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General Indisposition: an Essay About Fatigue - Martí Peran

Where as industrial capitalism produced goods with exchange value, and post- Fordist capitalism veered towards the production of subjectivity, today the capital gains are concentrated in the self-production of identity. The logic of the subject of self-exploitation has been imposed, occupied full time in itself. The rhetoric of entrepreneurship and ideological advertising is unequivocal about this: “Do it Yourself. I Am What I Am.” This new productive slogan – Do it Yourself – causes widespread nervous hyperactivity. We find ourselves constantly obliged to make countless small decisions in all areas (work, emotional, social) which supposedly give us an identity and confer visibility on us, but which have already become the new workforce: they do not enclose anything and guarantee the profit generated by the constant action of dis-quiet. The subject has become mixed up with the incessant movement of its own alienation.


Hyperactive life is the paradigm of the poverty of experience given that it entails a loss-making surplus: we have a lot of experiences but they are virtually all banal. / Like. The consequence of this has been acknowledged under different headings: Naked Life (G. Agamben); Damaged Life (S. López Petit); Exhaustion (P. Pál Pelbart); The Fatigue Society (B. Ch. Han); The Corrosion of Character (R. Sennett); The Factory of Unhappiness (F. Berardi), and Depressive Society (A. Ehrenberg). Fatigue and the pain caused by self-exploitation are thus inevitable. The automatic consequence of this General Indisposition is a society medicated with the aim of re-establishing productivity. But fatigue, instead of representing a pathological condition that must be corrected for the purpose of returning to the senseless spiral of production, may also represent the chance for consciousness to awaken: the turning point after which an emancipatory process begins. Fatigue is the instant of stopping and pausing, the moment of “capable tiredness” (P. Handke) with which to begin the sabotage. Fatigue thus becomes – in its capacity as a molecular revolution – the start of a strike that politicizes discomfort.


While in the field of engineering fatigue refers to the decrease in the resistance of materials subjected to a repeated force, in the sphere of social engineering fatigue may represent “the exhausted demands of the individual body that claims the right to social rest” (R. Barthes). With fatigue, hyperactivity turns into the mere production of stoppage. In the refusal to produce that fatigue suggests, the liberating principle of de-education and de-programming unfolds. In the apparent neutrality of fatigue lies the still promise of all possible diversity.


This praise of fatigue, related to the apologias for idleness, anonymity, disappearance and inaction, nevertheless installs fatigue on the horizon of contemporary experience in a position that transcends that which some time ago was occupied by melancholy, the worst-translated science.


And yet, how do we turn this argument into an exhibition? How do we articulate a situation capable of placing this content in aesthetic order? Is it necessary to formalize this tiredness? These small challenges, typical of an increasingly impoverished disciplinary field, do they not entail the question, ‘why should we put on an exhibition?’ Faced with these inconveniences we forgo illustrating an ideology and expounding a discourse that does not yearn for unconditional followers at all. And even so, is this not a mere don’t like that re-enters the spiral of our mobilization? Even all forms of the white and silent were trivialized. We are left with just the option of making an index, a collection of trails and marks that point towards the secret that lies inside every life.



Flying – Sinéad Spelman


We speak for a minority that wishes to be a majority. And not because of the peculiarity of our argument but for the simple reason that we do not belong to the lumpen that still have to take charge of the production of merchandise or which, if the worst comes to the worst, are excluded from all productive action and have to spend their lives just trying to survive. This real majority has already been abandoned for good. We speak from the main body of the minority, regulated in order to be sufficient and stable, which contributes to the flow of capital and the renewal of the means of production.


We speak for those for whom it is always Sunday in the worst sense: empty time that forces us to fill it through apparently free decisions that, if they are resolved properly, please us and re-constitute us. But this chronic Sunday no longer belongs to us. We speak for those of us who in actual fact never have any free time because every day we are subjected to the obligation of exercising that supposed freedom of action for self-realization. And there is no respite. There cannot be. The egocentric machine cannot be stopped: brightly coloured beams in continuous movement with no outward appearance follow one another in the space of perpetual connection.


Traditional work disappeared for the good of this new occupation, capable of being translated into innumerable diverse small acts, above all, through the expanded exercise of the “media passions” of chatting and curiosity (P. Virno).


(Pseudo) communicative action by way of technological devices or the display of a curiosity hungry for nothing have camouflaged alienation as something supposedly constituent. The possibility of being constantly occupied by ourselves, taking the floor in the hyper-real sphere and consuming all kinds of leisure products is what actually makes us productive. We are, confusedly gravitating around our emptiness, the new productive force. A declaration of war against the world to take a stand every day. We obey the rules of the game without complaining. This eternal Sunday will be beneficial. Do what you want: say what you like. The promise of self-realization and the demand for visibility organize the mobilization of desire, turning it into work.



That is how the circumferences of the ego grow, like an indifferent regular stain, from the most intimate to our institutional identity, generating equally succulent profits. Each digital gesture generates capital gain. The new rule has caught on and we are now businessmen of our own workforce obsessed with undertaking ourselves as a project. Everyone against everyone else in the ambush of one’s own life. That which seemed foreign to alienating time and which we thought shaped our authentic life – taking care of ourselves – has started working full-time. Every entrepreneur is a mobilized molecule of capital among a host of other molecules in reciprocal competition. The warlike slogans are inscribed on each obstacle that has to be overcome in order to achieve the only axiomatic objective of (bio/post) politics: be self-made and do it for yourself.


The result of this self-absorbed hyperactivity is, to begin with, that life becomes the phenomenology of a nervous state. Secondly, once the permanent occupation that promises and postpones happiness becomes unbearable, fatigue and forced stoppage arrive. Lastly, to re-establish order, the diagnosis dictated by a therapeutic society appears, providing the drugs necessary to re-enter the productive system.


The overabundance of ways and means to undertake ourselves opens up a space of permanent excitation. Technological power multiplies the forums where we can attempt a form of appearance. Our friends multiply in proportion to our ability to (self) produce; but the job has to be completed inside an endless return of the same thing; every day and again. The assembly line was not withdrawn; on the contrary, it remains connected full-time to guarantee us the possibility of appearing and re-appearing. For this insatiable demand to be met it is essential to cultivate huge creativity, with permission to copy and recycle. It does not matter that self-production is post-produced if it maintains plausible traces of originality. This is the order of things, excited and demanding, for the new cognitariat (Bifo). Everything seems benevolent and, nevertheless, despite the constancy of this nervous activity, everyone “knows for himself that he is not himself” (Tiqqun). The loop that seemed endless reaches the point of stimulus collapse and tired valves.


The self-demand that, despite its enormous creativity, cannot be stopped in any representation is exhausting and makes us ill. The fatigue of being oneself (A. Ehrenberg) gets dark for everyone. But tiredness cannot be enjoyed as a right. Ever since life-saving modernity considered it intolerable to abandon oneself to living in a senseless anthill, culture became hospitable to justify it. Since then and in the face of the inevitable increase in fatigue, it became essential to organize the necessary mechanism to guarantee production and profitability. The fundamental resources of this mechanism are discursive and pharmacological. In the order of discourse, any disturbance caused by self-mobilization is a victim of diagnosis until it is recognized as a pathology that can be treated. Depression and countless psychic alterations today make up the vocabulary of an emerging genre of the new political literature. In the pharmacological order, the stimulant, sleeping pill and anti-depressant industry has achieved growth rates proportional to the profit from mass self-exploitation. It is the economic commandment derived from the rigour of science and it is thus sustained impeccably by the psychiatry that confronts the evidence of discomfort: we have to return, after the treatment, to the happy orbit of self-productivity.



Sinéad Spelman


Pharmacological management is fundamental for keeping enough of the workforce active. The cleaning up and the apparent curing of fatigue induced by self-mobilization are invested by the lie of an inescapable need. It does not matter that the treatment becomes chronic if this ensures the restoration of the creative-productive skills that are considered natural in a free subject dreaming about himself. The very high percentage of the population subjected to the daily taking of pills is considered legitimately restorative for the collective good. Just as no one considers it unnatural to correct sight defects with simple adapted lenses, it is not illicit to get our imaginative and productive energy back by taking specialized chemical stimulants for each supposed defect in our mental gear system.


Fatigue is not tolerated because it is inadmissible to renounce all necessity, objective or meaning when you are offered every available opportunity. Against this rejection of the possibility of exercising tiredness a first Herculean reaction imposes itself: carrying all the (self) representations of the world on your shoulders (G. Didi-Huberman). With the appearance of re-establishing productive action, the right to fatigue appears first paradoxically: through wear and tear itself to the exhaustion of all the options for action. The exhausted one stands up for himself, in the first place, as one who “exhausts all the possibilities” (G. Deleuze), either through excessively inarticulate speech that no longer defines us or by the multiplication of the text in an infinite transformation incapable of containing any meaning. The demand for hyperactivity thus inverts its ordinary function and makes panic the gateway to absolute excess. It is not a case of a repetition of the sublime experience that obstructs breathing, but of us continuing to be active, probably medicated, but now in such a radical way that our action becomes unrecognizable, no longer means anything nor may be incorporated productively into any conversation between anxious competitors. Within the weight of everything, nobody can make out the difference with that which we supposedly make ourselves stand out and that with which value is instituted. A discourse that is difficult to grasp is not attractive; it does not construct patterns of consumption. No one can profile themselves using everything; it goes against the elementary rules of distribution that general mobilization upholds. Today, contrary to what we supposed, the accumulative impulse acquires the nature of a resistance.


To carry the whole world on your shoulders you do not need a healthy body. On the contrary, the healthy body, disciplined to daily exercise and beautification, is precisely the semiotic body that functions best in the logic of self-production. The illusion of the good body is the epicentre of the post-erotica of the selfie that does not require any touching. In its place, the body of the exhausted one is a body literally poured out over the space until it is thoroughly exhausted, occupying it completely, bearing it entirely, to its furthest corners. To embody the wish not to cling on to anything, not to stop anywhere that might frame us, it is necessary to use up all the space until it is devastated. If capital is a flexible process that alternates procurement with the liberation of territories to cultivate its gains, fatigue, on the contrary, is the slow dance of the scorched earth. For this reason fatigue, unlike melancholy passivity, implies performativity. The body is also the measure and the first battlefield for the exhausted genre. But just as self-exploitation forces us to multiply and renew our disguises persuasively, the exhausted body is, as well as a body stained by every fraud, a body that stains with the slightest gesture of its sickly and compulsive action. It does not produce itself, it repeats and reproduces itself. The repeated and reiterated gesture, once again, appears as anomalous. Repetition pretends not to hear the slogan of interest. Looking always the same is not an attractive appearance for stimulating exchange and symbolic transaction. The reiterated dance of exhaustion is a body that rocks to and fro; it is the body of a madman. Nobody recognizes the reason for its movement, which by being peaceful and insignificant becomes sinister. Fatigue exhibits a body almost immune to diagnosis. It cannot be interpreted when it moves just as it is misleading when, at the other end of the forms of exhaustion, it shows itself to be incapable.


The causes of so-called chronic fatigue syndrome, used to single out incapacitated bodies, are unknown. It is only known that it is a strange pathology to weigh up the estrangement that it produces in the triumphant logic of hyper-action. Vitalism was born of the efforts of cripples to be treated normally (P. Sloterdijk). A life constrained by its incapacity is incomprehensible. Pain is mere laziness for the mythology of health. The world of opportunities even gives us the opportunity of turning our fear of an impoverished life into productive material. Anyone can construct their identity over their ruins and disappointment; it is an attractive self-portrait if you get the distance right between the ironic and the cynical. But there is also a pain that converts life into the challenge of experiencing it in its own impossibility (S. López Petit). Life damaged by itself, forced to produce itself, will accept no treatment that may heal it but, on the contrary, has to wake up on the narrow path of its own discomfort. Pain and the deterioration of the body, far from enclosing an innocuous paralysis, may represent a creative stoppage, an occasional triumph against the perverse proclamation of the overexcited self-manager, with their own fate in their hands. It is pain that operates in its own negativity. Pain that, by causing loss, erases the certainties, eliminates the repertoire that they offer us to signify ourselves and replaces it by taking its place itself. All the raw materials that we ought to combine and recombine to resolve our fluctuating ways of appearing are reduced to the extended pain of discomfort.


Installing life in discomfort is not a disease. It is a way of being ill set in the scenario that is imposed on us. Discomfort relinquishes all activity in accordance with the premises of the production of identity. Fatigue threatens us. Instead of obeying the slogan of self-exhibition, discomfort points to a form of concealment, an exodus conceived as active theft. Nothing is less passive than an escape (P. Virno). Fatigue is not contemplative melancholy. It is a strike by life that emancipates it, running away from itself. Fatigue is not-doing through tedium therapy; the possible action that corrects our ineptitude for complete stillness. When the logic of production has penetrated life to make it totally profitable, it is no longer possible to get excited about the suspension of wanting. Life still wants even if it only wants to disappear. When each of us has become the axis of rotation of their own performance there only remains the option to betray the centrality of the subject and move it away with radical gestures. It is necessary to subject life to the test of impossible things: doing nothing or raising one’s hand against oneself (J. Améry) as other forms of (dis)comfort, the only ones that are truly asymmetric in the face of our own crushing omnipresence. The best struggle is that fought without hope.




The way of doing nothing is only feasible through the literal acceptance that even this might not be done (H. Melville). It is not that we can no longer do anything but that we are obliged to constantly remake ourselves. We are creators of a false self-publishing that is condemned to always recombine the same thing. The list of recipes is huge but limited. The vintage is new in order to ensure that no one stops the process. Doing nothing to combat ourselves as an alienating force is as fragile as ceasing to do as prescribed when everything is prescribed or as superficial as reducing the action to the subtle displacement of that which, instead of suffering permanent stillness, seemed stopped already.


The tiny possibility of doing nothing is distinguished from production insofar as it belongs to a long time, unconnected with the immediacy of the results sheet and capable of diluting acts outside the logic of consumption and efficacy. This other dimension of time is also the horizon that makes it possible to injure life to think of it outside itself. If it is legitimate to redefine violence to safeguard ourselves, this can be applied to oneself as a radical means to dismiss us. It is not a vulgar annihilation but the extinction of our alienating power. In the strange length of this other time it is not death that dawns, but an unknown space that dreams of bringing the recumbent body back to life.



Martí Peran, 2015


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