(Re)Animating Queer Life(after?)Death:Queer/ing Multimodality and/as Practicing Mourning

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Content warning: This post will explore topics relating to anti-queer violence and death.

In Digital Death: Mortality and Beyond in the Online Age, we see an interestingly multimodal argument for agency beyond the grave. Since, “digital technologies are increasingly intertwined with physical environments” (p. 111) myriad technologies  are offering an embodied mourning experience. Living Headstones allow for QR codes to be embedded in the gravestone which then direct mourners to a website containing biographical information compiled by the deceased prior to death. Catacombo systems even allow for music to be played inside the coffin by the living who create playlists for their loved ones. These technologies, in one form or another, seem to queer the very (already permeable) boundaries between life and death.

On the morning of June 12, 2016, we woke up to the news of the shooting at Pulse Orlando. Our bodyminds felt the crushing weight of what seems to be the immanence of queer death/dying. While we may have felt the weight of queer mourning on June 12, we cannot strip the specifically local contexts of this tragedy. This was an attack particularly on queer Latinx communities and on queers of color. The particular space and time of the Pulse massacre is vital in understanding that race, place, and discourses of American nationalist propaganda are inextricable from conversations on queerness and anti-queer violence.

Responding to Pulse, Joseph Pierce (Cherokee) reminds us, “Our queer breath is a revolutionary act” and that queers “breathe as fugitive, delinquent bod[ies]that [exist]in spite of this violence.” Pierce recalls “a spontaneous vigil” after Pulse that took place on Christopher Street, where “Anti-terror police” stood “next to those brown bodies trickling in after Puerto Rican Pride.” Such a vigil, as are all spontaneous vigils, kairotic spaces of mourning that move-flow with/in networked ecologies of embodied queer rhetorical practicing. (Queer) bodies have always been the stuff of relational/queer mourning practicings. Our bodies are the very stuff of multimodal design practice and, as Christina Cedillo reminds us, “We have always been multimodal.”

In fact, the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting are memorialized in a relational network of mourning practices which invite the body in. The Pulse Interim Memorial is described as “a sanctuary of quiet reflection and love dedicated to honoring the senseless loss of innocent life and remembering the horrible attack that occurred on June 12, 2016” (onePulseFoundation). The physical spaces provide a place to leave flowers and mementos as well as  a “Survivor Grove” to reflect on the tragedy and interweave one’s body with/in acts of mourning and other mourning bodies.

In “The Queer Kairotic,” Joe Edward Hatfield discusses the kairotic ecologies of digital transgender suicide memories through a framework of ecological rhetorical agency. He tells us that these, and other queer kairotic moments of mourning and memory, “link bodies together in a shared network of meaning-making.” Focusing specifically on Tumblr as an affective-networked platform of queer/trans* mourning, Hatfield reminds us that “hashtags, captions, written texts…, digital portraits, videos…, hand-drawn visuals, short film projects, and other ephemera” reanimate the materiality of the “transgender body as one both livable and on a queer path toward the future.”

More than reanimate, these multimodal mourning practices become integrated with the body of the mourner and their artistic practice: “Fellow bloggers draw them in beautiful, idealized portraits, surrounded by flowers of stars or angel wings. They’ve become slogans and symbols, their names markered onto forearms and school lockers and notebook margins” (Dewey qtd in Hatfield 26-27). These practices become a piece of the blog, but also of the blogger precisely because “circulation ensures a set of effects following the encounter between audiences and personalized memories from the embodied perspectives of the transgender subject” (27).

In continuing calls for a design advocacy that reanimate the vitalities of queer life after death, we hope to remind ourselves/others that such multimodal design advocacies are not merely the forward-dawning movement of computerized technologies. As E. Cram beautifully reminds us, Pulse’s very building-structure was a memorialization of “the vivacious heartbeat” of Barbara Poma’s brother John who died “during the height of the AIDS crisis in 1991.” The practicing of mourning in the ongoing wakes of the AIDS crisis haunts any and all queer possibility, offline and online.

Just as appropriate to mention here is the AIDS Quilt of The Names Project. This beautiful tapestry of more than 48,000 textual-bodily entries have been made, and the painstaking detail of these stitched squares remind us that each person represented there (and so many more) constitutes a fragment of the continuously rebuilt tapestries of inter-generational kinship. This multimodal, living fabric of queer (un)becoming moves us to never forget. It continuously carves into our cultural memory the practicing of hand-crafted memorials alongside digital platforms.

In one iteration of such digital practicing, Alexandra Juhasz recalls her work on Video Remains, a memorial for her best friend, Jim, composed just one year before he died. Juhasz suggests that video composition-design can be a possible method to “relodge” the stillness of memory “so that they, and perhaps we, can be reanimated.”

Design advocacy and/as queer mourning practicing are constantly (re)animated by the materiality of queer bodies. To echo Jamie Lee, queer (archival) bodies “constitute” and are “constituted by the affective and enduring materiality of lives being lived.” Rather than only suggesting that multimodal design advocacies afford us, in “our” divergent queer possibilities, opportunities of queer life after death, we hope, as queers have always been practicing, to (re)animate the possibilities for queer life through mourning. Queering space-times of design advocacy through multimodal (online<->offline) mourning practices means that we, together and apart, re-orientate our collective mourning toward concrete modes of political action that work to transform the present by remembering our pasts and critically navigating horizons of queer futurities.

References

Cedillo, Christina V. and M. Melissa Elston. “A Word from the Editors.” Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics, vol. 1, no. 1, 2017, pp. 2-4.

Cram, E. “Pulse: The Matter of Movement.” QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, vol. 3, no. 3, 2016, pp. 147-150.

Hatfield, Joe Edward. “The Queer Kairotic: Digital Transgender Suicide Memories and Ecological Rhetorical Agency.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 49, no. 1, 2019, pp. 25-48.

Juhasz, Alexandra. “Video Remains: Nostalgia, Technology, and Queer Archive Activism.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 12, no. 2, 2006, pp. 319-328.

Lee, Jamie. A. “Be/longing in the Archival Body: Eros and the ‘Endearing’ Value of Material Lives.” Archival Science, vol. 16, no. 1, 2016, pp. 33-51.

Moreman, Christopher M. and A. David Lewis. Digital Death: Mortality and Beyond in the Online Age. Praeger, 2014.

onePULSE Foundation. “The Pulse Interim Memorial.” onePULSEfoundation, https://onepulsefoundation.org/onepulse-foundation-memorial/memorial-information/

Pierce, Joseph M. “Our Queer Breath.” QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, vol. 3, no. 3, 2016, pp. 132-134.

About Author(s)

Justin is a current PhD candidate in Rhetoric at Texas Woman's University. His work focuses on corpses as rhetorical agents via a material-semiotic lens and memorialization practices as rhetorical acts that impact that agency.

Cody Jackson is a PhD student in Rhetoric-Composition at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Cody's research-pedagogy focuses on the intersections between disabled embodiment, queerness, multimodality, and archival theory-practice.

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