Media @ McGill

"Mapping Utopia's Horizon: Cartographies of Futurity and the Queer Multitudinous Audience in Black and in Color"

Submitted by Media@McGill on


Emma Flavian


The impetus of my research project is a questioning of pessimistic cultural criticisms as necessarily radical or ultimately solvent of the problems they uncover. Foundational to critical endeavors at they may be, it is difficult not to find limitations in theories of culture whose end seems to stagnate at the revealing of the extent of ideology's oppressive hold, and not the formulation and rendering possible of a potential beyond to this hold, or of reparative solutions. 

For this and more, I have found much value in a politicized approach to utopia, such as Ernst Bloch's "not-yet-there" whose imagining allows for both an enlightenment to and refusal of the present moment's dreadful lacks. The potentialities we may find in a critique of culture that is not constantly mired in the repression it unveils, but rather opens up in a productive search for a way out, a manner of thinking and seeing which would enact our dreams for the future, are essential to my project. In this utopian drive, I work as much from José Esteban Muñoz's queer horizon as I do Fred Moten's dissatisfied and dissident undercommons, and from the critical and artistic practices of Afrofuturism and black positivity as much as off the shores of Afropessimism.

One of many potent places of activation for this critically utopian ethos is the broad field of communication theories of the audience. I base my inspiration particularly on its utilization of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's scholarship on the multitude, where this multitude is marked as the siege of constituent power with which everything—including the repressive ideology which seeks to control it—begins. The audience might thus here regain its privileged status in the emergence of culture, and as locus of transformative power, thus enabling us to see and enact alternatives to our present conditions of existence.

Working alongside this conceptualization of the audience's transformative potentialities is Muñoz' theorization of queerness as utopia, the "not-yet-there" towards which we must remain attuned with the aim of finding the anticipatory illumination of queerness in the everyday. This ethos of seeing queerness as imbuing both the past and the quotidian with a treasure-map to a utopian futurity implies the enacting of an ideal reading practice which places the audience of queer texts, moments, and subjects—the queer audience—as the utopian audience. 

With an acute attention towards the place of blackness within this epistemology of the queer as utopian, I wish to deepen my search for futurity—the outside of the repressive, stultifying, deadly moment—with a productively paradoxical movement back towards the pessimistic; by seeking futurity and the utopian in abject audience positions and positionings, dispossessing and dispossessed modes of seeing and being, radical refusals and taking-ons and upons, and the formation, through practices of spectatorship, of a subject whose complete disavowal might yet signify its freedom and utopian markings. The question of who this subject might be, and what it might yield, is the crux of my project.