The 2014 annual meeting in Los Angeles, “The Fun and the Fury: New Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century,” was an attempt to come together around other terms, to place even the existing terms by which most of us organize ourselves and our work under the kind of pressure that would let us see how much or how little those terms are really ours. The pressure was experimental and was driven by a desire for pleasure, even in the face of the things that oppress and infuriate us, precisely because a general opening and cultivation of our capacity to please and to be pleased is what we want. We put pressure on these terms by using and, sometimes, abusing them, critically, but also with a sense of abandon and even, sometimes, with the intent to abandon them. Even unguarded usage of terms such as “we” and “ours” was encouraged if only so that they could be more brought more sharply and insistently into critical relief. If everything “we” hope for is, in some sense, grounded in an assumption of a shared generality the only way to protect that ground is by digging into it, investigating as furiously as possible the very foundations and possibility of “our” collectivity.
There could have been no more appropriate place than Los Angeles, which bears the historical traces of U.S. imperial expansion and new internationalization marked as much by the transgression as by the proliferation of borders, to explore the production of desire, the experience of abundance and deprivation, the affective, discursive and material structures subtending both oppression and the joy and pain that attend the resistance to oppression. “The Fun and the Fury” was a vast collective experiment in new forms and modalities of collective study and Los Angeles was the laboratory for analyzing and experiencing the constant disruptions and innovations of the striated totality of American social, political, economic and cultural life. Rather than L.A. standing for all that is inimical to the making and dispersal of casual, random and intense sociality, L.A. was in fact a space that upheld the communities that formed under the various conference headings and created more. ASA this year was home to theater productions, conventional panels, rants, raves, elegies and soliloquies. People rose to the challenge, took the bait, drank and made merry.
The conference organizers and, especially, the site-resource committee forged lines of dispersal throughout the city, making contact with Los Angeles’ diverse range of artistic, activist and intellectual communities, while inside the Bonaventure Hotel itself new structures of academic and counter-academic address were conceived and attempted, some renewing the most basic forms of good old fashioned social contact, others taking full, and hopefully subversive advantage of new technological capacities to gather virtually, all in the interest of forging a range of new orientations within that famously disorienting space.
In the production and performance of “soap-box manifestos,” in the murder and resuscitation of key words, in a Presidential Address that made use of a “silly archive” and put queer feelings front and center, in a proliferation of non-traditional presentations that aggressively attempted to blur the lines between panelists and audience, the conference was bent on refreshing our collectivity by putting pressure on the assumptions that undergird it. This was especially emphatic and appropriate at the culmination of a year that had brought grossly premature pronouncements of the death of the ASA in the wake of its decision, after spirited debate at the 2013 annual meeting in Washington D.C., to boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions complicit in the occupation of Palestine. Last year’s conference continued that debate with a series of panels featuring scholars from all over the world addressing the global history of colonial practice and attempting to refine and extend anti-colonial theory and activism.
If controversy over the proper place and modality of academic activism constituted a major part of what animated the 2014 annual meeting, mourning the loss of José Esteban Muñoz and celebrating his life and brilliance were also essential to what animated the conference. As Lisa Duggan eloquently put it in her presidential address, “The fun and the fury of mourning José, celebrating his work and each other as well as raging at mortality, did come to overlap with the fun and the fury of responding to both the enormous joy that created the boycott vote, as well as with the considerable dissent and rage over that vote in multiple arenas.” Despite his untimely passing in December 2013, Muñoz was the conference’s presiding spirit. There is no more auspicious meeting of fun and fury than in his body of work. Muñoz was co-chair of the planning committee for this conference and his brilliant enthusiasm and ideas, as well as all the rich lessons in innovative intellectual practice gleaned from ASA annual meetings over the past two decades were the impetus for a range of attempts to form a different kind of atmosphere, one built on his firm belief that “‘our current situation is not enough, that something is indeed missing and we cannot live without it’” (qtd. in Lisa Duggan, Presidential Address).
Fred Moten, Jack Halberstam, Sandra K. Soto