How are we referenced in all that surrounds us? Why are we drawn to this and rebuked by that? What is meaningful, revelatory, seductive? How can complexity, ambiguity, or disruption evolve us: individually and collectively? Art and technology position us within and around the dominant discourse, leverage the dexterity of our interpretation, and potentially point us toward alternative ways to perceive, desire, move, inhabit, and interact. Whereas much of the ideology expressed in mass media is contrived to direct people onto an established normative path, art and technology can be used in provocative and disruptive ways: new paths may be constructed, new relationships established, and alternative criticalities articulated. These paths, relationships, and criticalities are decidedly queer: queer in their ability to reshape signs, signification, and communication, queer in that they construct quasi-identities and irreconcilable discrepancies, queer in their defiance of authorship and notions of truth.

          Even as queer theory was beginning to take shape, many people understood that the reclamation of queer as a term of empowerment was not merely meant to be uplifting for sexual and gender others nor as validation of a particular lifestyle. In the early days of queer theory, David M. Halperin, who has worked for many years in the fields of gender studies, queer theory, critical theory, material culture and visual culture wrote:

‘Queer’…does not designate a class of already objectified pathologies or perversions; rather, it describes a horizon of possibility whose precise extent and heterogeneous scope cannot in principle be delimited in advance. It is from the eccentric positionality occupied by the queer subject that it may become possible to envision a variety of possibilities for reordering the relations among sexual behaviours, erotic identities, constructions of gender, forms of knowledge, regimes of enunciation, logics of representation, modes of self-construction, and practices of community – for restructuring the relations among power, truth, and desire.[1]

Queer is political, epistemological, phenomenological, spatial, social, aesthetic, and textual. It is a position from which we restructure the many ways in which bodies desire, move, read, speak, learn, and perceive. This broad understanding of queer allows us to look for and find queerness in images and objects, spaces and technologies, ideas and texts.

          Our bodies move through the world and our sense of self and other is dictated by our unique circumstances, attitudes, anxieties and desires. Our understanding of who “I” am and who “you” are is constrained only by our orientation: where we are located and that which we chance upon.  Cultural theorist Sara Ahmed writes, “Orientations are about how we begin; how we proceed from ‘here,’ which affects how what is ‘there’ appears, how it presents itself.”[2] This phenomenological approach shows how the objects, images, spaces, and texts that we encounter draw us onto or turn us away from a path. And, in turn, how those paths define us. Queerness is a position from which we rethink the many ways in which we interact with the world around us. Bodies, objects, and texts affect one another: guiding, disrupting, informing, questioning, and locating. And, the paths we follow in the space of the corporeal world  - normative or queer - can be deeply affected by our activity in the spaces of art and technology.

          Another valuable insight is found in the work of queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz who considers queerness to be a futurity, always drawing us forward: “Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.”[3] Queerness is not something that is necessarily achieved but, rather, a sign or guide post poised on the horizon, with a gravitational pull towards a different sort of world-making. The utopia to which Muñoz refers is not that of science fiction novels, it is a refusal to accept the disadvantageous moment and a vigilant desire to manifest more promising realities. Muñoz is less interested in our mastery of things and far more interested in process and becoming. From Muñoz’s model of queerness I again assert that art and technology are vital tools in support of queer looking, queer reading, and queer action.

          Inscribed, intended, or normative meanings are not fixed and when confronted with uncertainty and indistinctness, our common notions can be rendered untenable. This has the potential to shift our point of view, sensitize our bodies, and interrogate authority. What I describe here is, for me, the foundation and meaning of queer: the ability to reorient, disorient, and orient us, the potential to empower and transform us, the criticality to question and subvert dominant networks. In their seminal book on multimodality Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes write, “The unfolding history of media technologies challenges us to reconceive, again and again, how we communicate with and through media, how media interact with one another, and how we reflexively understand ourselves, individually and collectively, in our interactions across different media platforms.”[4] Art and technology together comprise an evolving techno-aesthetic-queerness. They offer up a lens of criticality and can reveal the mutability of language, objects, images, and spaces. They provide tools and platforms that prompt us to look intently, feel deeply and question aggressively – opportunities to be (re)(dis)oriented.

 

[1] Halperin, David M. Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 1995. Page 62.

[2] Ahmed, Sara. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Duke University Press. Durham NC. 2006. Page 8.

[3] Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York University Press, New York NY. 2009. Page 1.

[4] Alexander, Jonathan. Rhodes, Jacqueline. On Multimodality: New Media in Composition Studies. National Council of Teachers of English. 2014. Page 60.