Come, Armageddon! Come! Queer Nihilism and the Margin of the Urban

  • Daniel Portland Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, Department of Art and Public Policy


To think about the literal position of a queer subject, that is, the place where the subject is materially and in relation to other subjects, is to confront the myriad ways in which that subject will be conditioned depending upon how proximate space is normatively differentiated and vice versa. In the context of urban space, by which I mean less a quantity than a quality of density, the spatial narrative that supports the queer subject is twofold—emigration and speculation. First, x escapes a repressive and oppressive rural environment to seek amnesty, either in the form of celebrated welcome or anonymity, in an urban one. Subsequently, x forages into the concrete jungle, creating and in pursuit of circuits of sexual partners and diverse sociabilities.

This trajectory, however, has become increasingly contested, both for the way in which it upholds an imaginary boundary between rural and urban and for the subjects it obscures in the process. Pointedly, Karen Tongson, in her essay The Light That Never Goes Out: Butch Intimacies and Sub-Urban Sociabilities in ‘Lesser Los Angeles,’ provides a reading of Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue and Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities next to Richard Florida’s Cities and the Creative Class to suggest that “the cultural value assigned to urban modes of queer life—to its mobility, style, innovation, improvisation, liveliness, and ‘contact’—has appreciated urban property values while depreciating modes of racialized queer sociability.” Significantly, then, cultural capital appreciates not only in direct proportion to urban property values, but also in favour of the “upwardly mobile queers,” who will eventually be able to inhabit them (364).

While Tongson’s analysis is site-specific to east Los Angeles, I want to take a less local approach and consider how alongside locating queers as being complicit with gentrification, might they also be positioned outside of it. I will consider what the aesthetic implications of this might be on sub-urban space. I employ the term sub-urban, as distinct from both urban and suburban, to name a reconceptualization of the city that takes into account the necessary excess produced by the city that cannot be contained by its zoning. This conception hearkens to the etymology of the sub- in suburban, as outside of and spatially beneath the elevated and walled Roman city.

The paper will proceed in three parts. The first, The Queen Is Dead, turns to a filmic example of adult sub-urban space. The second, I Sit Down on the Sling Seat and See the City Spread Out between My Legs, provides a textual example of adolescent sub-urban space. And the third, The Future Is Always a Day Away, establishes the theoretical framework in which the argument is couched. Significantly, this framework draws on Lee Edelman's indictment against the Child in his book No Future, which itself draws on Lacanian psychoanalysis and the idea that the future is linguistically-bound. Edelman’s Child is analogized to the discourse surrounding gentrification not only as it privileges creating safe neighborhoods for the rearing of real children, but also as it invests in the idea of a brighter future.

How to Cite
Portland, Daniel. 2010. “Come, Armageddon! Come! Queer Nihilism and the Margin of the Urban”. FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & The Arts, no. 10 (June), 1 - 9.