Building on José Esteban Muñoz’s theorization of ecstasy as a site of queer of color desire, relational practice, and utopic possibility, this essay conceptualizes what I call the black ecstatic as a hermeneutic for analyzing post–civil rights black queer poetics. My theorization of the black ecstatic attends specifically to the interrelation of political terror, social abjection, and aesthetic abstraction in contemporary black queer cultural production. As an affective and aesthetic practice, the black ecstatic eschews both the heroism of black pasts and the promise of liberated black futures in order to proffer new relational and representational modes in the ongoing catastrophe that constitutes black life in modernity. Against the backdrop of civil rights retrenchment, the War on Drugs, the AIDS crisis, and the US carceral state, this essay analyzes the recent film Moonlight and the poetry of Essex Hemphill, a black gay writer and AIDS activist. In so doing, it shows how, across literary genres and media platforms, the black ecstatic instantiates formal innovations to black queer expressive forms and encourages willful exuberance as an affective disposition and relational ethic that enables black life and liberation in the catastrophic present.

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