“Forest perambulations existed since at least the time of Magna Carta. They were ceremonial walks about a territory for asserting and recording its boundaries, that is, ‘beating the bounds.’ A perambulation was a kind of peripatetic map, or walkabout, in which briar-scratched skin, stubbed toes, aching legs aided the memory. … The perambulation of the New Forest authorized by Charles II in 1671 resulted in a Latin document that, translated, comprises a single sentence over six pages long, of approximately one thousand nine hundred and eighty words, many hundreds of prepositional phrases (the grammatical unit most having to do with position and direction)—to, from, by, beyond, across, in—and human and natural landmarks—ditch, post, hedge, vale, pond, gate, rover, oak, beech, grave, croft, marsh, lane, road, ford—with current name, alias, former names, thus making the text layered with semantic history and compact with minute orientation”
—Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto
Commons—shared resources upon which communities depend, and upon which these communities practice stewardship, in part so the shared resource will still be there for future sharing—are everywhere in human history, the heart of social reproduction, only squeezed to the periphery since the rise of the capitalist mode of production and social relations. Commons are spaces marked not by fixed property lines but by active boundaries of customary use: they often depend upon regular perambulations by their users, who collectively reaffirm the extent, status and health of their shared life-line and responsibility, as they walk its fluctuating periphery.
I had thought I could perambulate the bounds of certain proposed mine sites (Catface Mountain, Ajax, Testan Biny), reclaiming them as commons before they could be carved up and destroyed. Make a poem from this—that tempting six-page sentence Linebaugh recounts in the quotation above. But a piercing light radiates from regret, and art and aspiration sometimes stand in stark contrast against backgrounds of lived realities. Burtynsky’s photographs of oil spills that are dark tears in iris-textured water, mines that are deep terraced bore-holes in the earth, like descending rings of ochery infernos—aestheticized into a new opacity on gallery walls or between hard covers balanced atop privileged coffee tables. Take for example Taseko Mines Ltd (TKO, what a knockout), which has for decades been attempting to develop a mine at Fish Lake (Testan Biny) in what is called central British Columbia, sacred to the Tsilhqot’in people whose traditional lands it is. Can you claim as commons what indigenous land defenders have claimed as—home? Can you claim it as—art? In what ways does the European idea of the commons overlap with indigenous notions of the sacredness and primacy of the land (it “owns” you, you don’t “own” it)? I walk off the end of a phrase, into the space companies have marked—portfolio.
It’s the future that frightens. Our access and “right” to a to-come, to a tomorrow, that seems to be being taken away from us right now. To morrow, as a verb—something we common, through our desiring dependence upon that spatio-temporality of the not-yet, but sweetly anticipated. What sort of space is the future though, and how might we perambulate its bounds, claiming it as common—a preserve we will need to depend upon in perpetuity?
“Locked-in” climate change is in part based on the fact that there is enough carbon still in the ground, and yet identified, calculated, speculated upon, given value form, sold and invested before it is even removed, to fry us all, well and truly. That is, it’s mining is financially a foregone conclusion, almost an after-thought, already an asset on the market, already part of the bottom line, enough there to push us past CO2 levels scientists have identified as limits to a liveable planet. The future has been enclosed, monetized, bought and sold and—already burnt. Mutually assured economic destruction. But in what way was “mutually assured destruction” ever—mutual? We are now already the future the past dreamt of—or are we? Are we the ones we’ve been waiting for? How to negate futures we don’t want to unfold—futures already being constructed all around us by doomsday market forces—and so open the future to other—scenarios?
These are some of the questions luring me right now. This doubt, this uncertainly, might somehow be the ground of a new writing “project” that I will use this blog to wander towards, haltingly, catching glimpses of past, present, and future commons, sighting along the peripheries of the present state of extraction, looking industry in its carboniferous eye, and finding hope in the eyes of those I march with, in city streets and rural fields.
Nice blog, Stephen! Well done. And you’re using the same WP theme I use on my Refugium blog – Twenty Twelve. It looks good!