In the introductory notes to “Queer Acts,” Jose Esteban Munoz gives a glance of how ephemera can act as a form of archive, while pointing at the question of under what value-making system would such a notion—the ephemeral—become a form of evidence.

The spirit is very much one of anti-rigor. I would guess that in the 1990s when this piece was written, it was more important to explicitly state such an intention than it would be now. This sense of justification and self-defense doesn’t seem too unsimilar from that of flamenco scholars seeking to push the limits of race and gender discourse within flamencology at present, both in Europe and in the States.

Important to note how Munoz sees identity in the academy versus identity as a locus of enunciation, which is clear to me at times and not so at others. On the unequivocal side, is what he says that these enunciations have in common: “rigor mortis,” the aim to bring down the regime of rigor which is “owned, made, and deployed through institutional ideology.” This definition doesn’t rely on identity categories per se, while also acknowledging that rigor is “owned” by some, and thus there is an inside and an outside group delineated by intention/action, not identity. Neither does his categorization of “those who have been locked out of histories,” and for whom “material reality” may present fundamental limits, reify identity schemas.

The distinguishing trait between the two groups (though these are not fixed groups), is whether or not one’s epistemological assumptions “deploy rigor and certify evidence” so that they “maintain […] critical and academic protocols that are most certainly not about rigor for rigor’s sake.”

For instance, the idea that evidence needs to be interpreted is a foundational assumption of academic protocol, but it’s not the only way to approach evidence. He cites Wynter’s proposal in Rethinking Aesthetics that we take a “deciphering turn,” meaning we focus not on what “texts and their signifying practices can be interpreted to mean but what they can be deciphered to do.” This turns our attention to the effects, operations, and functions of evidence, and displaces our reflexive interpretative impulse.  

What lies on the other side of the limits of material reality is a value system where ephemera, feeling, the anecdotal, and the imaginative emerge as sites of “proofing and producing arguments” that is often “worked by minoritarian culture and criticism makers.” (10). Rather than displacing or invalidating material reality, ephemera expands its definition: it is the evidence that “remain[s] after a performance,” a residue, rather than the thing itself.

Ephemera supposedly doesn’t rest on “epistemological foundations,” which I am wondering whether it may mean that it defies epistemology as a structure of meaning making, or whether what he means is that it doesn’t reify the epistemological categories of rigor.  

Lived experience is crucial in this understanding of ephemera. Ephemera is not an abstraction of experience—on the contrary, it is always “specific” and firmly “anchored within the social” maintaining “politics and urgencies long after [the structures of feeling therein] have been lived.” It follows that social and political lives of those who don’t appear in the immediate historical record has an afterlife in the ephemeral.

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