Wednesday, June 15, 2016

from “A way into no way”: Autonomia and Recent USAmerican Poetry

Hannah Arendt reads the refusal of the passengers in terms of her larger critique of totalitarianism and the break-down of authority within the state. As the title of Moten’s poem indicates, I believe that this is yet another example (from a litany of examples in his poetry and scholarship) of the (forced) experiment of Black life in the United States. Here what is being tested is another form of politics, a politics of the unauthorized, unlegislated, and unadministered. The refusal to leave a train indicates not just an isolated event for Moten, but a continuum of spontaneous resistance and refusal definitive of Black ontology. To not leave the train is a test—a testing of the authority of the municipality and thus the state. It is also a test—as in an experiment. Or: “experimental slant can’t help but hurt you. look how hard and sharp it makes you breathe. You have to refuse in real time with things that revise in real time when the wind is closed.” Like music composition and performance, refusing to vacate a train is also an expression of the general intellect inasmuch as it objectifies knowledge that becomes transmissable within a particular cultural tradition, namely the knowledge of resisting artfully. Not unlike the autonomists, Black life is characterized—if not essentialized—by forms of refusal that do not conform to state authority, that, in other words, do not play into the hands of sanctioned political expression.

Echoing the notion of the “post-political” in autonomist discourse, Moten coins the term “ante-politics.” What Black collectivity and autonomists share most in common is the tendency towards refusals that anteriorize politics, forcing political expression outside or beyond the enclosures of governance towards what Saidiya Hartman calls a “politics without a proper locus.” So that the “rent party is the curriculum of the rent party,” which is to say, theory and practice become immediate to one another through collective social expression. “This is how we never arrive” is obviously a reference to the train stuck at 110th St., but it also echoes Moten’s larger historical-ontological-political project, which employs Afro-Derridian formulations and terminology to register a temporality that is anterior—other than itself. To not arrive, in this case, is to practice a politics of the “ante”—of the exterior; one that will not cohere into a state formation, that will uphold an ongoing experiment, an ongoing test of “fail[ing] to legislate.” These connections are elaborated in Moten’s collaboration with Stefano Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, which evokes numerous political and social formations against the state and university. Not least of these is the undercommons itself, which like the maroon communities that precede it creates enclaves autonomous from the intervention of the Anti-Black state.

These “ante-political” practices of Black autonomy finally involve what Moten calls after the poet-scholar Nathaniel Mackey the “open secret,” the fact that Black essence hides in the open, and that this hiding both protects and makes vulnerable. Or, in the words of Moten’s “test,” “the refuge is open and can’t be safe.” To be “ante”—to be on the outs of official political practices (as Blacks have always been in the United States)—constantly risks the uncertainties of lawlessness, precarity, and porosity towards the other. It also opens to the possibilities of conspiracy—a breathing together such that “our breathing empties the air with fullness and we’re in love in a state of constant sorrow.” “the outcome is a process, a way into no way.” “A way into no way”—in other words, an exit, an exodus, without termini, without station, just sitting in the dark together, “in real time when the wind is closed.”