The Decline and Fall of Work

Raoul Vaneigem is a Belgian writer and philosopher. He was born in Lessines. After studying romance philology at the Free University of Brussels from 1952 to 1956, he participated in the Situationist International from 1961 to 1970. Vaneigem and Guy Debord were two of the principal theoreticians of the Situationist movement. Vaneigem’s slogans frequently made it onto the walls of Paris during the May 1968 uprisings. His most famous book, and the one that contains the most famous slogans, is The Revolution of Everyday Life (in French Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations).

for brer Noir ( a bite of situationism.

The duty to produce alienates the passion for creation. Productive labour is part and parcel of the technology of law and order. The working day grows shorter as the empire of conditioning extends.

In an industrial society which confuses work and productivity, the necessity of producing has always been an enemy of the desire to create. What spark of humanity, of a possible creativity, can remain alive in a being dragged out of sleep at six every morning, jolted about in suburban trains, deafened by the racket of machinery, bleached and steamed by meaningless sounds and gestures, spun dry by statistical controls, and tossed out at the end of the day into the entrance halls of railway stations, those cathedrals of departure for the hell of weekdays and the nugatory paradise of weekends, where the crowd communes in weariness and boredom? From adolescence to retirement each 24-hour cycle repeats the same shattering bombardment, like bullets hitting a window: mechanical repetition, time-which-is-money, submission to bosses, boredom, exhaustion. From the butchering of youth’s energy to the gaping wound of old age, life cracks in every direction under the blows of forced labour. Never before has a civilization reached such a degree of contempt for life; never before has a generation, drowned in mortification, felt such a rage to live. The same people who are murdered slowly in the mechanized slaughterhouses of work are also arguing, singing, drinking, dancing, making love, holding the streets, picking up weapons and inventing a new poetry. Already the front against forced labour is being formed; its gestures of refusal are moulding the consciousness of the future. Every call for productivity in the conditions chosen by capitalist and Soviet economy is a call to slavery.

The necessity of production is so easily proved that any hack philosopher of industrialism can fill ten books with it. Unfortunately for these neo-economist thinkers, these proofs belong to the nineteenth century, a time when the misery of the working classes made the right to work the counterpart of the right to be a slave, claimed at the dawn of time by prisoners about to be massacred. Above all it was a question of surviving, of not disappearing physically. The imperatives of production are the imperatives of survival; from now on, people want to live, not just to survive.    – Raoul Vaneigem

6 responses to “The Decline and Fall of Work

  1. Vaneigem’s “The Revolution of Everyday Life” is one of the few books that I find myself returning too every couple of days… I think it would be a worthy project to remember and extensively study the Situationists and the world they inhabited, not to emulate their theories or make orthodoxies of them, but to understand just what their project was and how to project its ambiance into our postmodern drudgery: radical philosophy with fangs.

    • hi eb, yes I agree this fits in I think with my idea of “protoypes” (in the family of resemblances of bricolage. perspicuous presentations, IanBogost’s carpentry, ,and intuitions pumps) as sort of working (or not) models that always have to be re-figured/re-worked and often scrapped depending on the interests/environs/etc. See my recent ANTHEM post on adjacencies that I think has resonances with your new family systems post.

      • Dirk, by prototypes do you mean practices/tools/devices to cue cognition and perceiving? Experimental framings for reality testing and then practical application? I would like to know more about this. It might help us to work out a kind of inventory of pragmatic concepts that do the kind of conceptual work we want to achieve within the orbit of post-nihilist sentiments.

      • hey m, it’s my attempt to try and work against thinking in terms of arche-types (overarching-generalizations/meta-physics) and to focus on tools/assemblages for specific tasks (to work against the tyranny of the means), to highlight contingency and experimentation/engineering, and to provide an answer as to what is the use of case studies post-structuralisms/modernism when we have come to terms with how most of what interests us cannot be cooked down (abstracted up?) into something like laws of physics once we start to takes seriously context/complexity/emergence/etc.
        So it would include the example you gave but would try and widen ‘practice’ to take in the non-human aspects (not so far from Pickering’s mangle but including all of the actions/work and not just the ‘testing’ aspect). Does this give you something to work with?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s