[iDC] Play, Labour & Herbert Marcuse

Christian.Fuchs at sbg.ac.at Christian.Fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Wed Oct 7 21:50:56 UTC 2009

Dear Sareeta,

Thanks for bringing up the connection of play-labour-suicide, I think this is an important thought.

Marcuse argues that the lack of time for realizing the play drive of humans due to the exploitation of labour time and the resulting surplus repression of the sexual and play drives results in "repressive desublimation" in the form of an externalization of aggressivenesss.

Marx in his very structuralist moments assumed that there is an inherent capitalist crisis law, the tendency of the profit rate to fall. today, in the context of the repressive convergence of play, labour, and exploitation that results in the convergence of play time and labour time and therefore the absorption of the pleasure principle and eros by the performance principle and thanatos, there seems to be another law: the tendency of play time to fall and to be collapsed into exploitation time. but if, as marcuse assumed, the reduction of play time results in advanced aggressiveness, then we have reasons to assume that the consequence today, under the circumstances of a self-disciplinary society (what deleuze calls the society of control), where internalization is so important, humans will tend to not only externalize their aggressions, but to put their aggressiveness against themselves, and suicide then is the ultimate consequence of this tendential law.

another aspect of how this age of "participatory management" advances the overall aggressiveness of society is the japanese phenomenon of karoshi, death by overwork and stress.

so i think there is an inherent connection of the play-labour-convergence with death and suicide.

these are some first spontaneous thoughts. maybe reading and reinterpreting marcuse's "aggressiveness in advanced industrial society" (http://www.wbenjamin.org/marcuse.html) could help in making some further thoughts on this issue.

cheers, christian

Dear Christian and iDCers,

Your post on play and labour got me thinking about what the limits of this kind of disciplining might 
be.  That is, when does the conflation of play and work begin to be intolerable, and, how is this way of 
organizing human vitality (Eros) distributed differentially?  I'm thinking here of the recent spate of 
suicides at France Telecom.  The WSJ article on the subject is very telling, it attributes the suicide to 
workers' inability to adjust to a 'new' and 'competitive' system, a system which according to the Journal 
may be cutthroat, but does provide 'perks'.  What are they?  Well, the company will help employees set 
up private businesses if they decide to leave, and will allow them to come back should these 
businesses fail.

The article is at:

   This is a perfect example of capitalizing on play.  Yet, suicides suggest this kind of sublimation or 
bargain has become intolerable to many.  How can we understand the limits of toleration here?  Also, 
how can we think about how free time itself is differently distributed, and is it possible that the free 
time of some is enabled by reducing or channeling the space for play of others?

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