Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Put Thought to Work

The separation of labour from thought is one of the tragedies of the modern age, famously identified by Marx as effecting the mode of alienation peculiar to industrialised capitalism, whereby the worker is so far expected to leave her thoughts at home that processes of production abound actually premised upon the inhuman capacity to not think. Today, as Britain faces the prospect of unprecedented cuts in the public sector, there curiously arises the opportunity of restoring labour to thought.

But only if we cease our presumption that thought - Thought Itself, as we learn now to think it - is its own kind of labour. This is the nonsense of contemporary academia, where "staff" - to the extent that this word implies work done, it is often the wrong word - begrudge every hour that takes them from their "work," by which they mean to resent every task that disturbs their research. Teaching is an inconvenience, for students cannot understand - let alone contribute to - the thoughts of thinking men. (Hardly surprising, when those thoughts are Thought Itself, and share the distaste of their originators for all things concrete and worked.) As for administrative duties - and they do proliferate obscenely under contemporary forms of institutional control - these are judged so to humanise the inhuman thinkers of our universities that the very memory of them, the very prospect of them, disturbs thought in its tower and weighs it right down with two feet made of clay.

From Marx, we have learnt that work without thought is the way to make machines out of men; and yet, in those very university departments where such insights are said to be cherished, thought without work would make monsters of men. Trollope worked in the Post Office for most of his life, writing when time would permit him; no task in his many enterprises was beneath the attention of Dickens, who endured unanaesthetised rectal surgery in the middle of his working week; and Emily Bronte kept her household in bread, of a quality for which (oh! the shame - how can Thought Itself bear it?) she was locally famed.

For thought, if it's worth it, will out, and be all the more substantial for being the fruits of some labour!

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