[iDC] Play, Labour & Herbert Marcuse

Eva Michalcak mailme.eva at gmail.com
Fri Oct 9 11:43:03 UTC 2009

my name is eva and i like to observe developpements on the web for my own
private pleasure.
with great interest I have been following the discussions on this list and
now i have a question, that i would like to hear your thoughts on.
last night i observed my flatmate playing farmville. as far as i understand,
this game is about buidling up and working on a farm. so there is another
relation between play and work here, that is neither new nor specific to the
internet (i think there are tons tamagochi-like care-taking games in all
types of formats), but that i think is very interesting, especially in
relation with christians post.
in earlier conversations it was mentioned, how people in the usa would
accept mturk-tasks, to perform them while watching tv as a type of
"additional entertainment". in this case it seems to me the activity can
still be described as "work" since there is a economical revard (however
tiny). but what is with farmville? the activity consists in task to be
accomplished within a certain time, there is a highscore, but somehow it
looks to me as if the biggest revard for this "work" is that you build
something "cute"...?
also ive been thinking about how we all seem to have an "instinct to work"
and whether that is something that has been implated in our brains by a
system that depends on everyones workpower or that always has been there? is
a lioness that is hunting doing work? or a bird building a nest? i believe
to have read somewhere that the split of our wake hours in
working-time/spare-time is an invention of the 19th century
(industrialization), and thinking about how life must have been on the
countryside some 300 years ago... it kind of would not make sense.
i would really love to read your thoughts on these topics.
thank you and kind regards

> 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:
> http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125291498468308169.html
>    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?
> Sareeta
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