“Where now? Who now? When now? Unquestioning. I, say I. Unbelieving. Questions, hypothesis, call them that. Keep going, going on, call that going, call that on.”–Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
Samuel Beckett seems like a good place to start. After election night on Tuesday, it feels like we’re living in one of his plays. I didn’t really want to write this piece–or any election-related “think piece.” It always seems egomaniacal and self-indulgent. But, I couldn’t find a way to avoid writing about our ominous election of Donald Trump.
Now, this isn’t going to be a think piece panicking about what Trump’s administration might mean to queer people (or people of color, women, immigrants, the art world or anyone else). I don’t presume to know. I’m sick of reading those articles and I’m generally sick of the panic–at least, the panic about the future policies. The panic about a group of empowered violent half-wits is certainly warranted. I frequently think of David Bowie’s song, “I’m Afraid of Americans.” Me too, David.
But, it felt irresponsible to immediately dive into writing art reviews with my head buried in the sand like an ostrich. Not that I didn’t want to and I wouldn’t have been alone. I observed quite a number of my art writer colleagues just writing reviews like nothing happened. It makes me embarrassed at the insane privilege that runs rampant through the art world.
Whether we like it or not, the context of everything has changed. Art is a product of its context and the context now is batshit crazy, like we’re living in the Upside Down from Stranger Things. I, like many of you dearest readers, woke up on Wednesday living in a different country than I thought I did on Monday. I’ve heard the election compared to JFK’s assassination but nobody died. Someone also said September 11, but the country did this to ourselves. It feels like my brain has been recalibrating since Tuesday night.
And pretty much everything has to be reconsidered. Those of us who live in cities like New York need to interrogate the echo chambers we’ve built around our communities. And that includes the LGBTQ community, the arts community and the academic community.
Overnight, much of queer theory seemed shockingly irrelevant and even dangerous to me. How did that “queer utopia” work out for us? How about Lee Edelman’s “no future”? It’s not exactly useful when this nihilistic dystopia was thrust on us rather than radically chosen. Much of this theory was a product of its privileged ivory tower and internal “queerer than thou” academic debates.
This doesn’t mean all theory gets thrown out the window. Some seems downright prescient like Heather Love’s Feeling Backward and its rejection of the notion of progress. Not that Love’s book wasn’t always one of my favorite (and most quoted), but saw on Tuesday night that progress is a fallacy.
Likewise, all disciplines of art and culture have taken on more meaning and crucial emotional and political significance. Luckily, I’ve always preferred artists, musicians, comics and writers who are yelling at the edge of the abyss. Their work feels even more apropos now. I now understand, like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, the desire to run “to the city of refuge,” the feeling that “people just ain’t no good,” and suffering “such hard blues down there in the supermarket queues.”
But more than these blues, there’s also rage. David Wojnarowicz’s art and writing has felt particularly appropriate in this regard by articulating rage against America. I always appreciated Wojnarowicz’s anger and thought I felt it. But I didn’t really–until now. As he writes in Close To the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, “I wake up every morning in this killing machine called america and I’m carrying this rage like a blood-filled egg and there’s a thin line between the inside and the outside a thin line between thought and action and that line is simply made up of blood and muscle and bone.”
And yet, for me, it’s not all just blues and rage. Granted, I’ve always had a dark sense of humor that bent toward gallows humor. On Wednesday, I found myself answering the delusional claim that art gets better under repressive regimes by tweeting bad homoerotic Nazi sculptures as a premiere of Filthy Dreams’ new art content. You have to laugh or you’ll be on a ledge somewhere.
Let’s be honest, when you step back from it, the idea that Donald Trump–reality TV star–is our president-elect is hilarious. Terrifying and threatening, but hilarious. At least the dissolution of America will be kind of amusing. Just try to imagine Melania giving tours of the gilded White House Christmas decorations and try not to laugh. In some respects, our capitalist, media-soaked society got the downfall it deserved. And what a spectacular fall it’ll be.
It’s the absolute victory of ridiculousness, which is why I’ve turned to Charles Ludlam’s Manifesto: Ridiculous Theatre, Scourge of Human Folly to find some solace and a way forward. Camp is rage, as he says.
In the manifesto, Ludlam writes, “Bathos is that which is intended to be sorrowful but because of the extremity of its expression becomes comic. Pathos is that which is meant to be comic but because of the extremity of its expression becomes sorrowful. Some things which seem to be opposites are actually different degrees of the same thing” (157). Sound familiar?
What does Charles suggest? Well, “test out a dangerous idea, a theme that threatens to destroy one’s whole value system. Treat the material in a madly farcical manner without losing the seriousness of the theme” (158). And this is how it should be. Queer art, now, takes on increased importance. You better step the fuck up, artists. Formalism isn’t enough. Same with criticism–we can’t write nonpolitical reviews anymore, or we’re part of the problem. Those of us who have access to public forums for ideas have a responsibility.
And as for us, Filthy Dreams has always thrived when things are the worst. Our original nightclub was conceived on drunken imaginings of a wild party, throwing confetti in the air in protest and saying, “Fuck it.” This hasn’t changed in blog form. Sure, we’re fucked but the party here hasn’t ended.
As Beckett writes in The Unnamable, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” (407).
A very thoughtful and most excellent essay. I, and I am certain many others, are not quite certain what to pen regarding this debacle of an election in the US. Thank you. 🍁
Great line in an excellent essay: “The panic about a group of empowered violent half-wits is certainly warranted.”