"The Brown Commons: The Sense of Wildness," José Esteban Muñoz, Professor of Performance Studies, New York University
Fri, October 12, 2012 • 2:00 PM • Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC), Prothro Theatre
In conjunction with the Sexing the Borderlands Symposium
The Brown Commons: The Sense of Wildness
Brownness describes an expansive sense of the world, a feeling and being in common that surpasses the limits of the individual and the subject. Brownness is a conceptual framing that launches us into a vaster consideration of the ways in which people and things suffer and experience harm under the duress of local and global forces that attempt to diminish their vitality and degrade their value. The idea of Brownness also offers us an account of the ways in which brown commons, in all their harmony and turbulence, offer resources for thinking and doing otherwise. This paper presents an example of brown commons that it is both diverse and uniform, in the form of a collectivity that included working-class transgendered Latina immigrants and queer of color punks and artists. Wu Tsang’s film Wildness (2012) tells the tale of an art project that attempted to imagine and catalyze a cross-generational queer and brown commons. Wildness resists many of the protocols of realist documentary. It narrates a the story of Los Angeles’s Silver Platter, a longstanding Latino Gay bar that caters to a local gay community and featured old school transvestite performers. Tsang and a group of other younger queer artists took over the bar’s less populated Tuesday night slot and hosted a party that featured edgy queer performance. The documentary tells the story of The Silver Platter through interviews with the bar’s proprietors, regular patrons and those who would become Tuesday night’s denizens. The film includes talking heads and performance documentation but also attends to the larger urban ecology that surrounds the space by including adjacent histories of anti-immigrant and homophobic violence. Wildness also features the bar itself as a speaking persona who narrates the ebbs and flows of brown life that traverse its walls. My analysis of the film is a launching pad for a more expansive consideration of a mode of brownness that is articulated not as a realist or empirical rendering of Latina or migrant experience, but, instead, a theory of brownness as a simultaneously singular/plural sense of the world. This paper makes the case that Wildness is a cinema of specularity that offers spectators an expanded materialist lens for a new consideration of the striving, conflicts and flourishing of people, spaces, objects and feelings that are vitally brown.
José Esteban Muñoz is a Professor of Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He teaches courses in comparative ethnic studies, queer theory and aesthetics. He is the author Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (1999), Cruising Utopia: The Here and Now of Queer Futurity (2009) and the forthcoming The Sense of Brown. His edited and co-edited collections include the volumes Pop Out: Queer Warhol (1996), Everynight Life: Culture and Dance in Latin/o America, (1997) and special issues of the journals of Social Text (“Queer Transextions of Race, Gender, Nation, 1997 and “What’s Queer About Queer About Queer Studies Now,” 2005) and Women and Performance (“Queer Acts,” 1996 and “Between Psychoanalysis and Affect: A Public Feelings Project, 2009”). He co-edits the book series Sexual Cultures for NYU Press.