. Such consideration isn’t easy. In their mutual approach, José and Aviance become something else; something else becomes them and we have to try to get beautiful like that. That beauty is hard, brown, black, black brown and beige, tinged with the sadness that attends our, and that keeps us, moving through the ongoing history of brutal enjoyment to get to what survival demands that we enjoy. José says that on the way to that—in the slow, inescapably lowdown path of our escape—we critically rush the impasse of our fetishization, the sociosynaptic (log)jam that keeps us from becoming instruments for one another, which is our destiny. What José knows about Aviance is what we also know about José. If the force of the counterfetish is lost in the Roxy, lost in the all the various pragmatisms whose asses José kicked, lost in Marx though he, at least, as Althusser might say, produces the concept that José came to discover. If the “fetish, in its Marxian dimensions, is about occlusion, displacement, concealment and illusion,” then it can also be said to be about loss or to be the lost.1 The fetish is a representation of loss or of the lost. The condition of possibility of this necessary representational function is loss. Heidegger might say that the fetish, or the counterfetishistic property of the fetish, tends toward unconcealment, aletheia, truth. He would say that unconcealment has concealment at its heart, which we recognize in the anarepresentational content that is borne, the ephemeral and performative energy that is transmuted and transmitted when Aviance and José dance their queer, spooky pas de deux at a distance. What Marx figures as subjunctive we now know to be actual. This is to say that José neither reads nor interprets the rematerialization of dance; he extends it, becomes part of the ongoing rematerialization that is (its) performance. This is a migrant curve evading straightness and its time. This is the counterfetishistic, redistributive, performative, gesturally perfumative content of José’s writing, which theorizes loss as the instantiation of another condition of possibility: the prefigurative supplement of loss that deconstructs and reconstructs identity, that reproduces a personhood at odds with, or radically lost within, the accumulative-possessional drive; the future lost in the present, fugitive of and in the present; our subterranean movement; the shard of light we share.

José, whose irreplaceability is given in that he was always writing with somebody, and Aviance shed that light. They remain as “queer ephemera, transmutation of the performance energy, that also function as a beacon for queer possibility and survival” so we can see ourselves, both descriptively and prescriptively, as the history of abnormative in(ter)vention (ibid., 74). We have to see our everyday selves like that everynight, until the party becomes The Party; and though we’re not party to this exchange, because we’re not, we feel it, because it moves through us when we feel (for) one another. The ones who don’t see the gravity of this have never been on, let alone under, the ground. Such grounding, such approach was José, flying. The velocity of his escape remains in (f)light. See, if Aviance and José hip us to the notion that ephemera mark the ongoing production of (a) performance whose origin is always before us, then every vanishing point signals the inevitably of a return, even if it’s just the way we get up tomorrow, even if our loss make us not want to get up, because tomorrow we’ll see that the one we lost has left us something that will help us find him. Deeper still, way before the end, the ephemeral counterfetish will either make the bosses beautiful—multiply perspectival, contrapuntally out, in recovery of what’s lost in the stiffness of their stride and minds—or destroy them. Now that José is lost and found, improperly dispersed in us, it’s our job to bear that, to be borne by that, to keep being reborn in that. So let’s play.


Visit the full José Esteban Muñoz gallery here.


1. José Esteban Muñoz, “Gesture, Ephemera and Queer Feeling: Approaching Kevin Aviance,” in Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 78.
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