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Re: <nettime> Researching BWPWAP: The Reinvention of Research as Partici
Geert Lovink on Thu, 9 Aug 2012 16:07:21 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Researching BWPWAP: The Reinvention of Research as Participatory Practice

Exclusive Gonzo Circus essay ?Time-wars? by Mark Fisher


Leading radical blogger and professor ?cultural analysis? Mark Fisher (aka
k-punk) is one of the keynote speakers at this year?s  Incubate
DIY-conference. He is the author of the acclaimed ?Capitalist Realism: Is
There No Alternative?? and publishes in New Statesman, Frieze and The
Wire. Daily he posts his comments on twitter as kpunk99. In his work he
refers to an autonomist framework, incorporating elements from workerism,
post-marxism and anarchism.

Mark Fisher wrote the thought-provoking essay ?Time-wars? exclusively for
Incubate and Gonzo (circus).

There is a Dutch translation available on the Gonzo website.


Time rather than money is the currency in the recent science fiction film
In Time. At the age of 25, the citizens in the future world the film
depicts are given only a year more to live. To survive any longer, they
must earn extra time. The decadent rich have centuries of empty time
available to fritter away, while the poor are always only days or hours
away from death. In Time is, in effect, the first science fiction film
about precarity ? a condition that describes an existential precidament as
much as it refers to a particular way of organising work.

At the most simple level, precarity is one consequence of the
?post-Fordist? restructuring of work that began in the late 1970s: the
turn away from fixed, permanent jobs to ways of working that are
increasingly casualised. Yet even those within relatively stable forms of
employment are not immune from precarity. Many workers now have to
periodically revalidate their status via systems of ?continuous
professional development?; almost all work, no matter how menial, involves
self-surveillance systems in which the worker is required to assess their
own performance. Pay is increasingly correlated to output, albeit an
output that is no longer easily measurable in material terms.

For most workers, there is no such thing as the long term. As sociologist
Richard Sennett put it in his book The Corrosion of Character: The
Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, the post-Fordist
worker ?lives in a world marked ? by short-term flexibility and flux ?
Corporations break up or join together, jobs appear and disappear, as
events lacking connection.? (30) Throughout history, humans have learned
to come to terms with the traumatic upheavals caused by war or natural
disasters, but ?[w]hat?s peculiar about uncertainty today,? Sennett points
out, ?is that it exists without any looming historical disaster; instead
it is woven into the everyday practices of a vigorous capitalism.?

It isn?t only work that has become more tenuous. The neoliberal attacks on
public services, welfare programmes and trade unions mean that we are
increasingly living in a world deprived of security or solidarity. The
consequence of the normalisation of uncertainty is a permanent state of
low-level panic. Fear, which attaches to particular objects, is replaced
by a more generalised anxiety, a constant twitching, an inability to
settle. The uncertainty of work is intensified by digital communication
technology. As soon as there is email, there are no longer working hours
nor a workplace. What characterises the present moment more than our
anxious checking ? of our messages, which may bring opportunities or
demands (often both at the same time), or, more abstractly, of our status,
which, like the stock market is constantly under review, never finally

We are very far from the ?society of leisure? that was confidently
predicted in the 1970s. Contrary to the hopes raised at that time,
technology has not liberated us from work. As Federico Campagna writes in
his article ?Radical Atheism?, published on the Through Europe website.
?In the current age of machines ? humans finally have the possibility of
devolving most productive processes to technological apparatus, while
retaining all outcomes for themselves. In other words, the (first) world
currently hosts all the necessary pre-conditions for the realization of
the old autonomist slogan ?zero work / full income/ all production / to
automation?. Despite all this, 21st century Western societies are still
torn by the dusty, capitalist dichotomy which opposes a tragically
overworked section of population against an equally tragically unemployed

Campagna?s call for a ?radial atheism? is based on the recognition that
the precariousness that cannot be eliminated is that of life and the body.
If there is no afterlife, then our time is finite. Curiously, however, we
subjects of late capitalism act as if there is infinite time to waste on
work. Work looms over us as never before. ?In an eccentric and an extreme
society like ours,? argue Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming in their book
Dead Man Working, ?working has assumed a universal presence ? a ?worker?s
society in the worst sense of the term ? where even the unemployed and
children become obsessed with it.? (2) Work now colonises weekends, late
evenings, even our dreams. ?Under Fordism, weekends and leisure time were
still relatively untouched,? Cederström and Fleming point out. ?Today,
however, capital seeks to exploit our sociality in all spheres of work.
When we all become ?human capital? we not only have a job, or perform a
job. We are the job.?

Given all of this, it is clear that most political struggles at the moment
amount to a war over time. The generalised debt crisis that hangs over all
areas of capitalist life and culture ? from banks to housing and student
funding ? is ultimately about time. Averting the alleged catastrophe (of
the end of capitalism) will heighten the apocalyptic temporality of
everyday life, as the anticipation of catastrophe gives way to a sense
that we are already living through the catastrophe and it, like work, will
never end. The increase of debt justifies the extending of working hours
and working life, with retirement age being pushed ever further back. We
are in a state of harrassed busyness from which ? we are now promised ?
there will never be any relief.

The state of reactive panic in which most of us find ourselves is not an
accidental side-effect of post-Fordist labour. It is highly functional for
capital that our time is not only quantitatively short but qualitatively
fragmented, bitty. We are required to live in the condition that Linda
Stone has called ?continous partial attention?, where our attention is
habitually distributed across multiple communication platforms.
As Franco ?Bifo? Berardi has argued, we now live in the tension between
the infinity of cyberspace and the vulnerable finitude of the body and the
nervous system. ?The acceleration of information exchange has produced and
is producing an effect of a pathological type on the individual human mind
and even more on the collective mind,? Berardi writes in Precarious
Rhapsody. ?Individuals are not in a position to process the immense and
always growing mass of information that enters their computers, their cell
phones, their television screens, their electronic diaries and their
heads. However, it seems indispensable to follow, recognise, evaluate,
process all this information if you want to be efficient, competitive,
victorious. ? The necessary time for paying attention to the fluxes of
information is lacking.?

The consequence is a strange kind of existential state, in which
exhaustion bleeds into insomniac overstimulation (no matter how tired we
are, there is still time for one more click) and enjoyment and anxiety
co-exist (the urge to check emails, for instance, is both something we
must do for work and a libidinal compulsion, a psychoanalytic drive that
is never satisfied no matter how many messages we receive). The fact that
the smart phone makes cyberspace available practically anywhere at anytime
means that boredom (or at least the old style, ?Fordist? boredom) has
effectively been eliminated from social life. Yet boredom, like death,
posed existential challenges that are far more easily deferred in the
always-on cyberspatial environment. Ultimately, communicative capitalism
does not vanquish boredom so much as it ?sublates? it, seeming to destroy
it only to preserve it in a new synthesis. The characteristic affective
tonality for the insomniac drift of cyberspace, in which there is always
one more click to make, one more update to check, combines fascination
with boredom. We are bored even as we are fascinated, and the limitless
distraction allows us to evade confronting death ? even as death is
closing in on us.

No doubt this chronic shortage of time goes some way to accounting for the
stalled and inertial quality of culture in recent years. The neoliberal
gambit was that the destruction of social security would have a dynamic
effect on culture and the economy, liberating an entrepreneurial spirit
that was inhibited by the red tape of bureaucratic social democratic
institutions. The reality, however, is that innovation requires certain
forms of stability. The disintegration of social democracy has had a
dampening, rather than a dynamic, effect on culture in highly
neoliberalized countries such as the UK. Fredric Jameson?s claims that
late capitalist culture would be given over to pastiche and retrospection
have turned out to be extraordinarily prophetic.

We?ve grown so accustomed to repetition and recycling that we no longer
notice them. Yet it?s no surprise that this is the case. New cultural
production requires a use of time that communicative capitalism is
profoundly hostile towards. Most social energy is sucked into the vortex
of late capitalist labour and its vast simulation of productivity.
Innovation depends upon an absorbed (rather than distracted) drift; but it
is increasingly difficult to muster the attentional resources necessary
for such immersion. Cyberspatial urgencies ? the smartphone?s flashing red
light, the siren call of its alert ? function like trance-inhibitors or
alarm clocks that keep waking us out of collective dreaming. In these
conditions, intellectual work can only be undertaken on a short-term
basis. Only prisoners have time to read, and if you want to engage in a
twenty-year long research project funded by the state, you will have to
kill someone.

To understand the time-crisis, we only have to compare the current
situation with the height of punk and post-punk in the UK and the US. It?s
no accident that the efflorescence of punk and post-punk culture happened
at a time when cheap and squatted property was available in London and New
York. Now, simply to afford to pay rent in either city entails giving up
most of your time and energy to work. The delirious rise in property
prices over the last twenty years is probably the single most important
cause of cultural conservatism in the UK and the US. In the UK, much of
the infrastructure which indirectly supported cultural production has been
systematically dismantled by successive neoliberal governments. Most of
the innovations in British popular music which happened between the 60s
and the 90s would have been unthinkable without the indirect funding
provided by social housing, unemployment benefit and student grants.

These developments precisely opened up a kind of time that is now
increasingly difficult to access: a time temporarily freed from the
pressure to pay rent or the mortgage; an experimental time, in which the
outcomes of activities could neither be predicted nor guaranteed; a time
which might turn out to be wasted, but which might equally yield new
concepts, perceptions, ways of being. It is this kind of time, not the
harassed time of the business entrepreneur, which gives rise to the new.
This kind of time, where the collective mind can unfurl, also allows the
social imagination to flourish. The neoliberal era ? the time when, we
were repeatedly told, there was no alternative ? has been characterised by
a massive deterioration of social imagination, an incapacity to even
conceive of different ways to work, produce and consume. It?s now clear
that, from the start (and with good reason) neoliberalism declared war on
this alternative mode of time. It remains tireless in its propagation of
resentment against those few fugitives who can still escape the treadmill
of debt and endless work, promising to ensure that soon, they too will be
condemned to performing interminable, meaningless labour ? as if the
solution to the current stagnation lay in more work, rather than an escape
from the cult of work. If there is to be any kind of future, it will
depend on our winning back the uses of time that neoliberalism has sought
to close off and make us forget.

Berardi, Franco, Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the pathologies
of the post-alpha generation, London: Minor Compositions, 2009.
Campagna, Federico, ?Radical Atheism?,
Cederström, Carl and Fleming, Peter, Dead Man Working, Winchester: Zer0
books, 2012.
Sennett, Richard, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of
Work in the New Capitalism, New York/ London: WW Norton, 1998.

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