Readings & Writing Prompt for Week 5: The Future Past: Commons & Commoning

Dear All,
Due to a paltry turnout on Saturday–kudos to those of you who let me know you were not going to be making it to class or who did show up for class–we’ve fallen a bit behind, and so this email is heavy on info, info I gave to folks on Saturday. And also we have a lot of work to do Weds! The writing prompt due for Saturday is in this email, as are the readings due before that, to be read for Wednesday. The Saturday prompt I gave out in class, so any questions about it should be asked on Wednesday at the beginning of class. The readings below, as we now enter into discussions about “public space” versus or as (?) “commons” and “commoning,” and how art practices, specifically text art practices, might relate here, these readings will be crucial sites of inspiration and/or models for us as we take up the writing prompt and write from it. Next week we’ll continue with this “theme” of commons and commoning, looking at aspects different from but related to the below–but keep in mind this “theme” has direct relationship to Buuck’s BARGE and the other readings from last week.
Please do these readings for Weds. Much of it is visual/conceptual art or audio (though still grounded in “creative” writing), and so looks to be like more reading than it is. NOTE the readings pasted in at the end of this email, short, but crucial. Read in order here, from top to bottom, would be my suggestion.
Please also bring last week’s readings in order to be able to refer back to them during class. And bring your derive writings AND your short reflections on my asking you to pick 1 piece from the readings last week, and write about WHAT THIS WORK IS DOING AND HOW IS IT DOING IT.WE WILL WORK WITH YOUR DERIVE AND YOUR REFLECTION WRITINGS.

Writing Prompt (don’t over-think this):
Individually, in the same group you were in for the derive, or in some part of that group (or in another configuration), it’s up to you, but: go back to some place that resonated with you in some way during your derive—that is, go back to that space that most interested you in some way or that gave you some ideas, perhaps, about wanting to know more, or act on that space, whatever, and NOW INTERVENE IN THAT SPACE in some way, in real time, and in writing afterwards. How? Draw out what it is you found interesting or problematic or disturbing or “invisible” otherwise (think about BARGE here or Stalk or some of the readings below). Do so by a) making a text art piece (poetry, score, script, prompt for action, etc) that can b) be “performed” or “enacted” or somehow “installed” into the landscape, into that place of interest you found on your derive–that can “frame” or further narrate or radically narrate that space. Spend enough time back in that space to do what you’ve decided to do, around 1-2 hours I’d guess. AFTER YOU’VE INTERVENED IN THAT SPACE, WRITE A POEM THAT “DOCUMENTS” (“ARCHIVES”) YOUR EXPERIENCE, up to 20 lines (paragraph, lined poetry, whatever), BUT THAT DOES NOT USE ANY NOUNS. Report back and poem are due for next (this upcoming) Saturday, Week 5.
1. Nonsite Collective Draft Proposal  HERE
2. Fred Moten, “Code and Tone” (audio)  HERE and “Tonk and Waterfront…” HERE (see Donovan’s piece below)
3. Silvia Federici, Feminism and the Politics of the Commons  HERE
4. Amy Balkin, “Public Smog,”  HERE and HERE and “This is the Public Domain”  HERE (for browsing)
5.Rob Halpern & Kootenay Poets on Prepositions for the Commons (2010):


1. The history of modernity is the history of the commons’ enclosure, i.e. “development.”

2. The commons has been traditionally understood as environmental resource open and available for use by the entire community — customary rights to the woods, and the use of common lands — all that sustains human life that can resist being monetized: rivers, pasture, wild game, plants, forest wood; but perhaps also our languages, the air.

3. The crisis of the commons is the crisis of community: how to organize our social relations around a commonmunus — or gift — (what Hannah Arendt refers to in the prologue of the Human Condition as “a gift from nowhere”): no one’s property, common ground of the human, mutual care.

4. According to Emile Benvensite in Indo-European Languages and Society, “munus is a gift carrying the obligation of a [fair] exchange, immunis is one who does not fulfill his obligation to make due return […] Consequently,communis does not mean ‘he who shares the duties’ but really he who has munia in common”. It follows that to be in community — to participate in the commons — is to give up the terms of one’s immunity, one’s transcendence, or exception: all those meanings which conceal a property logic of enclosures and contracts.

5. Common resource may be everywhere, but the commons as a social space, and a set of relations, is in no one place: it lies patient, and potential.

6. At the same time, the commons is comprised of the strata of many forgotten events, just as it potentializes a transfigured memory of our future.

7. There is no commons as such. The commons is not a positive concept, but rather a historical one. The commons is a Western idea, with a very particular genealogy dating back to the Magna Carta, where respect for customary rights was codified, by King John, as a concession to general discontent.

8. “The commons” emerges within a regime of accumulation. From its inception, a dominant form organization and accumulation has always been encroaching on the reserve it creates. Today, there may not exist a contemporary conceptual apparatus capable of realizing the commons as anything more than a hole in public space.

9. While common resource remains with us, even while diminishing, “the commons,” as such, doesn’t designate something currently in the world. To advocate for the commons is part of the work of bringing its own potential referent into being, as if for the first time.

10. Just as the commons is not a place, the commons is not a thing, either: to name it is to avow its conceptual enclosure, which may, paradoxically, be necessary for its activation. The commons could be a set of social relations, as well as a social space in opposition to the commodity relation (even though the commodity bears within it a memory trace of the commodiousness of the commons).

11. The waste of the system, that which refuses proper integration: these are the remains of a commons defeated, and the anticipatory omens of a commons to come.

12. The commons is always susceptible to becoming a duplicitous discourse because it responds in ways attractive to capital and anti-capital alike: insofar as it offers foils for both the limits of socialism and neoliberalism. In other words, the world bank loves the global commons.

13. Question: how to prevent the commons from serving the ends of a parasitical and predatory apparatus of accumulation?

14. Question: how to negate the idea of scarcity. From Malthus’s first essay on population, which makes of scarcity a universal law, one that continues to lend credibility to social policies and disabling whatever underclass, to Garret Hardin’s notorious “Tragedy of the Commons,” which argues that common ownership ineluctably leads to an exhaustion of “carrying capacity” (because every individual user will increase use and diminish resource),[1] scarcity has been used to justify everything from privatization and intensified class warfare to the commodification of pollutable airspace. These arguments work, not only because they appeal to dominant common sense, but because they deny or ignore the histories of customary rights and forms of self-regulation organized by local knowledge. How to undo the presupposition of scarcity upon which an entire economy of exchange shapes itself?

15. Project on the Commons is Anti-Malthusian evolution: toward the abundance that’s already here.

[1] “Hardin argued that a ‘man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit—in a world that is limited’ (Hardin, Science 1968: 1244). He further asserted that having a conscience was self-eliminating. Those who restrain their use of a common-pool resource lose out economically in comparison to those who continue unrestrained use.” Challenges to the conceptual underpinning, to the empirical validity, to the theoretical adequacy, and to the generalizability of Hardin’s model and the related work in resources economics were articulated throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. A key challenge to the Hardin model came from researchers working in the field.” Dietz, Dolsak, Otrom, Stern, “The Drama of the Commons,” in The Drama of the Commons (Washington D.C.: National Academy Press:2002) 11.

6. Thom Donovan, from his talk on Commoning and the Law (in relation to Fred Moten’s work):

To the question of modeling or what, elsewhere, I have called “allegory” or “enactment,” I want to address [Fred] Moten’s work in particular, anticipating it as a point of departure for thinking about commoning in relation to somatics.

Moten’s work, after that of both white European and Black avant gardes in the 20th century, presents a radical discourse of the senses where, to paraphrase Marx, the senses become theoreticians.

But Moten tells Marx slant in his book Hughson’s Tavern, appropriately named after the rebellion by African slaves, Irish, West Indians and other “others” in colonial New York City, 1741. A direct expression of the commons, if we take the commons to be an expression of a democratized multitude; a direct expression of what Moten also calls the “Black Radical” aesthetic tradition—a tradition irreducible (yet historically particular) to skin color, that at once engages productive antagonisms for collective democratic expression and performs resistance to the reduction of human beings to commodity forms (i.e., slavery). [From Fred Moten's book]:

where the theoreticians will become senses in their practice

where the theoreticians will not be seeing, hearing

where the theoreticians will sear, the theoretician is a seer

where the theoreticians will be seen and heard in their practice

where the theoreticians will touch themselves

where the theoreticians will become sensual in their practice

where the reverse will always be in excess

where the sequence is for nono and maxine

where reading and recite this scene to John Gwin, my daddy

where they go plot paradise, blue bolivar, boll and marvel

where mask and boll and cut and fry and groove

where the senses will become theoreticians in their practice

–from Fred Moten’s “where the blues began,” in Hughson’s Tavern

Moten’s work, to my mind, embodies the problem of (the) theoreticians becoming sensual in their practice (and vice versa)—Moten’s poem in fact enacting a kind of chiasmus of “theory” (which is to say, conscious self-reflexivity) with “sensuality” (the sensual experience of an objective surrounding). The original site of this chiasmus is the revolutionary environment around John Hughson’s tavern, where people of various racial and cultural backgrounds worked collectively to achieve their freedom, and where, consequently, the Blues was “born” by John Gwin, the revolutionary Black leader instrumental in leading the rebellion around the tavern.

The discourse of the senses—and the doubling and redoubling of the senses in synaesthesia—attract me as a prosody for commoning, where aesthetic practice may touch a thinking about what we are doing, and where sense and nonsense, communication and the ineffable, legibility and obscurity found an immanent (common) sense of being in common. The Blues, therefore, as an extension of African-American arts does philosophy where theory and practice cannot be extricated—where, that is, they form a revolutionary chiasmus. Polysemy and paranomasia play to the tune of revolutionary excess.

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