If the Great Resignation has achieved such a major impact, it is because it comes from the United States: packaged, labeled and vacuum sealed as the great broadcast. Renouncing from work and pillorying the work culture of the world’s leading power? Perfect. Although, if one digs, the first thing to realize is how unoriginal this renunciation is, which, like the famous ghost of the revolution of the proletariat, this time it returns to roam the world inviting it to spread in homes rather than to unite in the factory.
Of course, it is important that this multitudinous denial comes from a country that until not to long ago praised labor as the cornerstone of its national dream. But it is too early for euphoria and to know if this movement will confirm the theories sustained in the illusion of a decent job or if it will definitively demolish them. If it will update the right to laziness that Paul Lafargue placed in Marxism as the B-side of The Capital or if it will end up diluting its impetus in another of those cultural skirmishes so typical of the hypermarket that moves contemporary capitalism.
At this time, the connection of this Great Resignation with the tradition that, since previous centuries, had activated such classics of laziness as Philippe de la Guerre and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Bertrand Russell and Jacques Leclercq, is not even entirely evident. Without so much advertisement, the Caribbean has been trying to grandimitize since the times of slavery. And it is no coincidence that Lafargue, the great ideologist of laziness as an anti-system strategy, was born there in a family of planters. I know that the combination of Caribbean people with laziness often tends to stereotype; but today, it may be worthwhile to reset the cliché as a spearhead against the glorification of work at the very heart of the Protestant ethic.
This is what writer and editor Vivian Abenshushan has been proposing, from Mexico, for the past 15 years. A long-term, intense and systematic resignation, deployed around a project like Tumbona Ediciones, which proclaims, “the universal right to laziness” and welcomes “books with a heterodox and irreverent spirit, books with aesthetic vitality and intellectual risk, impure books that can go from one side to the other of artistic ramifications”. Abenshushan’s method is also fixed in her digital proposals or in books such as El clan de los insomnes (Maxi), a volume of stories about the creativity latent in the decision of not to sleep and the alternative world that can be built from that nocturnality.
If Marcel Duchamp –a gentelman of leisure– dedicated his life to building a “definitively unfinished” work, in her Permanent Black Work (Sexto Piso), this novelist advances an “unfinished work that is at the same time impossible to conclude”. This recent book is, at the same time, a canon of the obscure labors that sustain circulating literature and a list of manifestos against the culture of work (understood, without further ado, as a culture of appropriation of that work). Hence his perception of the architecture of the slave ship as the ideal site of a division of labor capable of crossing centuries and worlds (as understood by artists like Manuel Mendive and Rogelio López Cuenca or a historian like Marcus Rediker). Abenshushan’s method establishes a genealogy of acedia as a creative strategy that transcends the obvious incitement of not to work. At the same time, it makes us suspicious of this Great Resignation and of that widespread obedience, according to which even our most radical resistance must always be imported from the centers of world power in order to be considered.
In 1989, the collapse of communism served to allow those societies based on the dictatorship of the proletariat to give way to the emergence of digital production and the heyday of Microsoft. If this implied a change in the meaning of work, the pandemic has served to entrench a transformation in the space of that work. If 30 years ago the walls dividing systems were torn down, today the boundaries separating work and home have been torn down. In 1989, the demolition of the vigilant yet protective state of communism left millions of people out in the open. What better palliative, then, than to put exploitation to rest in your own home, sheltered from anything resembling a community?
The subversive fringe of laziness has always been linked to a relaxation in time and not, as is the case today, to a contraction in space. That is why we should be suspicious of this renunciation that today expands in the post-pandemic, just when working remotely had reached the dimension of a labor model.
On this point, it is legitimate to suspect that, after the Great Resignation, what is being sold to us, with our applause included, is nothing more than a great domestication.
Originally published in El País, Babelia, December 3, 2021.
Translation from Spanish by Sergio Vitier.