So getting back to this question of labour, and what it means to be alienated from it. There have been a couple of tangents, one circumstantial, which was that I had to answer Steve’s question about my thoughts on protest politics. The other tangent, about shitty instruction in humanities, was organic to my writing, if aided by circumstance.
|And once again, Zeppo is erased. Still, it was basically|
Zeppo's joke to be eraseable. I'm convinced that Zeppo
Marx was the most revolutionary comic genius
of his era. That's a blog post for another day, I think.
I realized that while I was discussing the mediocre accounts of Karl Marx’s philosophy that I learned as an undergraduate, two friends in the international Doctor Who community were having a ridiculous conversation with a Gamergater troll who, in a fit of misplaced spite, wrote them an incoherent account of Hegel’s philosophy, and why that made all left-wing politics idiotic and stupid.
You see, another thing I don’t like about the dumbed-down content of too many undergraduate courses and textbooks in the humanities is that a student doesn’t have room to experiment with the ideas. They have no opportunities to pull something strange from the text, only learn a standard, simplified reading that they can easily recall in a few sentences.
Humanities education is meant to confuse you, and its core skills should be techniques of thought and analysis to understand your way through confusion.
So a good humanities education will expose you, not just to a single standardized reading of a historically remarkable work, but an idea that emerges from your thinking on it that will, in turn, make you think in a different way.
Frederic Jameson finds one such idea in the work of another Fred, Friedrich Schiller. In particular, Schiller developed a concept of play, from his reading of the major Critique works of Immanuel Kant. Kant developed a very regimented conception of how human faculties of reasoning were divided: there was the cognitive, the moral, and the aesthetic, which was its own category as well as a function which blurred the division of the other two.
Schiller took this a step farther, and conceived of the power of judgment as a kind of creative play. In Kant’s thinking, the cognitive is our power of recognizing the world around us, the moral is our power of knowing what’s right and acting according to it. The aesthetic is our creative faculty, how we’re able to understand the assembly of the world and change how things fit together.
|I haven't really read much of him myself,|
but I do get the distinct feeling that
Friedrich Schiller was an extremely
Jameson takes this idea as his template for what non-alienated labour would be. The standard textbook version of non-alienated labour remains reactive: workers instead of an investor class in control of production, working conditions that let people relax and breathe instead of working them to death. These are improvements, but they’re essentially the same economic structures as before, just with the beneficiaries flipped.
Instead, Jameson runs with Schiller’s idea: labour that doesn’t alienate us is creative labour, fun labour. Labour that we can own as a singular product unique to ourselves. It’s the labour of art and artisans.
It’s a brilliant idea. It’s survived in innovative philosophical systems for the next two hundred years. Friedrich Nietzsche’s figure of the creator as a society’s genuinely revolutionary character. Frantz Fanon’s concept of the creative, multifaceted culture as the one that truly overcomes colonialism. Henri Bergson and and Gilles Deleuze’s concept of creativity and the new as progress.
The idea that progress isn’t about perfecting some program and living in that social template forever, but about constant reinvention, and flexibility of thought and action to become wholly new kinds of being if the world demands it.
This is the political centrepiece of my own work too, Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. If we have to answer a problem whose causes and conditions lie in our fundamental nature, then the occasion demands that we change our natures, literally change human nature, a directed, creative act of adaptation that practically amounts to revolution.
Jameson, from his Marxist orientation and intellectual history, considers different images of industry transformed into artisanal work, images that depict such a world as perfect, utopian.
It’s not just some intellectual distraction, the idea does move people in politics. It lies under the environmentalist movement, as I mentioned, as well as Italy’s Autonomia movement, and Occupy. The idea that we could solve many of the world’s problems by reorienting our industrial processes along a model of artisanship.
Well, I’ve heard worse.