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Poetics of the Body: The Body at Work


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Lecture fror the VCA/ Unversity subject Poertics of the Body, 2010 version

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Poetics of the Body: The Body at Work

  1. 1. Poetics of the Body The Body at Work Sean Cubitt
  2. 2. 1. The Ancient World ignoble work
  3. 3. 2. The Feudal World rhythm of the seasons rest and idleness
  4. 4. Pieter Breughel, The Harvesters, 1565
  5. 5. Les Frères Limbourg, February from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c.1416
  6. 6. 3. The Industrial Revolution – commodification of labour - Protestant work ethic – thermodynamics
  7. 7. Industrialising agriculture: slavery
  8. 8. Industrialising handicraft: manufacture
  9. 9. To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture; but one in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated to this business (which the divi- sion of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for re- ceiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper…I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed…Those ten persons…could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Adam Smith (1723-1790), An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: 1776, Bk I, Chapter 1
  10. 10. Long ago the country bore the country-town and nour- ished it with her best blood. Now the giant city sucks the country dry, insatiably and incessantly demanding and devouring fresh streams of men, till it wearies and dies in the midst of an almost un- inhabited waste of country Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, 1926 Cotton factory, Manchester, c. 1844 Immediately under the railway bridge there stands a court, the filth and horrors of which surpass all the others by far, just because it was hither- to so shut off, so secluded that the way to it could not be found without a good deal of trouble, I should never have discovered it myself, without the breaks made by the railway, though I thought I knew this whole region thoroughly. Passing along a rough bank, among stakes and washing- lines, one penetrates into this chaos of small one-storied, one-roomed huts, in most of which there is no artificial floor; kitchen, living and sleeping-room all in one. In such a hole, scarcely five feet long by six broad, I found two beds -- and such bedsteads and beds! -- which, with a staircase and chimney-place, exactly filled the room. In several others I found absolutely nothing, while the door stood open, and the inhabitants leaned against it. Everywhere before the doors refuse and offal; that any sort of pavement lay underneath could not be seen but only felt, here and there, with the feet. This whole collection of cattle-sheds for human beings was surrounded on two sides by houses and a factory, and on the third by the river, and besides the narrow stair up the bank, a narrow doorway alone led out into another almost equally ill-built, ill-kept laby- rinth of dwellings. F. Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England
  11. 11. Stephenson’s Rocket, 1825
  12. 12. Children’s and women’s laboutr in the coal mines, 1842 - Report of Children’s Employment Commission, 1842
  13. 13. Ford Maddox Brown, Work, 1852-69
  14. 14. Were we required to characterize this age of ours by any single epithet, we should be tempted to call it, not an Heroical, Devotional, Philosophical, or Moral Age, but, above all others, the Mechanical Age. It is the Age of Machinery, in every outward and inward sense of that word; the age which, with its whole undivided might, forwards, teaches and prac- tises the great art of adapting means to ends. Nothing is now done directly, or by hand; all is by rule and calculated contrivance Thomas Carlisle, 1829
  15. 15. Herman von Helmholz 1821-1894 Instrument Helmholtz used for determining the velocity of nerve cell conduc- tion in 1850. When the muscle (M) contracts, it signals this to (E), the gal- vanometer. (N) is the nerve. (from: "a history of neurophysiology" by Mary A.B. Brazier)
  16. 16. 1st law of thermodynamics energy can neither be created nor destroyed 2nd law of thermodynamics the process during which work is transformed into heat without any other changes in the system’s state is irreversible Sadi Carnot (1824), Rudolf Clausius (1850), and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) (1851)
  17. 17. Etienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904), Chronophotographe, c.1880
  18. 18. ‘Runner provided with the apparatus intended to register his different paces’, from E-J Marey’s Animal Mechanism
  19. 19. Jeremy Bentham, Design for a Panopticon, 1791
  20. 20. Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase No2, 1912.
  21. 21. In no way does the machine appear as the individual worker's means of labour. Its distinguishing characteristic is not in the least, as with the means of labour, to transmit the worker's activity to the object; this activity, rather, is posited in such a way that it merely trans- mits the machine's work, the machine's action, on to the raw mate- rial -- supervises it and guards against interruptions. Not as with the instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it; and it consumes coal, oil etc. (matières instrumentales), just as the worker consumes food, to keep up its perpetual motion. The worker's activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Notebook VI, 1858
  22. 22. Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times, 1936
  23. 23. 4. Information Economy the office revolution service economies immaterial labour?
  24. 24. 1872 Sholes typewriter 1870 Hansen typewriter 1878 Underwood QWERTY typewriter
  25. 25. 1922 Underwood manual 1935 IBM electric typewriter
  26. 26. from typing pool to wireless campus
  27. 27. Google office, Zürich: ar- chitect and designer Stefan Camenzind Don’t assume you know what people in your office want - ask them, not a man- agement committee, Ca- menzind says. Find their personality types and let changes flow from there. “Too many designers look for image and not emo- tion,” he says. “You need to be open and not have your suggestions already set”.
  28. 28. Some Conclusions - historical types of the body at work co-exist in the present, forming a hierarchy - the phases move from whole-body labour to the factory or field hand to the sense-organs and minds of the information economy - to the extent that developed-world information workers are disembodied, we are all aristocrats