BPM: Duration and Endurance

By JN Hoad

 What follows is a discussion of a cinematic portrayal of the Paris branch of the AIDs Coalition to Unleash Power (Act Up). Already, there has been some discussion of the historical and ongoing relevance of AIDs activism in the present crisis. Robin Campillo’s crucial 2017 picture, BPM, has much to offer both aesthetically and practically in any discussion of contemporary and historical health politics. [1] I hope that the pressing nature of these themes will emerge as my analysis proceeds. What I effect here might be called a ‘rhythmanalysis’ – exploring rhythms, pulses, motifs and different temporal modes in the film in order to divulge its politics. [2] I study the film more thematically than narratively, picking out moments in montage in order to focus on its persistent ethical themes. Like José Esteban Muňoz, I am concerned with taking what is no longer present, applying it to the present being made, and perhaps opening up questions for future resistance, that which is not yet. [3] The lessons of the AIDs crisis must be re-assessed, in politics, ethics, and aesthetics, even if the current pandemic poses such problems in a transformed , even inverted form.

Exhaustion (1):

The function of disco is exhaustion. Disco is durational as well as danceable. Dancefloor R&B from the 1970s becomes defined by long form structure and repetitious body grooves; eight, ten, twelve minute cuts build to a crescendo from the loosest jams, whilst ceaselessly circling four to the floor. A record like Arts & Craft’s ‘I’ve Been Searching’ explores every fine detail and orchestral peak of the band, from the long improvisational organ intro, through synth, string and chorus swoons, ragged drums, harsh sax solo. Only by listening to the record in full can we feel its compositional and emotional range. The gospel choir lifting the keyboard, the sax grinding on the drums unfold the whole over eight minutes. The groove is repetitious, but also in constant development. Dance music like this demands our visceral attention for as long as we can endure.

The dance-floor asks everything of us– physically, emotionally. To move at 120BPM through quarter-hour records, night long playlists, is physically demanding and emotionally climactic in a way that only such a collective, durational experience can be. The function of disco is exhaustion because it demands that we express everything through these musical melodramas. It activates a full body eroticism, not only of dancing and fucking, but also weeping, rage, determination, salvation.

No wonder, then, that long-form R&B and its contemporary dance offshoots have often found a home in queer, black, Latinx, and all kinds of marginal communities, scenes and movements. In combining melodrama with pleasure, music can provide both spiritual affirmation and erotic indulgence to those alienated from such depth of experience in normal life. Both the thrill of salvation and the desperate reach for communal life can be found on the dance floor, in a nearly religious experience. (There is a reason why Larry Levan’s sets at the Paradise Garage were called his Sunday Service.) This is the relation between duration and endurance.

To experience everything on the dance-floor when life outside offers nothing substantial: this is the sacred significance of the discotheque. To take pleasure in the full orchestral range of emotion, to move with the beat to a point beyond endurance, and experience afterwards true, blissful rest is the promise of the dance-floor. The best disco can be described as ecstatic – taking you outside yourself – as it pushes your whole bodily capacities, pulling you into the crowded heartbeat of the club, its enchanting elsewhere.

Exhaustion, in this sense, is the opposite of rest as the renewal of the self. [5] In exhaustion, everything is spent, the complete realisation and expenditure of all possibilities. There are times, as we will see, when rest is called for; when we must treat tiredness and fatigue in order to continue living. Exhaustion here will be the limit point, the prospect that everything can be realised.

Life at 120BPM is ecstatic in this way, if at times equally delirious and dangerous. I have begun by talking about disco because it demonstrates melodramatically what I want to consider about queer life in precarious times – matters of rhythm, endurance, ecstasy.

BPM:

Robin Campillo’s BPM returns to the AIDs crisis through lenses of dramatised politics, intimate drama and expressive montage. Undoubtedly, we can learn much from the politics of the AIDs crisis for our current times. In this moment where our hearts are racing even as the traffic of the world at large is silenced, I want to consider specifically how BPM expresses the pulse of queer life. To love in precarious times, and live through exhaustion, are problems we face again now. Musically, emotionally, militantly, this study of Act Up Paris in the early nineties helps us remember and envision how we have struggled through these dilemmas before.

Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ is an exemplary queer synth disco ballad. In the course of eight minutes, the song brings us from chilled, lingering steel-drums and synth harps, through the bubbling of the groove and baseline and slapping snare fills. Jimmy Sommerville’s falsetto narrates a haunting tale of the boy who ‘Leaves in the morning with all that you own in a little black case…’. Alienation and violence, sadness and isolation, as well as the thrill of escape are all at play here. The group’s other hit, ‘Why?’, likewise combines bash back punk anger, despair and pounding funk fanfares into a deeply cathartic floor filler. These records are journeys, complete melodramas.

‘Smalltown Boy’ serves as a motif throughout 120BPM. We hear an anachronistically remixed version play on the flashing dancefloor of the frequented club, and the main riff is echoed in in synth strings throughout the score. The record actually drops when the dead rise. We view a political funeral march from above, filling the streets with ACT-UP’s unmistakeable political iconography: pink triangles, SILENCE=DEATH, horns, clamorous chanting. The march halts and becomes a street-wide die in, the screen filled with bodies grasping crosses and pickets. Tibauld. a leading member of the chapter, delivers a speech by megaphone:

We view AIDS as a war. A war invisible to others. Every war has its traitors. AIDS too. Those who see the epidemic as a godsend for killing gays, junkies, prostitutes and prisoners to general indifference. Those who use it to revive hatred and discrimination. We have been fighting them since 1989 through our tireless presence on every front. Together we can unite our forces to resist the epidemic and the personal tragedies and social problems it causes. Together we can build a community able to approach the epidemic with a positive and combative attitude. ACT UP Paris views AIDS as a challenge! Take it up with us! Join us!

Political funerals such as this have been a tactic employed by ACT UP branches internationally in order to express the politics of mourning in the AIDS crisis. The lives of queers, sex workers, prisoners, drug users, migrants, people of colour, all of those overlooked in the death tallies of social crises, are still worth grieving. [5] To insist on this is a political act, one that drives collective action. It also marks a weary rage, that so many have been lost, and that so much force is required for that loss to be recognised.

Over these scenes, Sommerville’s crooning falsetto drifts in. As the marching dead rise once again, the beat drops, and we cut to the club. It is dance music which bridges these emotional worlds – rage, grief, pleasure, sickness, sex. Disco effects a way through exhaustion. The political funeral is a promise to recognise and endure death. That sense of endurance, both as resistance and life in duration, is what BPM captures: the complex pulse of life in crisis.

BPM 2_18_28

Sex and Duration:

Over the course of the narrative, the film shifts from a documentary style which outlines in practical detail the tactics and knowledge of Paris ACT-UP, to a more intimate drama of two particular lovers who meet in the movement. Sean is a founding member of the branch, and HIV positive; valued for his flamboyant militancy, we see how sickness wears him down throughout the film, as rage curdles into depression and bitterness. Nathan is a new member of the branch, initially attracted to the erotics of sex and activism, but who develops a deep caring attachment to Sean in his final months.

Sean and Nathan’s romance carries through the cycle of politics, pleasure and intimacy which the film establishes as the rhythm of queer militant life. They first kiss in order to ward off harassment from a straight girl at a high-school information drop; that night on the dance floor their intimacy finds a sequel to the tune of Mr. Fingers’ ‘What About This Love?’ . A match cut sees the pair fall from the cool flashing lights of the dance-floor into the close shadows of Sean’s bedroom.

In a long love making scene, the camerawork, dialogues and play of bodies together explore themes of vulnerability, sexuality and time. Initially, their love making is breathless; the camera ducks and sways with entwined motion of their bodies, following the tender, sweaty folding together of their contours. Sean insists on using a condom, and the two are able to have an honest dialogue about its use in sexual safety and pleasure; they agree to use one for oral, even if Nathan doesn’t get off that way. After a few tender moments, a 2AM alarm interrupts them: it’s time for Sean to take his meds. Honesty and care, along with urgency and drive, are all equally important, as safe sex punctuates the flow of the erotic moment. Sex is a moment of ecstasy: two bodies entwined outside themselves, but also time outside itself, unfolding, entangled.

Sexual history also changes how the moment unfolds for these lovers. Nathan notices a photograph of Sean’s mother, which leads to stories about his Chilean upbringing, boyhood, and how he contracted AIDs from his maths teacher, Mr. Ducaire. Recounting this moment, the camera pans slowly along Sean’s back, to find the hand of his old teacher reaching over his buttocks. Sean’s body manifests a memory, a sexual history, in the most intimate touch; this shot which minutely spans years of time makes that memory as present as any sexual encounter of the moment. Sean reflects on the problems of age, responsibility, power and trust:

Nathan: He was older, he should have known.

Sean: Yes, he should’ve, but I should’ve known, too. You can’t split responsibility. When you infect someone, you’re 100% responsible. And when you get infected too. But what did we know then? No one talked about it.

Nathan: That’s the state’s responsibility. Right?

Sean: Yes, that’s right. But now we’re fucking.

Whose responsibility is transmission? Sean and Nathan here are troubled by the relationship between personal choices, the traces of others and the structures of power. They are discussing what Jacques Derrida would call the relation between general and absolute responsibility. [6] General responsibility pertains to established moral laws, social norms and public conduct, whereas absolute responsibility pertains to the other, this person before me who makes an immediate demand. The other requires immediate, authentic commitment, totally unlike the performative, coded practices of social order.

 So, Nathan emphasises the general responsibility of the state, in its failure to care for people with AIDs and withholding of proper information: SILENCE=DEATH. But Sean is highly aware of the absolute grip of the other, in this moment, being suspended in that intimacy. So, too, does Sean re-emphasise the important of pleasure in the moment, cutting short this moral discourse: “But now we’re fucking.” 

The concerns which Nathan and Sean linger on here do find a clear answer in this narrative of Act Up’s early years, though in some respects they reflect the ‘bareback controversy’ which would embroil the group in its later years. [7] The American term ‘barebacking’ had been adopted for sex without condoms, and was at times used to condemn sex seen to be intended to transmit the disease; it would be a point of controversy thoughout the late 90s and early 2000s. By 1999, its 10th Anniversary, Act Up were marching at Paris Pride with banners that read “So sex without a condom makes you cum?”, followed by denunciations of prominent gay figures seen to be promoting unprotected sex. Messaging which targeted, and at times shamed, individuals with HIV was controversial within Act Up; still, in the public sphere it became an occasion for polarised clashes.

But to return to our lovers, for whom these moral controversies are context in shadow: the two roll back into bed for a climatic penetration between the sheets, Nathan has his own moment of reminiscence. Sean asks his partner if he is Nathan’s first ‘poz’. We cut to smoke in the gloomy blue light, as if Nathan can smell it again here and now. A young man, his face unseen, is opening up to Nathan about how he doesn’t like his jaw. This same young man declined to disclose to Nathan that he was HIV positive; Nathan notices Karposki’s Sarcoma spots on his lover’s back after they fuck. Sean asks Nathan if he saw his KS lesions, and is glad he didn’t.

By touch, the contours of the body enrapture lovers, even if by sight they reveal symptoms which might embarrass or even repulse. Symptoms might disclose a sexual history, a sickness, which the sick person might want to keep on their own terms. But to disclose this history, somehow, to allow a pause in love making for this vulnerability, is crucial. Symptoms, condoms, and the traces of others punctuate the enraptured moment, so that the duration of love making flows together with reminiscence, regret, medication regimes and politics. The flesh encounter of the moment is full of the moral weight of history.

From this discussion of bodies, sex, memories and visibility, we cut to Sean cheerleading at a Pride Parade. Swept up again in the frenetic crowd, we might still have pause to consider how carefully Sean is about the visibility of his body: his flamboyant presence in politics alongside his honest nervousness about KS spots.

From this moment on, Sean becomes more the focal point of 120BPM. We follow his relationship with Nathan over the course of the year, as his health declines; he becomes exhausted, physically and politically. Always, we see that Sean is giving expression to the pain of his sickness, in directed anger as well as weary cynicism. He reaches the point of turning away his comrades who visit him in hospital. Yet he is never condemned for giving up on politics: we will see that he is militant to his very ashes. We are invited to empathise; slow death is numbing, and love and solidarity may call on us to stick with those who can give no more.

Sean’s health deteriorates, and he is hospitalised. Now he watches ACT-UP demonstrations on television, silent as a nurse tends to him. Tibauld goes to visit him. The scene is full of awkward silence, emptiness filled with the pings of a GameBoy. Sean cannot get caught in activism and its plans any more; having only bitterness, he asks his comrade to leave. Hospital time has suppressed Sean’s political instincts, his plans for the future. There is something anti-social about queer sickness, and though the film does not embrace this completely, it asks us to recognise the cynicism of exhaustion and isolation.

Tibauld passes Nathan on the way out. Sean and Nathan talk about painkillers, clean clothes, the cold and heat. Sean is in pain: “I don’t know if it’s the fever or the fear”. He is overwhelmed by his sickness. The clutter of sickness and care are the way of the pleasure of intimacy. Then, without a word, Nathan steps from the window and kisses Sean, intensely. Sean leans upwards for it, Nathan’s hand falls down his chest. The camera steps back to watch a quiet handjob, the flat blue gloom of the hospital room exchanged for the shady contours of the bedroom. Almost nothing is hidden; we see Sean’s KS lesions. The whole act is furtive, quiet, time snatched from the constant, silent discipline of medical care.

It’s a climax which is an emotional revelation, in a quiet way. The pained expression of orgasm, strained breath, laughter, weeping. Nathan wipes up Sean’s cum, as well as his tears. They laugh. “Sorry it had to be you.” (In the bind of absolute responsibility to the other, what else can you say?)

In this handjob, it seems that sex is held again in the moment. This is a moment of ecstasy between two bodies, but one which remains in the durational present – continuous editing, close-ups which bring us only further into the grip of two tired bodies. We feel both the quiet awkwardness of fucking in hospital sheets, and the slightness of pleasure at its most fragile. Here, sex in unexpected ways and places is not an act of subversion, as we often understand urban cruising or exhibitionist erotics; instead, these characters must seek out opportunities for togetherness even the most quiet, self-imposed isolation. Pleasure and care are not at odds here, we are not asked to decide between duty and indulgence: each transforms the meaning of the other.

A handjob in a hospital bed is not a moment which enfolds memory and future pleasure in the way that their previous scene of love-making did. Still, Sean and Nathan are each given to the other. Pleasure, intimacy, and exhaustion each entail a certain kind of ecstasy, however quiet or granular. Together, they mark a moment in which the body drops, expended, prepared only to be held by another. If disco is the spectacular performance of everything bodies can do, here a quiet orgasm is all a body can do. Exhaustion is a total expenditure, yet still in both cases it implies a certain ecstasy. In expending ourselves we become outside ourselves, in joy and sickness, in tenderness and pain.

Sex is entwined with a fundamental vulnerability. This vulnerability means that erotic practice must given the context of sex education, previous encounters, personal history. Communicating the history and practical ethics of sex becomes a matter of survival. The difficulty is seeking out moments where we can lose ourselves, our bitter memories, when we feel the mark of this history less deeply, or at least less painfully.

Queer ethics becomes a matter of feeling the pulse of care within flows of desire. There is a pause for meds and prophylactics during breathless sex. A handjob is snatched in a hospital bed. At medical self-education meetings, there is still time to water the plants. As Justin Hogg writes, care lingers in the ordinary. Or perhaps, it is the activity in which the ordinary and the ecstatic are within one another. Act Up itself acts as a community which translates the absolute, individual pain of sickness into the general politics of healthcare militancy – and vice versa. Promiscuity in a pandemic requires us to see politics in the tiniest motes of interpersonal life, and erotics in the rush of collective experience. This motion is exhausting and requires a pulse, a dance, which moves us on every scale.

Viral Visuality:

Queer politics and aesthetics can be described in states of ecstasy. [8] ‘Ecstasy’ in the original ancient Greek simply means ‘being outside of oneself’. Disco engenders a state of ecstasy, an intensity of motion and rhythm in which the body explodes, dancing, on the dazzling elsewhere of the dance-floor. Throwing ashes at a political funeral is another kind of ecstasy: the body of the dead is given to a greater political movement, literally cast outwards by and for a community of resistance. Ecstasy can entail burning pleasure, explosive anger, and ashen morbidity. 

In BPM, the camera hangs above the dance-floor, and slowly the focus shifts to outline a stream of dust, lingering above moving bodies. The soundtrack strips back from pulsing techno to plucked synthetic strings, flutes and fine cymbals. Particulate detail comes into focus; the camera becomes a microscope, picking individual blobs amongst the stream, which begin to look like organic matter, human cells. lack dark dots and red blotches move among the grey-blues of this cell stream: deadly viral particles silently at work. Fredric Jameson describes galactic visuality as the moment we are subject to the gaze of the stars; here we have a viral visuality, in which we realise that we are subject to the motion of a virus. [9] The vision of the heavens orients humanity of a cosmic scale, a history larger than the individual subject; here a micropolitics is revealed, in which the invisible effects of microbes and particles are also part of our agency. The dancers seek to lose themselves in the dance, to briefly trade risk for joy, but the camera does not allow us to escape awareness of this minute but total vulnerability. Deadly and joyous ecstasy are intertwined. 

BPM 00_25_47

This motif of the dust matrix becomes a surreal riff throughout the film. We often return to the dance-floor as a breather between moments of drama and conflict. Nathan, preoccupied, gazes out amongst the crowds, falling out of sync and noticing the motes of dust in the air. In one scene, he sees flashes of lovers lying in a cyan ocean, echoing a trip to the beach with Sean. At another point, in the sequence between the die-in and Sean’s death, the dust motes dissolve into a shot of his lover in a gloomy hospital. The matrix of dust connects comrades and lovers, the ocean, viral death and flows of desire.

These starlight particles lingering amongst us all become an opportunity to change rhythm, re-focus and shift perceptive outside of the individual body: floating ecstasies.  The pulsing of the air to a collective rhythm; the tiny viral particles imperceptibly but inexorably linking our lives and deaths; the cool dissolving blue of the ocean. These are ecstatic experiences dissolving the boundaries of the self into the surrounding air. This is neither a morbid collapse of personality and physicality , nor a utopian escape from individuation dissolving us into the aqua of collective kinship. This shimmering dust carries both orgasmic trip and viral fear. Queer life is a life of navigating this matrix which both sustains and overwhelms us.

Mourning and Militancy:

From Nathan’s vision of dust, we dissolve to Sean writhing in the dark of hospital, and then an even more surreal image: a river running red. This seems to be part of an action mentioned by Tibauld earlier, dying the Seine red in order to protest the loss of life caused by neglecting AIDs crisis. On its own, seen from a wide helicopter shot on a gloomy day, the image takes on an unreal, ecological scope. This is not the well known AIDS quilt,  ‘Le patchwork des noms’ which gave an individual patch and name to hundreds lost in the crisis: here death is flow, a streak of red on grey, silent and constant. [10] Is the political sense of grief lost in this deindividuation? Perhaps the sense of vocal protest is lost, but the scale of violence portrayed here, the massive red matrix, still lingers.

BPM 1_53_06

 Sean’s final moments follow from this. We watch him move into Nathan’s apartment as hospice, and slowly deal with ordinary difficulties of accommodating the home he will die in. He is carried by medics onto the sofa and then Nathan helps him labor into bed; his mother talks him through his post and benefits cheque. Once again, the camera is over the shoulder, standing close to these tiny struggles of care.

Sean dies that night, assisted with consent by his partner. “Be careful, you mustn’t prick yourself” – Sean’s last words to his partner. They both go to bed; time passes. Nathan gets up, and hurriedly searches a draw for a little black bag containing a syringe. Fumbling, he injects it into Sean’s catheter. Nathan leans towards Sean in the bed above, panting in his distress, as his partner quietly passes. Even death is a shared act here – the twilight of ecstasy.

Here, domestic does not necessarily mean familial in the conventional sense. As Sean’s friends and comrades gather at his wake, along with his mother, the diversity and promiscuity of relations in this community is still clear. Mourning and politics are contextualised by, and also run through and across, difference of age, race, gender, sexuality. The ACT-UP members go over Sean’s obituary with his mother, and discuss how to split his ashes between preservation and use in direct action. The minutiae of grief are both scattered and communal. Sean invites Tibauld to sleep with him. Promiscuity, the most inmate form of solidarity, continues.

Two other moments bring the film from this mezzanine to its final moments of ecstasy: Nathan and Tibauld making love, and Sean’s political funeral. Nathan looks across his apartment, seeing his friends and comrades in the living room to the left; on the right, across the corridor, his lover’s body lies secluded. Cut from this to footage of a conference, flat and brightly lit, top-down like surveillance footage, or a documentarian’s hidden camera. Act Up burst in, clamouring, with signs and horns, and throw ashes across the buffet, streaks of grey on the plasticly coloured food. The sound is distant, reverberating. Amongst this footage, we see Nathan’s s body entangled with Tibauld’s in dull blue light. Nathan breaks down and cries in Tibaauld’s arms. The theatrical, violent spectacle of grief’s reclaimed rage and the tender intimacy of the most delicate relations between comrades and lovers are here joined.

The action is deconstructed further as the conference lighting shifts surreally to the strobe lights of the dance-floor. Strobing intensifies posture by fragmenting it; each pose and motion of the dancefloor is picked out, bright and intensely present. This montage of love-making and dancers in strobes takes imagery from Toshio Matsumo’s 1969 The Funereal Parade of Roses which also includes an  image of a queen making love cut against flashing dancers.  Both conjure the intensity and precarity of queer desire. [11] This technique of the queer New Wave expresses the jarring synchronicity of different bodily states – crying, fucking, dancing, struggling, holding. Queer life is exhausting, because we experience these modes so intensely, all at once; only in such ecstasy can the pulse of this life be felt.

 Exhaustion (2):

The function of queer militancy has been to struggle in exhaustion. Sickness and death are isolating. This is especially true in a world where social life entails access to a wage, fitness of body, straight conformity and normative citizenship; even so, the risks of transmission, the vulnerability of each to another, also require a careful sense of distance and intimacy in the face of illness. Isolation is exhausting. The routines of self-care, the claustrophobia of confinement, the lack of renewal in collective life, quickly create a vacuum in which nothing else seems possible. Care work becomes a form of labour which is exhausting as it cannot be exhausted, fulfilled. From the perspective of a state which manages the conditions of this isolation, the sick and dying may therefore seem inert, apolitical. To return this vulnerability to political life, even while facing the absolute demands which our collective vulnerability create, has been the achievement of queer politics in moments of crisis.

Act Up inverted the meaning of public and private life in the name of queer resistance. Funerals are no longer private, family matters; they can take place in the streets. Public health is not simply a concern for hospitals and boardrooms; it takes place in the bedroom, amongst our most intimate moments. This is what Douglas Crimp described in his two most famous essays on the politics of the AIDs crisis. [12] When Crimp insisted that it is our promiscuity that will save us, he meant that the knowledge sharing practices and inventive attitude of gay communities made safe sex possible. In another inversion, he also insisted on time for individual grief in the rush of queer militancy. Promiscuity returns intimate responsibility to social life; mourning folds pain and anger back into felt personal connections.

In the current moment, it is the Black Lives Matter movement which has so effectively expressed the affirmation of life, the need for grief, the fire of political mobilisation and the tenderness of communal feeling. The powerful wave of protest following the murder of George Floyd has demonstrated this. The efficacy of black radicalism in these matters has been demonstrated by Che Gosset, in their polemical analysis of the political funereal of Gregory Smith. [13] In both cases, policing and carceral systems have been challenged as sites of systemic violence and anti-black racism; discriminatory ‘healthcare’ institutions in a sense act as an extension of this carceral system. Gosset insists that “As long as we have prisons we will never have universal health/care.” [14] If these regimes exhaust and extinguish life, then resistance must itself be exhaustive, abolitionist.

Our felt need to care for each other lingers everywhere now. Viral particles in the streets; the handprints of others on every outside surface; the struggle to provide protective equipment for workers and the public. Never have we been more aware of the “enigmatic traces of others” in public life, that matrix in which we are held. [15] This is an ecstatic feeling, but unlike any other, as it manifests in the distant absence of other flesh bodies from our intimate lives. To gain a political perspective on this crisis, we once again must translate the most intimate effects of individual health into a synchronous sense of collective life and action.

Without resistance, exhaustion will follow in its most disempowering form. To leave the most vulnerable to waste, as the rest are herded back into work, now seems inevitable (at least in the UK from where I write). World history, the intentions of states and, in places, the fervent anger of the people seem to be intensifying, even as the pulse falters. This disorienting arrhythmia is unique to our moment, but also characteristic of crises. What can the flat quiet of a hospital bed have to do with streets marches and discotheques? It was queer militancy which allowed a traffic of care, pleasure, politics, knowledge, sex and solidarity between these otherwise aseptically compartmentalised moments. This is an ecstatic politics, insistent in dance, rage, grief, carrying each to the very ashes.

Disco demands everything because it is a music of collective joy snatched in the face of public isolation. It flows with the rhythm and aesthetics of prior moments of queer resistance, as it expresses a melodrama which transcends the individual. Exhaustion here is climactic, a salvation or transport from the mundane facts of oppression. At the current moment, the cinema and the discotheque are no longer reliable sites of such aesthetic pursuit. What is the pulse of life which can only be collective in forbearance? We are at risk of being worn down by this crisis, overworked, lonely and depressed, losing our view of the future horizon. Some songs only reveal their pulse, their logic of dance and play, after a long duration. Disco was one such music which required endurance in order to access fulfilment. Political aesthetics such as this coordinate the sweat of each with the flow of the whole.

This problem is renewed in every moment of the crisis – it has been the responsibility of the left to change the meaning of collective life to allow resistance to continue. Capital would leave many of us sick and exhausted, uncaring. Policing, work and ‘health’ regimes continue to make uneven and intrusive demands on our lives, even as we are debarred from much of community life. If we are to submit to the necropolitics of work, poverty, benefits systems and discriminatory ‘health’ regimes, why should we not risk resistance, riots, refusal, joy? The warm glow of care lingers ever in the ecstatic fire of struggle.

JN Hoad is a carer, trans militant and femmes de lettres. Per work on queer culture and health politics has appeared previously in Blind Field, and recently in Salvage, and will be appearing in the upcoming volume Transgender Marxism on Pluto Press. Per would like to thank Anna Oakes-Monger for inspiring this expression of queer collectivity, along with many others.

[1] Robin Campillo, director. BPM. 2017. 

[2] Henri Lefebvre. Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. Trans. Stuart Elden and Gerald Moore. Continuum, 2004. 

[3] José Esteban Muñoz. Cruising Utopia: The Then and there of Queer Futurity. New York University, 2009.

[4] Gilles Deleuze, ‘The Exhausted’. Trans Anthony Uhlmann. SubStance, vol. 24, no.3, 1995, pp. 3 – 28. 

[5] For information on Act Up in France including the political funereal as technique, see: Christophe Broqua. Action = Vie: A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France. Trans. Jean-Yves Bart and Kel Pero. Temple University, 2020. 

[6] Jacques Derrida. The Gift of Death. Trans. David Wills. University of Chicago, 1995.

[7] See Action = Vie, pp. 211 – 246. 

[8] See Judith Butler. ‘Violence Mourning Politics’. Studies in Gender and Sexuality vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 9 – 37. p. 14. For a discussion of ecstasy as queer liberation, see the conclusing chapter of José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia, ‘Take Ecstasy With Me’, pp. 185 – 189.

[9] Fredric Jameson. Archeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. Verso, 2005. pp. 94 – 95. 

[10] See Chapter 7 of Action = Vie, pp. 166 – 186. For documentation of similar actions in the United States, see: Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman, directors. United in Anger; A History of ACT UP. 2012. [Youtube]

[11] Toshio Matsumoto, director. Funereal Parade of Roses. 1969.

[12] Crimp wrote two essays for the New York criticism journal October on the sociology and ethics of AIDs activism which remain illuminating to this day. See: Douglas Crimp. ‘How to Have Promiscuity in an Epidemic’. October, vol. 43, 1987, pp. 237 – 271. And: Douglas Crimp. ‘Mourning and Militancy’. October, vol. 51, 1989, pp. 3 – 18. 

[13] Che Gossett. ‘We will not rest in peace: AIDS activism, black radicalism, queer and/or trans resistance’. In Queer Necropolitics. Ed. Jin Haritaworn, Adi Kunstman and Silvia Posocco. Routledge, 2014.

[14] Gossett ibid. p 43.

[15]Butler. ‘Violence, Mourning, Politics’. p. 32.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s