Friday, 3 December 2010


Shivering in my freezing flat, I was reminded that warmth is very much a class issue, and remembered this from Eric Gill's rambling 1930s book, Typography. How would you like to live in a household shopping at Robinson and Cleaver, Belfast?

'Best blankets at 80s per pair, blankets 'for the spare room' at 65s, blankets 'for servants' bedrooms' at 25s, and blankets 'for charitable purposes' at 18s'.

He also has these stirring words, which mean even more in an economy predicated on turning our workforce into mechanical adjuncts on minimum wages:

'…the most monstrous characteristic of our time is that the methods of manufacture… of which we are proud are such as make it impossible for the ordinary workman to be an artist… That the ordinary workman should or could be an artist, could be a man whom we could trust with any sort of responsibility for the work he does… is an idea now widely held to be ridiculous; and the widespreadness of this opinion proves my point as well as I could wish. When I say no ordinary workman is an artist, no one will say I am lying; on the contrary, everyone will say: Of course not'. 

There are echoes of Marx (alienation) of Arts and Crafts and of Tressell's Ragged-Trousered Philanthropist here. What strikes me is that of course the working-class occupations have been reduced to drone-work, but so have the jobs which we self-deceptively call professions. Here I am in a warm office surrounded by books, smugly thinking that I'm free, but it's not true. We're under constant electronic and intellectual surveillance, some of which has been internalised (Foucault had plenty to say about internalised discipline). Our work is being reduced to that which can be conveyed electronically: outcomes and metrics which any decent teacher would reject as reductive, philistine and ridiculous. Anything important I manage to discover in conversation with my students can't be expressed on a module evaluation form, a flowchart or a statistic. Intellectual labour isn't like that - but the institution thinks that measurable things are essential and unmeasurable things are beside the point. The modern lecturer isn't an artist, and nor is the modern student. They should be, but the Browne Report, Cameron, Cable, Clegg, Gove and all their friends would respond to the question of whether they should be with a resounding OF COURSE NOT.

Which is why we're all in it together. As long as 'it' refers to a big bucket of intellectual, philosophical, cultural and economic shit.

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