A Note on Fugitivity

The notion of “fugitivity,” which Fred Moten and Stefano Harney reconfigure in a positive sense in The Undercommons, must be anchored in a prior sense.  “Fugitive being” for Moten and Harney means its disentanglement from insistent hegemony, for the sake of a liberation.  But it seems to me there is a prior fugitivity, which is the fugitivity of insistence as such: the refusal to ex-sist, the absolute concern with in-sistence.  This could have been portrayed in the starkest terms with the Ethan character (John Wayne) in John Ford’s The Searchers.  Ethan is the in-sistent, his rage and tribal hatred, his obsession (which at the end redeems itself), are fugitive, they are fugitivity itself.  This is the fugitivity Moten and Harney invert, for the sake of freedom.  To be thought out is then the connection of primary or original fugitivity with the notion of revenge: such is Friedrich Nietzsche’s overwhelming concern.  At some point in the film Ethan tells the Reverend that he cannot swear himself in as a Texas Ranger, since there is only one oath given to any man, and he has already given his oath to the Confederate Army.  For Ethan this frames his essence as both fugitive and vengeful.  And he cannot escape (although at the end he does).  This final escaping, which no doubt Ford proposed as some kind of fantastic national allegory, is precisely a fugitivity from fugitivity, which I would argue is the one Moten and Harney propose (even if they never make it explicit.) There is a residual question, which is whether Moten and Harney’s inversion must still keep a reference to a national allegory of any kind, or whether for them any kind of national allegory is no more than in-sistent hegemony.

2 thoughts on “A Note on Fugitivity

  1. I love the Searchers. What do you make of the fact that Ethan’s fugitivity, after his wasted/failed oath for the Confederates, turns/depends/is built on fixing his families’ honor (which seems to preexist the only oath he had to give) through vengeance? Is the question of honor a matter of an insistence, more primary than the oath? To fully exist (fugitively), Ethan would seem to have to refuse (this type of) honor, too.


    1. Honor is tribal in-sistence. Which of course does not make it unreal. Remember that Cicatriz-Scar initiated his raiding and scalping also on the basis of family honor, i.e., his two sons had been murdered by pale-eyes. So there is a cycle of revenge, conditioned by the theft of the land, the colonial encroachment. Subtracting oneself from it is a historical task that Ford had been obviously wondering about. The “let me take you home, Debbie” at the end is a fantastic resolution, all he could do, it seems to me. A subordinate but crucial question: does Martin, who is himself part Cherokee, end up marrying the girl who came through at the end as sustaining (white) tribal insistence at any cost? That question is left pending, it is a counterturning to the all too easy resolution the film seems to propose.


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