Documentation

‘Wildcat the Totality’: the Undercommons in a Time of Pandemic and Rebellion

By

30 Jul , 2020  

This following transcription is the first of a two-part conversation that took place on July 4, 2020 between Fred Moten, Stefano Harney and the podcast Millennials are Killing Capitalism.

* * * * *

MKCCould you maybe start us off by describing what exactly the undercommons is, what your intentions with it are, and perhaps if you have reflections on recent events, and what they might mean in relation to the idea of the undercommons? 

Stefano: Thanks Josh, I always feel like we have a way to answer this that’s a bit biographical, but not biographical in a strictly individualist sense, and then also just a bit historical. From a biographical point of view, The Undercommons as a book emerges from me and Fred trying to help each other to get out of something. And what we’re trying to get out of I think was not professionalization, the career, the university, as a place that encourages you to think of it as special. I would say what we were really trying to help each other get out of is the critique of all that. Because for what we do, it’s the critique of all those things — professionalization, the career, the university — that is the essence of the way that one individuates oneself, that one actually has a career. And that one maintains some unhealthy relationship to the university as a special place. So helping each other to get out of that critique is where the book starts, and to do that, we had to give up on the idea that critique was a privileged form, and the university was a privileged place to deliver it. That’s how we move from something like critique to something like study, but it’s also how we move to the idea that the university is just another workplace. And that one has to approach it like a workplace with the same total commitment to struggling against it and essentially overthrowing it, as one would a Ford plant or Dodge plant.

In this sense, our model was somebody like General Baker of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. His approach was not to worry about the Dodge plant, or not to imagine that what it required was a critique. We have a collective called The Mardi Gras Listening Collective, and recently one of our friends in it, Louie Moreno, I think said it perfectly, when he said—”General Baker’s idea was to wildcat the totality. He wasn’t interested in reforming Dodge.” Sure, Baker fought all the time to keep Dodge from killing them; but he didn’t mind working, he minded dying. Because what he was staying alive for, was wildcatting the totality. Wildcatting everything, all of it. That’s what we were trying to move from: from a critique of the profession and a critique of the university, to get ourselves out of that, and into study.

Fred: One of the interesting things about The Undercommons has been the reception of it in the United States. People still tend to think it’s a book about the university. We were trying not to write a book about the university, we were trying to write a book about study. And we were trying to write a book about — maybe one of the things I hope someday that we can claim that The Undercommons played some small part in — how black study might begin to see light outside of its institutionalization as black study in the university. Not even just black study in general, but a certain kind of black study. The kind of stuff that people ordinarily used to maybe do in a university, a certain kind of reading and a certain kind of thing. There’s something worthwhile to that—how do we get back to it? How do we get to another place where we can do it better, and do it in a way where it’s more fun, and do it in a way where we’re winning the folks that it was originally for? And maybe that’s where you can maybe make a transition from The Undercommons as a book, to the undercommons as a— what? A social field. A place where people get together and do and think through certain things, in the interest not only of their survival, but in the interest of trying to change survival into thriving. We were trying to get to that place. It’s not that we wanted to get ‘back’ to that place. We weren’t trying to be nostalgic or retrospective in that sense, but to imagine, to try to begin to do the work along with other people, of imagining what that place will be. 

I’m glad you brought up the point about the university. I was talking about that, even struggling about these last couple weeks. While we’re seeing the tearing-down of statues of white supremacists, slavers, and other physical embodiments of historical, structural oppression… should we see the university as a site of those similar types of violences, both racialized, carceral and otherwise? Can y’all expand on the university as a site of violence? 

Fred: Look, I mean— this thing of tearing down statues and whatnot…it’s kind of like the moral equivalent of national plastic surgery, right? It’s like, it doesn’t erase the history. In many ways, it’s merely a cosmetic way of actually acknowledging the victory of the confederacy, rather than of announcing [its] defeat. Because we see this victorious alliance of the planter class and the capitalist class every day—we live in that victory. That victory is the nature of the conditions under which we live. And it’s a set of conditions to which we certainly can’t tolerate merely cosmetic fixes. Because this shit — it has to be overturned, it has to be destroyed. I don’t care, they can tear down as many statues as they want. They can also leave ‘em up. 

That’s beside the point. Really, the point is not what they do. It could never be what they do. How could we leave what we have got to do up to them? We gotta do something different. That part of it is, for me at least, relatively clear. As for the university as a place of violence: we both were operating out of the sense that the university has always been a structure for the relatively brutal and strict regulation and incarceration of intellectual life, going back to its origins in the early-medieval period, at least with regard to the European university. It was always a place for the intellectual life and study to be regulated, not for it to flourish. But at the same time, it has also always been the case that the brutal interdictions of intellectual life outside of the university have been so intense, that people have fled to the university seeking something like a refuge. And increasingly what becomes clear to folks is that this sense of the university as refuge is false, it’s not true, it doesn’t work like that. It’s another form of violence, another form of brutal regulation. But then there’s another part of it, where it’s also a job, you know? It’s a place where people work. We both decided that we wanted to become — just like Stefano said, thinking about General Baker — we decided that what we needed to do was to try to understand it better as a place where people work. But then we also wanted to do so outside of the sort of frameworks of the discourse on academic labor that were emerging 15 years ago. We started trying to think through it in those terms, but sort of decided, I think together, that maybe needed to be another way to think about it, outside of those frameworks.

MKC: Absolutely, that was a perfect answer actually.

One of the key concepts that runs through The Undercommons is this idea of the general antagonism. As somebody who became interested in abolition, in Marxism, in anti-racism, through sort of, I think, the usual ways people start to get introduced to those concepts… obviously you start by reading stuff about racism, you read texts by, memoirs by Black Panthers, reading a lot of different stuff. And then you start to read and you encounter folks like Sylvia Wynter, and Fanon, and Saidiya Hartman, and yourselves — and Cedric Robinson – these interventions that go beyond understanding things as strictly related to a mode of production, even if we understand that they’re bound up in this too. Could you share a little bit about what the general antagonism is, what you mean by this? My sense of is that it arises from the impulse to individuate, to seek to own, possess and regulate? 

Stefano: You’re right: the general antagonism does run through [the book] and it’s never totally defined. There is a constant and ongoing rebellion and insurgency against identity, which is primary. A thing rebels from itself, a situation becomes dissenting from itself, etc. And because of that, what you have is a possibility to see that something like the individual, or something like the stable thing or concept or regulation or institution steps in to try to quell an insurgency, to try to still it, in order to get what it wants from this general antagonism. But the latter breaks out again and again, all the time. So it runs under our work in a sense without necessarily being on the order of a ‘political theory’ or anything like that. It runs underneath our work, since our approach begins by stating: insurgency is primary, rebellion comes first. We don’t rebel against the police because there’s police. The police come after us if we show ourselves as that primary antagonism. 

Here’s where the interesting stuff starts to come in: what does it mean to show ourselves? Well, it doesn’t mean that somebody who is an individual is walking along and gets killed by the cops. That’s what we see once we have moved into the frame of visualization, visual-ability as our friend Denise calls it. There is something that called those cops out there, before that person. There’s something more and beyond that person. There’s this general antagonism, which blurs the distinction of any individual person, which smudges the distance between one and another. And you can see the territory that we’re in here, right? We’re in the territory of, “you couldn’t tell this good man from that not-so-good man, from this individual who has this family” — that’s the critique of the police, right? That’s the critique of why you gotta burn their building down. That’s the critique right? You failed to see the individual. But that’s because you actually are the maker of the individual as a cop. You’re the one who produces that, because you’re encountering a general insurgency. 

Let’s think about it. The police are there to separate us from our social wealth. There’s no population that’s been more separated from social wealth than black people in the United States, right? And yet, it is at the same time the most obvious failure of the police to actually make this stick. They have to keep coming back, again and again, because they failed to actually separate insurgency from black people. And no matter how many individuals they keep pulling out and brutally murdering, they’re going to continue to fail. That’s why it’s so important to move away from this visuality which is used to both say a name and to center their personhood, their individuality. It’s not because I don’t love them or cry because of their death. It’s because I understand that this is the move of the state. That’s why any kind of movement away from that visuality, that “we need to see it” moment, all the way over to this sort of ersatz strategy of becoming obscure as a way to avoid that—it’s all part of the spectrum of individuality, of individuation, you know? Again and again the police come back, because what they encounter is not a visual that they can identify, or an obscurity that confuses them, but an ongoing opacity, what Fred calls “a blur.” This smudge, this rub, this indistinction. This unwillingness, this rebellion against emerging as an individual. It’s what preserves the social wealth of people. It’s what the police come after again and again and what despite their endless brutality over centuries, they never manage to separate from people. So what the general antagonism helps us do is just think about different sorts of situations, I think. 

Fred: And when they come back again and again, they come back hard. And they come back with absolute brutality and absolute vengeance. And when they come back they come back totally mobilized. And this is why… ‘We?’ Who are we? We’re not gonna sit here and argue over, or against ‘defunding the police’! We’re just gonna say, once you defund the police, then you gotta take care of policy, more generally. Because policy kills more black folks than the police do. That’s one way to put it. The other way to put it is that the police are just policy by another name, policy at its most brutal, at its most logically inconsistent, at its most blatant. And what we have said, you know, look — when it comes to black folks, between policy and the police, they’re gonna kill us all. No, that’s not right… They’re gonna kill every one of us. I don’t know a black person who has ever not died of anti-blackness. And I don’t know any black people now who won’t die of anti-blackness. That’s what’s killing my ass. It’s gonna kill my kids too, okay? And I know that already. And the fact that I can’t do nothing about that, is obviously a source of …“pain” is not…I don’t know what the right word would be to describe how one feels about that. 

But when Stefano was saying that they are unsuccessful in their attempts to regulate and to completely steal our social wealth, what he’s saying is that, even though they kill every one of us, they can’t kill us all. And that distinction between “all” and “every one” is crucial. That’s the distinction that allows us to see how it is that insurgency is not only an insurgency that is before and against the police, but it is also against all policy, it’s before that too, it’s before the metaphysical foundations of the police. It’s before the terms of order. That establishes this interplay of policy and the police in a way that our teacher, Cedric Robinson, understood many many years ago. And we’re just trying to catch up with him now so to speak. The other part of it is: we were reading certain stuff when that phrase came into our writing. That phrase “general antagonism” is a function of what we were reading. So we were reading certain books, we were reading Ruthie Gilmore and Avery Gordon and folks you mentioned, Cedric Robinson, Saidiya Hartman, and maybe most fundamentally who we were reading at that moment was Frank Wilderson. And we were reading through the distinction he makes between antagonism and conflict. And it’s been interesting to think about this these last few days, because recently an interview was published in a book called Otherwise Worlds between Frank Wilderson and a scholar named Tiffany Lethabo King. And one thing that Wilderson said concerned the nature of the dishonor, let’s say, and the constraint of what everyone says — Black life and social death is such that afro-pessimism as a theory can’t even be kept and protected for black life. Even afro-pessimism gets taken from us. And in a way I would say, first of all I would say I think he’s right. And in a certain sense I probably would say that we would have to plead guilty in a sense, and say yeah, we took that notion of the antagonism from afro-pessimism. Because we saw that it’s the general condition. It is the general condition. One way to put it would be, to say that after the last great theorists of the subject—you know, Althusser writes about the three great fatherless children of modernity, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud—then you get from these guys up through Heidegger and Sartre, and whatever, post-structuralism and all those folks, Derrida, Foucault and Lacan. But what if it turns out that the last great theorist of the subject is Frank Wilderson? And what’s interesting is that the way he allows us to understand the deprivation that is visited upon the would-be black subject lets us understand the limitations and the deprivations that are visited upon subjectivity in general. And then the question becomes, what can we do with that? The question becomes, well is it possible to want something other than that? And that’s not an empty question without an answer, because for us at least, the history of black social life is the history of a huge monumental series of lessons regarding how to want something other than that. 

MKC: One of our favorite quotes about solidarity is from The Undercommons: “The coalition emerges out of your recognition that its fucked up for you in the same way that we recognize it’s fucked up for us. I don’t need your help, I just need you to recognize that this shit is killing you too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker, you know?” A bunch of us spent some weeks struggling over Robin D. G. Kelly’s interview called “Solidarity is Not a Market Exchange,” in which he really differentiates between empathy and solidarity, and suggests that empathy is about seeing yourself in somebody and that solidarity is about the people we can’t see ourselves in. Is there truth in both of these statements? Does solidarity require recognition? Are we capable of standing in solidarity with those we can’t see ourselves in? Or does it merely require an understanding that the oppressor is also harmed by the oppression in kind of a Freudian sense? I’d love to hear both of your reflections on this, especially now when we’re seeing an incredibly diverse coalition in the streets, and we know that there are tons of contradictions within that. Part of what the undercommons has always meant to me is imagining new potentials for actual solidarity, new terms under which we might struggle. Adding one more point to this, recently the artist Noname had a discussion with Boots Riley from in which she challenged that she didn’t feel like being in the streets while black women, both cis and trans, were being murdered by men from their own community. And Boots’ response was kind of, “the only way we deal with that is in struggle.” And while we might somewhat agree with that, the idea of learning through struggle is clearly insufficient. So I’m also thinking about heteropatriarchy here, when we think about solidarity, which you all addressed a bit in The Undercommons. But perhaps you could elaborate a bit on whether you think solidarity becomes from, and how do we make it more meaningful, something more than symbolic? 

Fred: First of all, any time Robin Kelley says something, we listen. He’s our mentor, our friend, and our brother. I thought a lot about that formulation, that solidarity is not about the recognition of oneself in another, but emerges out of a radical kind of misrecognition, a nonrecognition. Or else, a confrontation with an irreducible difference that the so-called figure of the other presents, embodies, forms, substantiates. And that seems absolutely right. In a sense, this would allow us to see…how solidarity is also fundamentally a modality of selflessness rather than selfishness. It’s not about something that activates your understanding or self-awareness or self-reconciliation, through some figure of the other who stands in for you, you know? So that you can become more fully and more completely who you are, that good person that you were always meant to be, by saying “Oh, I feel bad.” And obviously when Robin is saying that, he’s operating within a tradition of critiques of that kind of empathy, maybe the most justly celebrated critique of which is offered by Saidiya Hartman in Scenes of Subjection, where it’s basically like, “oh that’s some shit that’s just about you.” 

Over the last three weeks, we have been living in a veritable noxious festival of expressions of that kind of solidarity. To the point where… I was going to say to the point where you can’t breathe. But I guess I can’t say it like that. But it’s something kind of like that. It’s toxic, okay? These expressions of solidarity are like the bad breath of the white world all up in our face. And it’s annoying, and you get sick of it. And we see how new structures of policy are just being run off the presses. You know, hot off the press. I mean, every email I get, whether it’s from some bullshit art gallery in Chelsea or from the dean of my school at NYU, it’s just a new expression of solidarity, and it’s matched with an already-existing set of initiatives about policy. Literally. And all that it ever manifested itself as is black folks doing more work to help white folks be better. And I’m too old for that shit. And so is my thirteen year old, ok? He’s too old for that shit too. So there’s that part of it. 

But then I believe also that at the same time that Robin requires us to understand the necessity of a sharp distinction between, let’s say, a certain bullshit notion of empathy and solidarity, he also makes it possible for us to begin to imagine another possible sort of interactive play between another notion of empathy and another solidarity, and the practice of solidarity. And in this respect, I feel like what Robin is also doing is maybe echoing another understanding of empathy which you get from Hortense Spillers in this beautiful moment in Arthur Jafa’s film Dreams are Colder than Death. She’s talking about her sister, who has her leg amputated, and how her sister continued to feel the phantom pain of that leg, even though the leg was gone. And what’s beautiful and horrible is she realized that at the same time as Spillers is talking about her sister feeling that pain even though the leg was gone, Spillers is feeling that pain, even though her sister is gone, because she passed away. This becomes a metaphor for the intergenerational transmission of pain in black social life. But what Spillers does with that capacity — again, once you’ve begun to understand it, feeling another’s pain is not even an accurate description of what she’s talking about — it ain’t feeling the pain of another, it’s the sharing of a general pain — and that sharing of a general pain is what Spillers calls empathy. That sharing of a general pain is, it seems to me, also what we could begin to think about, not in the terms of the bullshit rhetorical expression of solidarity, but the actual practice of solidarity, which manifests itself at the level of a motherfucker’s, you know, what people do. What people do. And that’s what Robin’s talking about, in my understanding of it, and we’re right with him. But I’m only scratching the surface, so Stefano got some more shit to say about this, I know. 

Stefano: I guess, just we could add one sort of symptom of the problem I think that Robin is trying to address, and which he does address. And that’s the history of the use of this word “ally,” right? and even more this idea of a “white ally.” Well if you think about this term “ally”, it comes from a notion of making an alliance [with someone] because you’ve developed a shared interest, because it will benefit both of you. And that’s largely the kind of liberal way in which the term ally gets deployed. But when you think about it, it’s sort of absurd, right? Because white people don’t have any interests. Or if you prefer, all interests are white. There’s no possibility that one could say, well, the white community can ally with the black community. There’s no such thing as the white community. Whiteness is the destruction of community. So much of the conversation we see on the streets starts from these false traditional political categories including, in this case, the categories of international relations. So how have we moved from a notion of interest to something else? Well there is another notion you could put instead of interest, and that for us would be “sharing.” Sharing though, as Fred says, is an actual practice. It’s an actual condition that you can come to recognize and be part of. And the way that that would have to happen in our society is we’d have to start with the people who have the most because they have most completely forsworn sharing. And you know, we’re speaking here in the first instance of the capitalist, right? The capitalist as he emerges is the one who forswears sharing in favor of privatization: “I give up on being in the wealth of this community, of sharing this thing, in order to privatize the commons.” In order to privatize property, in order to privatize people, etc. That’s our historical legacy. The forswearing of sharing for power and wealth. And that is obviously a white story, it’s a story of the development of interests, therefore, and interest. So when we fight, we are fighting against this long history of the idea that what is private is what is wealth, and what is not private is poverty. And that’s not just a property position, that’s a — we don’t even have a language for it — I was going to say “personality position,” you know. It’s as much true of my being as it is of my bank account. Now, unless we’re fighting or I would rather say, I think “joining the fight” at that level, the rest of this is all bullshit. Actually I didn’t have much to say on the topic other than that. 

Josh: Thank you both. You know, specifically to piggyback off that a little bit, the conversation around patriarchy as well, though, do you have any specific responses to that? I don’t know whether or not you watched any of that painful interaction, but you know, I just was curious any of your thoughts on that. 

Fred: Look. This traditionally may be all over place. Even in zones that are preserves for the protection and cultivation of normative white interests. The simple capacity for people to maintain anything like a livable, individual life, within those zones has been the function of the coerced and forced enactment and practice of sharing of women, which is to say the extraction of sharing. And that’s crucial, right? It’s the extraction of sharing, literally the taking of sharing. That’s how Donald Trump himself made it to his third birthday. So, obviously very quickly you can begin to understand how this extraction of sharing, which is to say the extraction of what has often been conceived of as women’s work, or the labor of reproduction, let’s say, as Leopoldina Fortunati might talk about it. And on the other hand the way Jennifer Morgan might talk about it, on the other hand, specifically with regard to black women’s labor  in the United States, in the south, during slavery. This is just the fact of the history that we live, this extraction, it goes hand in hand with what Gayle Rubin calls “the trafficking of women,” but it also undergirds and redoubles that traffic, in ways that requires us to understand the history of not just the trafficking of women but also the extraction of sharing from. And it has been so severe, it has been so brutal, that it almost works in such a way as to give sharing a bad name. It almost works in a way that requires us to somehow equate sharing with subordination. But we have to resist that. 

And again, I bring up Saidiya Hartman’s work because it’s so important, it’s so crucial, that if you think about the formulation she makes—I believe it’s an essay called “The Belly of the World”—she has a similar formulation in another essay called “Venus in Two Acts”—you know, that it’s black women who have to do this sharing, and you can’t separate the sharing from the extraction. You can’t separate it, they’re all bound up with one another. In Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, what she’s working so hard to do is to try to figure out how to not retrieve sharing from the extraction, but to imagine, and let us get some sense of these practices of sharing. 

What does all that mean, as regards the [exchange] between Boots Riley and Noname? The mechanisms of extraction, how they operate, how they situate themselves in relation to policing, and how they situate themselves in relation to policy… there is simply no, there can be no excuse to not attend to those mechanisms, and to resist those mechanisms, and to try to obliterate those mechanisms. And this means recognizing Black patriarchal male perpetrators of those mechanisms and obliterating those perpetrators. And that’s an ethical imperative. It cannot be denied, it cannot be washed over, there cannot be an excuse to deny that task and that necessity. But we do so in the interest of the revival and the renewal of our habits of sharing, which are habits of assembly, and the necessity, the recognition of the necessity to socialize — outside of any bullshit notion of gender opposition, and any restrictive notion of sexual difference — to socialize the practice of sharing, which for us I believe, we always want to acknowledge as a fundamentally maternal operation. But the socialization of that maternal operation means not a retrenchment of sexual difference, and gendered difference from all traditional lines, but an obliteration of that shit. And for us, these are lessons that we have learned from feminist theory: from Angela Davis, from Terra Nova, from Fortunati, through  Hartman and others. You know, if she decides that she doesn’t want to get out on these streets…I’m not gonna argue with her about that. 

Stefano: When we say sharing, it’s also from Black feminist theory that we come to understand that sharing is not an interpersonal relationship. One doesn’t share, one is shared. Now, the greatness of this moment, as Fred says, of feeling the combination of horror and possibility in this, is found in Hortense Spillers’ work. Because Hortense Spillers is recognizing this utter access, an access so deep that it undoes gender, that it undoes paternity, etc. Somehow that access has to stay open, for that kind of sharing to take place. And it’s almost impossible to look at that truth, when, the first time, anyway, when I read Spillers, it was almost that I had to look away from the thing. So the kind of sharing we’re talking about is about being accessed. And it is such, because we are already shared, it is such because you know, we’re already in each other, we already had a way of moving each other, a way of being in each other. And so much of the march of the modern bourgeois subject is the closing off of that truth, this is again where Denise’s work is so important. It’s the closing off to what Denise calls “affectability.” It’s the insistence that my feelings are generated by me and out of me, that there’s not someone else working out of me; that my reason, my body, that these are sovereign, are mine, self-determined, that they are capable of a plan for development, for improvement. Of course, the only way to insist on any of this is to act out the most brutal forms of access imaginable. And we can only imagine them because they fucking did ‘em, and they’re still doing them, in the name of an idea that we are self-determined. 

There is a move away from politics and a kind of move toward the social [in your work]. At the same time, the Panthers show up throughout The Undercommons. One of the things that you say about them is:

“they theorize revolution without politics, which is to say, revolution with neither a subject nor a principled decision against the law, because they were generating law, they practiced an ongoing planning to be possessed hopelessly and optimistically and incessantly indebted, given to the unfinished contrapuntal study of, and in, the commonwealth, poverty and the blackness of the surround.”

We think of the Panthers as political, no? Whether we’re talking about them seeing their own struggles as connected to Marxism-Leninism, whether we’re thinking about Mao or Fanon or Huey’s own theorizations. But I’m very interested in what you’re talking about here, and I’ll just add to this the notion which I love, that communism and abolition have an uncanny resemblance. Why are these things social and not political in your eyes, and how can we make revolution by abandoning political life?

Fred: On the most basic level, politics is where, punitively, individual subjects act and speak, in public, in so-called collectivities or coalitions or in concert. And you have to have a relative figure who substantiates the political in this regard: the citizen. And the citizen is, in a sense, coterminous with the subject, with the self, with a certain notion of normative personhood. And this is again where Wilderson’s work is totally important. Because what he shows — in a tradition of such showing — is two things: blackness and black folks have been excluded from those modalities of citizenship, personhood, subjecthood, and all of the particular qualities that allow citizens subjects and persons and selves to be, as it were, inhabitants of the world. Not only have black folks been excluded from those capacities, had those capacities radically withdrawn from them, as a matter of theft, extraction, denial, but also as a matter of theoretical imposition. But he also shows that normative notions of citizenship, selfhood, personhood, subjecthood are in fact predicated on that exclusion. Which is to say, they are predicated on the regulation and exclusion of that insurgency which, one might say, blackness substantiates. Here, we mean by blackness not only a kind of quality that black folks are said to have, but blackness simply as the very nature and the name of that insurgency, which manifests itself as a refusal of the regulative force, that has to be exerted in order for subjects to come into their own as subjects. Which is to say, for the subject to come into his own as an acting subject, the subject has to have been regulated and subordinated and made subject to something else. Well, on the one hand, blackness is never given that capacity to come into its own as fully individuated. 

On the other hand, blackness is the constant refusal of the subjection that would make that coming into its own actually possible. So politics is that realm. Politics is the place where people, where subjects get together and decide, a) how they want to live, and b) how everybody else should live. And that ain’t got nothing to do with us! You know, at the most basic level. That ain’t got nothing to do with us, ain’t got nothing to do with the Panthers. The Panthers were a party for self-defense against what political subjects do, against what the police do, against what policy does. That’s our understanding of the Panthers, you know? I mean, it’s fucked up too, right? My partner Lauren was reading this story today, from Lowndes County, Alabama, where the original Black Panther Party came from, and it’s got the highest rate of COVID-19 in the fucking country. You know what I’m saying? So look, there’s an increasingly commonplace understanding that electoral politics ain’t got nothing to do with us. That whichever one of these bastards wins, it ain’t got nothing to do with us. That this bastard president motherfucker, his job was only ever to oversee genocide, and the previous motherfucker, his job was to oversee genocide too. And, you know, you can get into all kinds of stylistic arguments over which one of these two motherfuckers you like the best. I like the one who likes to sing along with Al Green. I like the one who cries when Aretha sings. Oh, well I like the one who eats McDonald’s hamburgers, and likes to grab… you know, whatever? Right? Those are style arguments. Again, the fact that they are style arguments does not lessen the viciousness and brutality of the various ways in which they do their nefarious business in the world. But they do their nefarious business in the world and each one’s nefarious business is more nefarious than the business of the last one. So when we say politics ain’t got nothing to do with us, that’s kinda what we’re saying. 

There’s a whole bunch of stuff that people talk about and that they love and they revere and wanna practice that they place under the name of politics. And we’re not trying to have some kind of pitched battle with the folks who think about it that way. It’s not like we got some sort of massive investment in our own doctrinal sovereignty or some shit. There’s a whole bunch of people who are doing something that they call politics, and we’re like, more power to you, how can we help you? It’s just that we don’t call it politics, right? Not gonna have an argument with Ms. Lady who’s 79 years old and has been registering people to vote in South Carolina for the last 30 years. Who am I to argue with her? I don’t need to win that argument with her. We don’t need to do that. We don’t want to disrespect her. We’re just talking, we’re saying what we got to say. And at the end of the day, what we will do is defer to her on her use of the word politics, and at the same time join with her to the extent that what she is doing, clearly, in our understanding, exceeds politics. 

Stefano: I agree with all of that, so I don’t know what more to add, I mean, one of my favorite books — probably for both of us, I don’t know if we ever talked about it — is Richard Iton’s book, “The Black Fantastic” in which he kind of shows when black politicians even try to start practicing politics, politics won’t stay in its place. It keeps moving out into all other forms of life — the surround, if you like — it won’t sit still in the political. And there is a good reason for that. Because citizenship is a rip-off, I mean it’s a massive reduction, it’s a lousy deal, right? Think about the way the Marxists used to talk about citizenship. You give up all your rights in the workplace to be part of the production of society, in order to become a citizen and have a second order say in that society, which you discover is virtually meaningless. So the other thing about citizens is they’re fucking pissed all the time, and they take it out on non-citizens. Because they got a shitty deal that’s not as bad as what they’re taking out on people, but it sucks. The surround is richer, it’s where sharing is going on, once again, right? So you know that’s why we don’t talk in terms of politics, because inevitably for us, politics is derivative, reductive of something more. Why settle for less?

taken from here

, ,

By