(Nick’s Notes: This is the first of two reviews by Apio Ludd that highlight some books that I think us anti-work people may find interesting.)
In Praise of Bartleby*
Guillaume Paoli – Demotivational Training (Cruel Hospice, 2013)
I approached Demotivational Training with low expectations. I have found most recent radical theory out of France to be trash. I was pleasantly surprised by this critique of work and call to inaction.
This doesn’t mean I don’t have criticisms of the book. A literal translation of the title – “In Praise of Demotivation” – would have been better in my opinion. And in the earlier chapters, Paoli falls into the all-too-common tendency among present-day radical thinkers of placing so much emphasis on economy as to forget about political authority and its role in the work machine that is capitalism.
Still this book is a truly delightful attack against work and its world. Though I generally dislike the “addiction” and “sickness” metaphors for describing social relationships, Paoli uses them better than most people. In part, this is because he doesn’t lose track of the fact that they are only metaphors.
But the outstanding aspect of this book, as distinct from almost all of the radical theory I know that has come out of France in the past ten or more years, is that Paoli not only recognizes, but emphasizes the role that each individual plays in her own alienation and enslavement, the extent to which it is self-alienation and self-enslavement. Referring back to La Boétie’s Discourse on Voluntary Slavery, he is able to bring out the power of refusal, the power of simply stopping and no longer taking part in a social world one hates. No longer working any job, simply because “I would prefer not to,” as Bartleby put it so well in Melville’s tale. Of course, as long as billions continue to take part, this is not enough, and it could easily lead to suffering. Still, as Ret Marut made clear one hundred years ago, every stubborn “will not” shakes up the order of work and disturbs its smooth running.
*Bartleby is the main character of a short story by Herman Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”