Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Reproduction of Labour-Power

[cross posted in response to Mike's post at]

Here goes nothing. I haven't made time to dig up the specific reference to Marx's "reproduction of labour-power," but as I understand it, the phrase applies to periods of regeneration and rest. Using a much more simplistic model than the one you're building here, we talk about this in my intro to humanities class, borrowing from Camus' contention that we must imagine Sisyphus as happy. Going one more, we take apart the notion that the interstice--the break from labor--defines and even classifies work (if we're given to taxonomic hierarchies). 

The idea that our work is reclassified by our regenerative periods, down time, or leisure, dismantles the common economic t-chart of production and service by preferring the antithetical--the doing that's done when we're not producing-serving. Because our occupations with teaching and learning through reading and writing are concerned with text (broad, widely imagined ensembles of texts, in this case), we are never separate from it or otherwise outside it. And the materiality of such text(s) is irregular, I guess.

Following a long-accepted model of continuous exertion (eight-ten hours, say) followed by continuous regeneration (or "reproduction of labour-power"), "text" has a commonplace association with leisure. Reading, writing, noticing (noscere-to get to know?), mediating, and so on are done solely for pleasure, leisure. This is a gross simplification, of course. But in composition, the exertion of labour-power and its reproduction are intertwined, irregular to the extent that separations are not easy to share or to make visible. Our occupation isn't merely those three hours in class or the 8-430 scuttle. I'm feeling vertiginous (can you tell I'm going in circles already?). What I want to suggest is that with texts at the center of our work, we are burdened by the economic pressure to make texts material (publishing is privileged); but, moreover, we're charged with empowering students to those textualisms, opening discreet discourse systems, fostering agency, transgression, compliance, etc., in language. 

This leads me to suppose that reading is not always consumptive; in fact, I'd be more inclined to say that it's always productive, always reproductive, always generative, always regenerative. As is writing. I wonder if that's the "opportunity cost" for comp/rhetors--the constancy of language, the challenge of negotiating between leisure and laborious in after-hours (?) textual interludes, and the trouble proving the legitimacy and value of this bind to those who can't see beyond the more traditional, pervasive economic work-structure and the more common relegation of text as rest in it.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at April 7, 2004 11:06 PM to Under a Bushel


Thanks for the productive and insightful comment. I'll cross-post here the response I finally (sorry for taking so long) managed to put together at my place.

I think you're right on target, actually, and it strikes me that your notions about the break from labor being what constitutes labor and our inseparability from text could come straight out of Of Grammatology or Writing and Difference: you've done a nicely Derridean turn on Marx, and perhaps shown the composition classroom as one site where the reductive binaries of reading/writing work/leisure consumption/production really do break down: I completely agree that "in composition, the exertion of labour-power and its reproduction are intertwined, irregular to the extent that separations are not easy to share or make visible". I think also of Barthes's contention that the only thing that the text can do, when placed before the seminar, is become that which it is not -- and John's "focal energy" is perhaps both the labor and the reproductive pleasure that re-shapes the text in consuming it. (I'm just all French today.)

Also, I think the reproductive/deconstructive reading you're talking about is very much in line with the excellent and careful insights Mariolina Salvatori offers in "The 'Argument of Reading' in the Teaching of Composition" (from Emmel, Resch and Tenney's Argument Revisited, Argument Redefined), "Conversations with Texts: Reading in the Teaching of Composition" (College English 1996), and "Towards a Hermeneutics of Difficulty" (from Louise Z. Smith's edited collection Audits of Meaning). All three are well worth checking out if you're interested in thinking about reading as productive practice, and have had a profound effect on my pedagogical practice.

Posted by: Mike at April 21, 2004 10:37 AM

You sure have gone and thrown a context on this entry of mine, Mike. I suppose somewhere far in the mist, Derrida and Barthes were wagging fingers at me, pointing me here and there. Oddly, my first impression of all this really jumped out of my teaching in Intro to Humanities and the bit on Sisyphus. I thought there was a fuzzy connection, then I mentioned it here with a thinly explained link. Before I knew it, you called my bluff. So the entry was more of an "oh shit!"-close-your-eyes-and-let-fly kind of response. I appreciate that you helped it find a theoretical family. FWIW, it makes better sense to me now, and I'll tuck away the refs on productive reading for a later day. I checked out Audits of Meaning once and didn't get through more than one or two essays in it before I had to return it to the library. It wasn't reading directed toward any specific project, so I let it go. So close! I'm almost certain I'm not as well on board with Berthoff as I like to think (much of what I know about her pedagogical aims has come second-hand). -DM

Posted by: Derek at April 23, 2004 10:38 PM