Work occupied only a few of us-two’s hours back in time immemorial, in our cultures of origin. Following our confinement in settlements, these hours increased. To call the prior arrangement “primitive” (as do Marx and Engels with their use of the phrase “primitive communism”) is to do it a disservice. First and last are in no sense as easy to discern as was once supposed. There are temporalities other than the ones proposed by the West. There are “the expansive temporalities of Afro Diasporan people,” for instance, about which Moor Mother speaks on her new track “Zami.” “No more master’s clock,” she pronounces, while beside me sits Kim Stanley Robinson’s weighty new tome, The Ministry for the Future.
Nadja constructs for its readers a Surrealist approach toward everyday life. It recalls in its first-person narrative and its forty-four photographs a string of synchronicities and coincidences, life occurring in fortuitous patterns. Breton coasts along on invisible economic means, contemptuous of those who “endure their work” (68). “How can that raise them up if the spirit of revolt is not uppermost within them?” he asks Nadja when the two meet. “No,” he concludes, “it was not yet these who would be ready to create the Revolution” (64). Surrealism is a refusal of work in favor of art and romance. The rest of us, meanwhile, are paying for treatment. Has talking to a therapist helped? Certainly. The more I open up, the more I learn about where and when and how we might exert agency together as Multitude. And we learn this precisely and quite wonderfully through receptivity to chance — or so I catch myself thinking, when what I ought to do is read. When at the end of their conversation Breton asks Nadja, “Who are you?” she replies, “without a moment’s hesitation, ‘I am the soul in limbo'” (71).
Of course it wasn’t that simple. The labor dragged on for days, with Sarah needing an emergency c-section. There were troubles breastfeeding. The baby needed her frenulum clipped. But she’s here! F. is here! And already she’s the love of our lives.
Sarah endures days of contractions, pain shooting around inside her — muscular, interior, burning, grinding, all at once — until the hospital staff turns over at 7:00am and a new doctor-and-nurse team administer an epidural, after which Sarah experiences intense relief. From then onward, all is mostly smooth sailing, at least compared to the night prior. Amplified via monitor, the baby’s heart rate soundtracks our wait (how weird to sit there listening to our daughter swim!) as we watch monster contractions graphed as vertical spikes on a screen. Reflecting afterwards, under the influence of the epidural, on the discrepancy between her expectations going into the labor and the sheer pain of it: “That is not,” Sarah says, “how I imagined it at all.” A loud echo reverberates through the delivery room. Thinking of the baby as the sound’s origin, J. replies, “I imagine her pushing off the side of a wall, as when one is swimming in a pool.” As Sarah continues to dilate, the three of us watch calming footage of sea turtles swimming in the deep. As for me, I picture the baby as an angry Al Pacino, fist in the air, shouting “Attica! Attica!” as in Dog Day Afternoon. And then, without further ado, she arrives in all her glory.
We’re here, we’ve arrived at the projected due date, little one carried full term. And according to the doctors, all is well. But Sarah hasn’t yet entered into active labor — so the wait continues. I pass the time by sitting in the yard listening to outdoor sounds, birds and squirrels, drinking a can of pilsner. ‘Tis enough, sometimes, to just yip and squawk and tweet.
Oh, the indignities one must endure in order to be allowed to live. New ones gather each day in my inbox. Take yesterday, for instance. After teaching my two morning classes, afternoon ones still hanging overhead, I forsook lunch midday (not by choice) in order to attend one of the bugbears of higher ed, a mandatory, university-wide faculty meeting. Imagine the unfolding of the event as follows. First, the campus. To complement my place of work’s already robust assortment of life-size statues in bronze, the powers that be have seen fit to season the landscape for at least the next month or so in true Hoffmann-esque fashion with dozens of towering, larger-than-life nutcrackers and plastic wooden soldiers, these armies of 10-foot-tall fakes assembled at intervals along every path and promenade. Next, the meeting itself. It begins with a risqué musical number courtesy of the Theatre department, the stage decorated to evoke Germany’s Kit Kat Klub. Cabaret is actually an inspired choice, I think: a last hurrah of pleasure as the country slides weightlessly toward fascism. A senior business administration major who was diagnosed with testicular cancer his freshman year but who now is cancer-free counsels us about the importance of gratitude. How truly blessed we are, says the student. Onward and upward! After a bible-thumping invocation led by a member of the faculty, the president invites an architect to the stage to provide us with an update about the construction of a new campus hotel-cum-athletics-arena. “Very elegant, a boutique hotel,” we’re told. Keep in mind, the university financing this structure is the same one that just laid off two of my colleagues on grounds of budget-tightening. And the building boom doesn’t stop there. Instead, a different, equally nondescript architect gets up soon thereafter and tells us about another set of construction projects: a crystal palace conservatory housing an indoor arboretum, and a new undergrad sciences building with a state-of-the-art planetarium. “It’s got to be ‘state-of-the-art,’” brags the president, American flags on either side of him and a chandelier overhead. Afterwards a faculty liaison reports on a recent board of trustees meeting, dwelling at length on honorary doctorates awarded to local furniture magnates, while noting as well the university’s performance in terms of net growth of assets. Next up is the university’s athletics director. Rah-rah, he says, our teams are great. “Thank you, faculty,” he adds after a brief pause, his skin radiating positivity, “you’ve provided our athletes with the support they need, thus creating an ‘environment for success.’” Following him at the podium comes the provost, a jolly old Southern gentleman bearing diagrams and flowcharts about who ought to do what and when. He says up-up-up, we’re all going up, and reports breathlessly on the status of a “committee on committees.” “We’re looking to streamline our committee structure,” he assures us. “Tweaks are underway,” he hums, “to usher in your future!” Faculty input in this process is no longer necessary, however, due to changes in structures of governance. Instead, market-proven technocrats will decide our profession’s future. The rest of us, we’re told, have — sorry to say it! — no choice but to poise ourselves to receive whatever data-driven dystopia comes our way. It’s simple, really — don’t you know? We must work on X, Y, or Z to get “value”; otherwise, the future will not be as bright as it could be. “Evolve into the person you are intended to become,” the president commands, the meeting now well into its second hour. Optometry and accelerated nursing, he says, will help us “kill it” in terms of enrollment. “Thank God a thousand times over,” he proclaims as if to break a spell. And with that, finally, he adjourns the meeting and sends us on our way. As I rose from my seat, though, I thought to myself, “A thousand times over? Hardly. The god that graces this Ponzi scheme is a god that deserves to die.”
Beyond the edges of the game-space runs a single, circular backdrop, a projection. I no longer have access to the polis, I think to myself, the space where the coding occurs. My only access points are ideology and everyday life. The rest of it lies beyond the game-space: visible, but inaccessible, and thus, for all intents and purposes, immutable. I dread most nights having to wake up the next day and work. I despise that capitalist society compels me to dispense by its means my daily labor-power. That shit ought to be mine to hoard or spend as I wish. Each of us should be free to act in accordance with whatever chemicals we wish to add to humanity’s neuro-cultural evolution. The hero has no parents and has to invent through testing an identity in relation to the ever-reloading, ever-renewing game-world. Others, in their mere being, pose for us the question: “Which rules shall we let be of consequence?” What keeps us from devolving into mere rage monsters? Predators who reduce others to roles as props or prey. Games reveal the limits they impose on being only through their play. And since we can only ever be within games, these limits can only ever appear for us as neither necessary nor contingent but both-and. I’m bitter. I don’t like this game! I seek everywhere for some way to rebel. How do we convince our fellow players to grant us freedom to think, while they bend, lift, haul dirt? What is “consciousness,” when those are one’s conditions? Rapt attentiveness to objects and material processes. Rules learned, tasks assigned, one does as one’s told. To reverse this, one would have to step out of character — the ultimate risk — and convince others, in a church-forming act of assembly, to do the same.
My favorite works of art are psychedelic, and usually partake of what I like to call an “inner-cosmic epic” aesthetic involving ego death, ascension, discovery of hidden realms, humans becoming gods, gods become human — essentially, journeys inward to the edges of the known and beyond. I encountered formative works of this sort as a child: Marvel’s Secret Wars comics, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance Legends trilogy, adolescent geek culture seeded with radical cosmic fallout from the psychedelic art of the 60s and 70s. Are there similar works available today, readying the soon-to-be heads of Generation Z? “Work,” though — that source of all blues. Let me just say, “What a fucking drag.” My blood boils. I can’t even look at anything having to do with it. And now I’m going to have to run around wasting consciousness — and by that I mean creative labor-power and labor-time — hustling for some alternative form of it. My time was to be used on a project of self discovery and collective redemption. Not on this bullshit. The philistine capitalist devils among the ranks of my countrymen have succeeded. They’ve stripped me of the right to determine my own life practice and life product. They’re fucking with my daily ritual, my devotion to my chosen craft. If you want me to educate, then allow me time to read and write. And let the writing be the teaching. That is the life I want. And fuck anyone who tries to guilt me for that. Fuck my employer, too, though, for threatening me with non-renewal of my contract. That’s right: my job and the jobs of some of my coworkers are now in jeopardy. The chair of my department called an emergency meeting midweek. “I regret to inform you,” he announced, “but our provost has been ordered by administrators higher up the food chain (either the president or the board of trustees) to cut instructor positions in departments across the campus.” Looking ruefully at my colleagues and I, he predicted that, among the half-dozen faculty holding these positions within our department, several of us are likely to be let go Apprentice-style by schoolyear’s end, with letters announcing the university’s decision to can us likely to arrive in our mailboxes sometime in October. So a pox on those country-club cornbread motherfuckers. Job market, here I come.