Undercommons

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Definition

...the undercommons is not a realm where we rebel and we create critique; it is not a place where we “take arms against a sea of troubles/and by opposing end them.” The un- dercommons is a space and time which is always here. Our goal – and the “we” is always the right mode of address here – is not to end the troubles but to end the world that created those particular troubles as the ones that must be opposed...

Jack Halberstam, from "The Wild Beyond: With and for the Undercommons" (Introduction).

...the undercommons is a kind of comportment or ongoing experiment with and as the general antagonism, a kind of way of being with others, it’s almost impossible that it could be matched up with particular institutional life. It would obviously be cut through in different kinds of ways and in different spaces and times...

... in a way, the undercommons is a kind of break, between locating ourselves and dislocating ourselves. What’s so enduring for us about the undercommons concept is that’s what it continues to do when it is encountered in new circumstances. People always say, ‘well, where the fuck is that.’ Even if you do that clever Marxist thing like, ‘oh it’s not a place, it’s a relation,’ people are like, ‘yeah, but where’s the relation.’ It has a continuing effect as a dislocation, and it always makes people feel a little uncomfortable about common. For me it was like the first freight that we hopped.

Stefano Harney, Quoted from an interview.

Discussion

"The tension between the ideals and practices of autonomous education projects is theorized most explicitly in Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s eloquent essay. This tension is built into the concept of “undercommons”, which raises the question of how the subversive intellectual can be *in* but not *of* the university, i.e., treating it as a “place of refuge” and a source of resources for subversive projects without losing one’s ideals in the process of professionalization. They consider how, under conditions of increasing precarization, teachers can organize themselves from within those conditions, living for “the beyond of teaching … allowing subjectivity to be unlawfully overcome by others” (147). To escape the professionalizing disqualification of the joys of their teaching labour, they can go “with hands full into the underground of the university, into the Undercommons”. Along the lines of the recent motto of the Anomalous Wave student movement in Italy, “we won’t pay for your crisis”, Harney and Moten describe how the university tries to offload its crises onto students, making them “come to see themselves as the problem” (148). The university needs teachers to impose on students this “self-diagnosing” lesson. Yet, this increasingly precaritized “labour upon labour” creates risks for the university, because, “like the colonial police force recruited unwittingly from guerrilla neighbourhoods, university labor may harbor refugees, fugitives, renegades, and castaways”, who can organize themselves into “maroon communities” (149). Against attempts to disqualify them as “unprofessional”, Harney and Moten call on these maroons to see the Undercommons as a perpetual war in which they must collectively “problematize themselves, problematize the university, force the university to consider them a problem, a danger”." (http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/9-4/9-4johnsonmeyerhoff.pdf)

The Book

"The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study" by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten. Published by Minor Compositions. You can order it or download it for free: http://www.minorcompositions.info/?p=516