José Muñoz is off to Berlin this week. But do not worry, our already much-loved Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary Literature this semester is enjoying his time at GW, its just that his work has just been translated into German hence the trip.
It is really no surprise that Muñoz is always traveling. He is a pioneer in the field of Latino Queer Theory and a fundamental scholar of performance studies. Except for this semester, when GW gets the good fortune of having him, Muñoz is the Chair of Performance Studies at NYU’s the Tisch School of Arts. He is a sought-after individual who is world-renowned, but without any pretension. With his thick black glasses and energy, Muñoz is incredibly approachable.
Muñoz is a people-person by career though. “English is a language art,” he said. “You have to talk and listen to people as part of that art. I teach about people’s lives and knowing people.” Performance studies only builds on this. It is “performance in everyday life: our street performance, how language performs, especially in terms of gender, sexuality, and race,” he said. He cites theorists Judith Butler and J.L. Austin in sparking his initial interest in performance studies. Muñoz said,”Race, gender, sexuality, ability, and class all intersect. They are not natural, but very real.”
His own studies led to his own theories. Muñoz’s first book Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics was published a decade ago, but was so innovative that it continues to be significant. “My first book was the first book to study queers of color,” he said. “The book has been in print ever since.” Muñoz has been constantly publishing since then. Whether articles or reviews, he is always contributing to scholarly discourse. His next book Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity comes out on November 30th, however the English Department will be having a book launch on November 12th at 2pm (Rome 771). Muñoz has found his time at GW so far to be inspiring for his next book, Feeling Brown: Ethnicity, Affect and Performance.
“Teaching is completely crucial to me. There is no better place to articulate ideas and see if people find them compelling or not,” he said. Muñoz describes GW students as “wonderful” and completely different from his NYU students. He said, “I teach graduate students at NYU who are interested in the avant-garde. Grad students here are very smart and focused and interested in literary [scholarship].”
Muñoz also appreciates his ability to work with undergraduates. “Undergraduates here are much more in tune with the world and politics. They actually read the newspaper here, which I find very refreshing,” he said.
His easy transition to DC has been aided by the generous GW English faculty. “I’ve been very welcomed by my colleagues,” he said. “There is a very vital colleague circle here.”
DC is equally vital for Muñoz. He attends a monthly reading group of faculty doing queer studies in the area, but also enjoys exploring the city. “My folks were here last week. We went on a doubledecker red bus and went to Mount Vernon. All those fun touristy things,” he said. Muñoz finds himself equally inspired by his current neighborhood, U Street. He said, “U Street is completely vibrant and interesting. Its a progressive African American area that gives me energy.”
Muñoz is clearly loving his time in DC. “It’s good to switch things up, keeps you on your toes. My time here has been good for my focus,” he said.