The Joy of Musical Force: Introducing Ignota

The Joy of Musical Force

We have been up all night, my friends and I, before a saloon piano whose steel strings, as taut as the strings of our hearts, yet had tuneful souls. And while we ground our native lust into sticky floorboards, we raised our belting to the farthest limits of voice and covered sheets of music with maudlin scrawls.

Modernity's great crime was to posit truer truths underneath what is manifest; Marie's Crisis, around a corner in a basement, a door that's always open behind a sign that always reads CLOSED, makes criminals of us all. Nor just by accident of geography. We descend into Marie's descendants of a tradition whereby the subtlest shifts of emphasis---a breath here, a forte there---upend whole orders of meaning, entire hierarchies of power. Duplicitous, yes, this practice, but also rich and rewarding: we strike at the cracks in the safe showtune shell and excavate from its secret depths...

Our selves, if you like, we writ communitarian and large and we writ assembled and small. In this tidepool in the currents of history the only kind of history worth making is made. Sing out, Louise, and up rings the curtain on the drama---worlds have turned on such an impulse as this.

I heaved myself onto a seat at the piano. Teetering over the gravitational center of the barroom universe, I dictated my first will to all the world, the stage, the players on it:

Dogmas for the Use of the Ages

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    The practiced chill of postmodern cool is the queer art of the past.

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    The queer art of the future draws strength from the intellectual challenges of gentleness and the emotional risks of love. It is work with blood in it.

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    The next queer artists are virtuosos of swoon, and swish, and style. They are fabulous---divine. Glamor in art does not belong to power.

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    The history of the arts is the history of queer elegy. Art history is the history of queer erasure. This is not accidental.

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    Ours was the voice of Socrates' Athens; ours was the voice of Baldwin's Paris. With Woolf we sang modernity; with Shakespeare, the age of the individual. Queerness is not a part of world history---queerness is world-historical.

  6. 5

    Art is not a product of history, history is a work of art.

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    The last time a critical mass of queer artists emerged, we called it the Renaissance.

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    The queer art of the future is the art of the future.

Introducing Ignota

The name comes from the still-untranslatable secret language created by 12th century prophet, composer, and saint Hildegard of Bingen. Her Lingua Ignota was the seer's closest approximation of the language of God---and in the profane sphere, it was a force that limned and liberated her community. No less than the walls of Rupertsberg Abbey, built on lands they had claimed as their birthright, the Lingua protected Hildegard's charges from peering Papal peepers and gave definition to their world.

Such is the power of language: to bind together and to set apart.

What would it be to hear queer music? Wipe away the glitter, dim the sequins' reflected klieg glare, clip the bell-bottoms' wings, and listen, if you can, to ABBA without accoutrement. Is there queerness there, immanent in the catchy strains of pop perfection that made "Waterloo" the single greatest number in the camp carnival Eurovision Song Contest's history? Do we hear it in Sylvester's head voice, or the soul with which it brims? Is West Side Story gay-by-gay-Bernstein? Or is there the rumble of queerness in its chords---in, say, the "Quintet," with the daggerlike pathos of the Sharks' and Jets' mutual minor-key accusation, "They began it, they began it," cutting the lovers' dreamy phantasies of "Tonight"?

If queerness has, as a pedant's passion for precision would insist, an essential link with alterity, then perhaps it's right to hear it in counterpoint and modulation---not cacophony, quite, but the tempering of major chords with the strains of the minor. Or perhaps queerness in music is always rubato: there in the quickening of a heartbeat, a moment's pleasure stolen.

To claim that tune, perhaps all we need find is a sort of swoony sensuousness---we being a sensuous people, a people of tastes.

Ignota is interested in the distinctiveness of the queer voice. We're not here to pollute the publishing ecosystem with more treacly or shrill work aimed tacitly at a straight world. No more "queer issues," no more coming-out stories: we want to publish queer art made by queer people in rooms only queers have entered. We want to restore scale and ambition to LGBTQ writing---more Mobies-Dick, fewer Vox explainers. We want queer genius.