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Anti-work: Spring 2014.

SALT. Issue 5

To live and to labour, or to live as labour, is to negotiate the extended processes of reproducing ourselves and our others that has come to define present modes of being. Codes and semiotics dictate our every interaction down to style, tone and gesture. However, the labour of ‘self-maintain’ occupies the interstices of both service and affective labour, requiring us to be accomplished at procuring and proffering semiotics, working in complicity with a larger set of hierarchies concerning how we perform and for whom.

This issue examines proposed alternatives that manifest a melancholic dissatisfaction and take pains, and pleasure, to disturb predetermined identities, systems, orders.


Maeve Brennan, Lloyd Corporation, Rózsa Farkas, Daisy Grove-Lafarge, Grace Harrison, Tom Hastings, Sophie Hoyle, Tommie Introna, Huw Lemmey, Kathryn O’Regan, Florence Peake, Hannah Perry, Charles Pryor, Hannah Regel, Thea Smith, Jala Wahid

Werqin' 9 to 5

by Huw Lemmey

Dolly Parton knows good class analysis. 9 to 5 remains one of the clearest iterations of ‘antiwork’ politics in song since “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum!”: a powerful, clear expression against an ideology that labour has an inherent dignity that benefits the worker, despite almost all human experience pointing to the opposite. In a few catchy verses Parton pretty neatly encapsulates a specific relationship of white-collar and pink-collar labourers to their work which runs counter to the ‘American Dream’ ideology – the United States’ variant on the ‘dignity of work’ myth so beloved of the mainstream European Left throughout the 20th Century. In Pop we can always find kernels of workers’ desire; here I’m going to pull out a trio of songs from the past 30 years which interact with an antiwork tendency and engage with the changing conditions of the American workplace. These three bangers all offer some hint towards an antiwork politics generally ignored by the political mainstream, and are presented in the hope that we can perhaps think of building a future workplace politics around not Stakhanov or McDonald’s Employee of the Month, but Dolly and Shangela Laquifa.

Released in 1980 to accompany the eponymous film in which Dolly starred, 9 to 5 isn’t laced with the “fuck your boss” anarchic rebellion of much emergent hardcore punk of the time, but instead a more nuanced and thoughtful example of a class analysis of the workplace. The song comes at an interesting moment in the class struggle: 1980 was the year Ronald Reagan was elected and began his personal brand of neoliberal reform already begun by Margaret Thatcher in the UK, deregulating financial services whilst launching a concerted attack on the working class through attacks on various representative organs, such as trade unions, and the minimal workplace rights their presence protected. These reforms were yet to kick in, however, when Dolly laid down her track. Instead the workplace 9 to 5 describes is the tail-end of a working environment laid down after demobilisation in the Second World War, albeit one which had been through an enormous workplace revolution in regards to women’s rights and the feminist movement of the 1970s.

Fundamentally, it is a steady workplace; at the top of the hierarchy sits the “boss-man” (and he is always a man), whose total control of the workplace is demonstrated through his control of workers throughout the company. Despite Dolly’s “service and devotion” to the company, a “fair promotion” is very much down to managerial discretion, and the worker feels trapped within both her workplace routine and her allotted role in the company. It’s here the divergence between the ideology of the American Dream - that due effort is rewarded with due success - and the reality - “Want to move ahead / But the boss won’t seem to let me in / I swear sometimes that man is out to get me” - reach a point of rupture.

From here on out, Dolly Parton’s analysis of the proletarian condition is sharp, concise and furious. “They let you dream / Just a watch ‘em shatter,” she rails, eviscerating the U.S. national ideology, before getting down to the brass tacks of the capitalist system “You’re just a step / On the boss man’s ladder”. Aren’t we just. 9 to 5, however, is firmly located amongst the last hurrahs of the fordist labour process, as evidenced not only in the monotony of the routine, but also in the almost casual recognition that workers’ power is still latent in the workforce in the shape of generalised employee solidarity and their attendant dream of a process of communisation:

On the same boat
With a lot of your friends
Waitin’ for the day
Your ship’ll come in
And the tide’s gonna turn
An’ it’s all gonna roll your way 

Granted, what we could call ‘Partonism’ might still retain the odd whiff of historical determinism, but perhaps this is contingent on the unique, pre-Reaganite condition of the U.S. working-class. Still, it’s worth being clear here; what Dolly offers is a powerful example of a workers’ subjectivity which renounces the dominant ideology both of the bosses and the trade unions.

9 to 5, yeah, they got you where they want you
There’s a better life
And you think about it, don’t you?
It’s a rich man’s game
No matter what they call it
And you spend your life
Puttin’ money in his wallet

Stopping just short of calling for a ‘Worker’s Party Against Work’, Dolly nonetheless has elucidated a clear call here against both the capitalist system and the small, fragmentary and limited gains the working class have made through reformist demands for regularised, formal work patterns. What remains at the core is a rejection of the very form of work, and a desire to escape the mental, affective and physical straightjacket of the wage relation in toto. As Bifo has laid out, however, it was this very desire of workers to escape the regimented form of the Fordist workplace, and the political struggle against it, that helped transform the productive regime into the precarious, post-Fordist regime of totalising semio-capitalism today. So how did the antiwork ethic and the relation between boss and worker change as the organisation of production changed? Let’s look at two more examples of songs which recount this change: TGIF by Le Tigre, a NYC-based electroclash band formed in 1998, and Werqin’ Girl by Shangela Laquifa, a totally sickening drag queen (IMO) who broke through on Ru Paul’s Drag Race Season 2.

Don’t fuck with me I’m the fuckin’ manager!

The move from Dolly’s world to the post-fordist world is perhaps best summed up in TGIF by Le Tigre, whose lyrics speak of trying to balance a creative practice in the arts (“some kind of underground electro feminist performance artists”) with the rapidly dwindling prospect of job security in a white collar job (“I know 40 hours a week would suit you fine / but your application’s been denied, surprise! / This is how it feels to be free.”) This is combined with the gendered division of labour we saw earlier with Parton’s “boss man”, this time demanding not only that the worker does the job she’s contracted for, but also that she emotionally identifies with the (heavily surveilled) role, as is clear in the intro: “You better write down everything you accomplish /And lemme see your fuckin smiles around the office.”

The 9 to 5 of the office environment is on its way out, brought about in this historical double-bind of workers’ desire to escape the routine of rigid labour, whilst being cursed by the precarity that escape from the production line brings. There’s literally no way out of this bind short of destroying wage labour, btw. But in TGIF, what still remains is solidarity, and revelling in the illicit thrill of the antiwork subjectivity which still implicitly attacks the ideological position of capitalist managers, whether bosses or union bosses: that there is dignity in labour. As Le Tigre put it: 

I hope this feeling never ends
cuz you’re beautiful
And your boss is an asshole
and I don’t give a shit what the dick thinks.
We will survive as thieves, we will survive as freaks.

Here we see a distinct literary and political echo of the early work of Italian autonomist Antonio Negri:

Nothing reveals the immense historical positivity of workers’ self-valorization more completely than sabotage, this continual activity of the sniper, the saboteur, the absentee, the deviant, the criminal that I find myself living. I immediately feel the warmth of the workers’ and proletarian community again every time I don the ski mask…

The sabotage of absenteeism and deviancy from workplace discipline evident in the intro to TGIF perhaps shows the generalisation of the antiwork tendency as Dolly’s world gives way to something akin to our world of labour; affective yet atomised, precarious and lacking basic representation of labour unions and other working-class institutions. Despite being released at the height of an unprecedented boom due to the post-79 financialisation, with house-prices at an all-time high and credit unsustainably cheap, there’s little love lost here between the white-collar NYC office worker and the world of work; a clear communist, antiwork ethic is on display which puts wage labour outside the acceptable moral boundaries of the proletarian, even if it remains our defining characteristic: “It’s okay to hate your job, after all it’s fucking wrong.”

This is hardly an innovative moral statement. However what’s interesting is how far even this act of ethical disavowal with the wage-relation has dissipated in the decade that followed. As we see in Werqin’ Girl by Shangela Laquifa, the developing post-fordist model has resulted in the creative industries in a uniquely powerful identification not just with labour, but a subsumption of the labour process into the subjectivity of the worker. In Werqin’ Girl Shangela is so desperate for a job she structures her entire performed labour around herself as product.

I came to work. I’m here to work. Didn’t you see my badge? I’m a professional.

Sometimes I feel like drag queens are the only ones who really understand the collapse of the massified workers’ subjectivity. A decade on and we see a much more developed sense of the creative worker being a full-package, with labour almost totally indistinguishable from sense of self, in Shangela Laquifa’s Werqin’ Girl. And unsurprisingly, because what a decade: between the two songs we’ve seen a techno-cultural revolution in web 2.0, combined with totally new possibilities for developing entrepreneurial forms of income. We’ve also seen the rise of the Reality TV and new forms of celebrity built almost entirely upon personal brand and affect.

To call Werqin Girl a melting-pot of representations of affective labour would be to put it mildly; gender, race and class ping from the screen within the first 30 seconds as Shangela asserts the only references she needs for her prospective job are based upon her socio-political position: “I heard you was hiring… you ain’t gotta interview any of those other chickenheads out there. I got my credentials from the street, baby.”

Like in the drag ball scene that the contemporary US drag scene pulls its cultural references from, ‘realness’ (the ability to blend into the hegemonic cultural norms) is key to survival here: there’s a direct link between the drag and the ability to work “clock the bag, clock the shoes — now punch the clock, it’s time to work.” And work is what Shangela is advertising; the video is a constant reiteration that she’s the most employable candidate over all the other queens, priding herself on the very precarity of her working conditions, the ‘never-off’ condition of the creative worker. As she says “No 9 to 5, round-the-clock, overtime / haters cannot touch my drive / references? I’m a pro!” Fuck, this video is amazing.

More than this, Shangela’s status as creative worker must be maintained by an attention to personal branding through identification of her personal brand with consumer brands, despite, like many women in the creative industries, not being remunerated anywhere near enough to afford those goods: “No Kardashian Kollection here! / Donna Karen, Mui Mui, Jimmy Choo rhinestone shoe / looks like a pimp-hoe got her tax return!” All existence, all identity is the labour that reproduces Shangela’s proletarian condition. Is this not the true condition of the affective labourer? My god!

The fact that this identity is an illusion used to market the creative worker to a prospective employer – the fact that the boss/worker relation is fundamentally unchanged, that Shangela is far from a professional in turns of selling services rather than labour – becomes clear halfway through the video, when the post-production effects, the clothes, the make-up and the ideology is dropped.  We all know the classic scenes from cartoons. The coyote reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath it. This is Shangela’s condition: the boss has stopped the music, called time on the illusion that the precarity of affective labour is some form of freedom, and brought in her heavies to remove her from the room. With all workplace solidarity removed, and the worker in the figure of Shangela isolated through the introduction of extreme competition between workers, what opposition can Shangela offer? Nothing but a plaintiff cry to continue identification with her prospective boss. “Put me on top of the pyramid!” she cries, unaware that the only thing that can put her on top of the pyramid is the real movement that abolishes the present state of things (that is to say, communism).

As the video ends we’re reminded that, despite the glamour of ideology, the affective cultural worker is not a privileged worker who has won a degree of freedom, as imagined by her predecessors fighting against work in 1970s Italy. Instead she is a worker on the edge; her fierce makeup and sickening clothes are just workplace expenses (paid from her own pocket), and precarity remains the proletarian condition. As we fade out, what do we see of the workers’ autonomy? The continued threat of force and physical coercion (“Oh no you ain’t gotta call security on me. I came up the elevator I can go back down the elevator”), intimidation and workplace bullying (“Ok, I know she better stop rolling her eyes at me from behind that cubicle!”) and always-impending poverty (“Err, no, I have a ride home thank you - err, is the bus still running?”).

The drudgery of Dolly’s 9 to 5 routine is now a utopian pipe dream next to Shangela’s totalised “werq, werq, werq, werq, werq, werq, werq” routine of precarious affective labour. Capital has reacted to the demands of the emergent class subjectivity in the 1960s and ’70s, for an end to the regimented boredom of the production line, for sexual autonomy and self-expression, and has transformed those demands into a new regime of labour more precarious, more profitable and more destructive than ever before. To reproduce our lives we must sell not just our labour but our humanity. And what a way to make a living.

Intercepting the Screen World

by Kathryn O'Regan

Considering the modern dependency on technology, it is fitting that a term derived from computing would be one of the definitive phrases of twenty-first century life. The ability to fulfil several assignments simultaneously is a highly valued attribute within the world of work; deftly moving in and out of tasks but completing each of them competently and efficiently.

Increasingly, we are conditioned to multitask in every area of our lives including the way in which we see. We have trained our eyes to shift between multiple points at once, keeping one eye on the television screen as the other peruses an email. Capitalist aspirations of efficiency, availability and advancement have contributed to the multitasking condition of vision, now. In turn, vision is the most revered of senses promoting a hierarchical order within the human sensorium.

For the 1999 Venice Biennale, Rosemarie Trockel, representing Germany, produced a triptych installation of films: Eye, Sleepingpill and Kinderspielplatz. The first of these three films, Eye, consisted of a large black and white screen projection of a single, surveying human eye. Created at the cusp of the new millennium, Eye anticipated the multitasking disposition of vision in the 2000s.

In slow motion an eye darts from one region to the next, the pupil shifting from left to right, never fixing on a single point. The vast monochrome organ, severed from the body, is a dazzling imposing mass, constantly flittering without rest. In exhibiting an image of an eye in a relentless state of distraction, Trockel comments on the nature of vision in the contemporary world. The flickering motion of the eye, unable to focus or anchor its gaze, represents the current instability of vision as our eyes constantly divert from smart phone to laptop to television screen. Eye articulates both the mechanisms of the modern attention span, and of vision, where to concentrate or focus on a single thing at once is seemingly no longer feasible.

We live in an era defined by the visual: constant looking and watching in a multi-screen universe. Our eyes have never had to consume so much from so many different sources simultaneously. Major developments in technology within the past two decades have contributed dramatically to the primacy of the visual in today’s world. These devices are integral to our day-to-day lives; the professional realm is particularly reliant on the slick, shiny efficiency provided by tablets and smartphones. Our lives revolve around these mobile devices; our eyes glued to their glossy screens where multiple images flash in quick succession. Furthermore, the onslaught of new video technologies, such as Facetime and Skype, mean that the physical, tangible presence of another person is no longer necessary in maintaining a relationship. Rather, these technologies allow entire relationships and careers to unfold without the parties involved ever meeting face to face, or even swapping a sweaty handshake.

In a socket of clammy skin, a milky eyeball, impossibly spherical (an animal’s eye maybe?), presents a perplexing problem. A gelatinous film coats the surface of the eye lending it a strange opaque glaze thereby hindering its function: to see clearly. Stapled to a wooden board, Wishing is among a number of collages by Trockel that interrogate the process of looking. The image of the cloudy eyeball is representative of how these collages repeatedly obstruct vision. Where Eye enacts the multi-tasking behaviour of the modern eye, this recent corpus offers a counter proposal, radically intervening in how we see and understand the world. Since 2004, the cologne-based artist has been making compelling collages that subvert a disembodied looking. Trockel’s highly tactile pieces challenge the supremacy of vision, subsequently promoting a sensual response in the beholder.

One such work, Monitor, presents an obstruction of vision: a monochrome image of barely-there grey lines against a black background is stapled to a black and white, roughly painted wooden box frame. The scratched white lines on the wooden mount echo the thin fading lines on the attached image. The title alludes to technology, yet the still, silvery linearity of the work is the antithesis to the bright, blinking monitors that populate our living environments. At the same time, Monitor’s blank monochrome lines recall those of malfunctioning television or computer screens: the fuzzy frustrating silence of technological failure. In this sense, Monitor destabilises the authority of the ocular within the computerised world by presenting a ‘monitor’ that does not relay any information. Rather, this work refuses to reveal anything. As viewers, all we can do is become quietly attuned to the glinting graphite strokes.

Monitor exemplifies the reticent nature of Trockel’s collages – their tendency to hide much and disclose little. Yet, the textured, layered and tactile quality of Trockel’s collages counteracts their resolute inaccessibility. Trockel arranges a variety of materials in box frames, including old drawings, fabric remnants, postcards, zippers, miscellaneous objects, photographs and scanned images. Furious swipes and swirls of paint frequently spoil the wooden panels, foil bunting dangles from their frames. Crucially, staples and stitches are often visible underscoring the constructed, made quality of these works.

The suggestively titled Olympic Sausage is a highly textured work composed of a myriad of elements. The work depicts a woman, clad in an apricot coloured leotard the same colour as her flesh, lying face-down on what seems to be a tinfoil covered mattress. A border of protruding phalluses surrounds the figure; some forming part of a fabric border, stitched or more likely, stapled on. Two more are clumsily painted onto the fabric in white. In close proximity to the figure, the bulbous shapes almost penetrate the surface of her skin.

In thinking of her features pressed to the metallic crunch of the foil sheet, we imagine the darkness present, regardless of whether her eyes are open or not, of being squashed that closely to a surface. Despite the menacing atmosphere of the image, we are compelled to think about how the work has been constructed, and subsequently, the tactility of the image. In thinking of the touch of the work, the texture of the fabric border becomes apparent: the rough grain of stiff cotton and the sponginess of material when lightly pressed with fingertips. Plunged into a veritable state of blindness, the beholder is aware of the contrasting texture of the fabric with that of the wooden frame, and the coarse feel of paint on cotton is apparent. The turn towards touch calls attention to the ways in which this work has been assembled: the slide of needle into fabric leaving behind a trail of raised stitches and the metal snap and clink of a stapler cleanly clipping staples into corners. In effect, the different elements - the fabric, the thread, the staples, the wooden frame, the photograph, and the paint - become significant through the way they feel rather than how they look.

In doing so, Trockel promotes a different kind of looking, one rather unlike that offered by the sleek and polished technologies of hyper-industrialised twenty-first century life. This is something slower, contemplative, tangible and bodily. Olympic Sausage foregrounds the very act of cutting and making. We can imagine the blunt edge of scissors slicing through cotton fabric in order to produce those shapely rounds. The eye registers the imperfections of cutting, the shudder and uncertain snips of the blade. Through the use of tactile materials and in exposing the points of construction (i.e. the staples), Trockel creates a work that awakens us to the sensuality of the world once more.

Another work, Mrs. Mönipaer, depicts a grainy monochrome image of a woman in underwear with a rubbery pink ear-like object attached to the frame. The woman appears dazed and her head is slightly out of proportion with her body. The dark, hazy quality of her form contrasts with the flab and folds of slippery pink skin. Indeed, in its savage and severed state, Trockel’s crinkled sliver of ear recalls Vincent Van Gogh’s sacrificial organ, knifed from the body in despair. The ear is stirring, unexpected and bodily, instigating disquieting tremors in one’s own body. The startling nature of imagery, objects and disjuncture in Trockel’s collages causes shock to be transmitted to and throughout the body.

The ability of these collages to instigate shock is paramount to this reading of them as radically disruptive. The principle of shock employed here derives from Walter Benjamin’s understanding of the term as the very essence of modern experience: shock as an electrical impulse surging through the body and drastically altering perception. In his pivotal essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin famously postulates on the revolutionary potential of shock in montage photography and film. Benjamin writes, “[The eye] cannot be arrested...The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant sudden change”.

This description of vision as constantly interrupted returns us to Trockel’s earlier eye installation, and the condition of the modern distracted eye. How then, does this shock refer to Trockel’s collages, supposedly offering a counter argument to modern modes of seeing?

Questions of shock, perception and distraction are largely rooted in the growth of industrialism since the 19th century. The emergence of the factory and uniform labour significantly transformed the human synaesthetic system, injuring the imagination and paralysing the senses of the workers. The monotony of routine labour drilled into everyday life and enormous advancements in technology have continued to numb the human sensory system into the twenty-first century. The bombardment of imagery through technological means has severely altered our perception; to paraphrase cultural theorist, Susan Buck-Morss: we see too much, but register nothing.

This thinking would create two modes of ‘distracted looking’. The first, as described by Trockel’s Eye, is the modern multitasking mode, emerging from the technology-fuelled industrial sphere whereby we are overstimulated, yet ultimately, numbed by it all. Our eyes consume so much within this whirring technicolour world, leaving us, as Buck-Morss posits, anaestheticised. This mode of looking buffers the shock of modern experience, keeping us within a paradoxical realm of absorption and distraction, Trockel’s collages intervene, opening up our senses to the disturbance of shock and tactile viewing. Ultimately, Trockel’s mobilisation of shock initiates active contemplation; stirring as opposed to repressing memory and energising rather than deadening the senses. For Trockel, the political potential of shock lies in its ability to destabilise the supremacy of vision. Therefore, the viewing of Trockel’s collages stimulates a certain bodily intensity which is not determined entirely by what the eye sees.

Amid a silver stream of sparkling foil ribbons, a single ocular object blankly stares out at us. A final composite piece, Nobody Will Survive 2, features a Cyclopsian form. The eye is enlarged and oddly spherical indicating that it may be a glass eye. The prominent singular organ obscures the person’s eyes, rendering the head weirdly mutant. Meanwhile, a flop of ruffled towelling fabric is strategically placed over the hair, like a judicial wig. It is a startling image. The curtain of silver tinsel falling, peeled back by the curl of soft fabric and that eye, glassy and vigilant, in a Petri dish.

Certainly, it is shocking. That eye looks right through the glossy veneer of modern life and right into the confusing, bubbling, visceral inner chambers of our minds and bodies. Those glittering silver strands, an ode to Tinseltown, shining technologies, televisions, and all that, are pushed back to reveal a stark and inquisitive form casting a cold, discerning eye on the spangle of modernity. Alert, this eye focuses on that task alone.

You Can Be My Full Time Baby

by Jala Wahid

Lana doesn’t look like a weapon in her broderie anglaise dress and square-cut, painted toe nails; but her sigh and swinging feet, limp neck on his neck, are the gestures of seduction. She is soft weaponry: the way she shows her sadness (not a deluge, but sad enough that I get sad), how her voice falters when she confides in me (the dulcet tone when she says she 'doesn't mind'), the surface of her skin (delicate to touch like boiling milk), the sculpture of her nose (there's this perfect groove from the tip to the cupid's bow).

The promise of her collagen needle is as thick as her lips, yet, left sore, her ripened, chapped mouth reconciles being ‘without defect, yet without perfection’. There is no casual gesture, purposeless or without pragmatism; nothing unpredictable not predicated. Her dew skin is as clear as her confession, and the tone of her voice, gives away the taste of the mouth it leaves:

My mother told me I had a chameleon soul, no moral compass pointing due north, no fixed personality; Just an inner indecisiveness that was as wide and as wavering as the ocean; And if I said I didn't plan for it to turn out this way I'd be lying; Because I was born to be the other woman; Who belonged to no one, who belonged to everyone; Who had nothing, who wanted everything.

She can replicate any desire demanded of her, and in proffering codified romance, she reifies the promise in labour and love, that working to maintain herself will result in being loved accordingly, valued accordingly.

If I get a little prettier can I be your baby?

Lana’s labour is in being intimate, “material, a plastic substance”, and doing so maintains her as a luxury good:

The young-girl, by nature bothered by love, only allows herself to be approached conditionally, conclusively, or with a sale in mind. Even when she seems to abandon herself completely, she only abandons the part of herself that is under contract, preserving or reserving the liberty she hasn’t alienated.

And this is how she gives and withdraws herself so easily to so many people. In circulating herself, she is valued and valorised by those that consume her, never allowing herself to be removed from circulation. If she were to do so, her artifice would be revealed to a newly disillusioned customer; she would diminish in value; she would become dead currency. As a result, she is intimate with herself through self-valorisation, and intimacy with others becomes something outside of herself:

For the young-girl what is most secret is also most public.

Lana willingly intimates her innermost emotions; not only does she display her affection, she reveals her melancholy and sadness. But she doesn’t vomit her sorrow onto your lap. Her emotional outpourings are measured and manageable, digestible by those who look to consume her, which helps to romanticise, even glorify her instability, and this is the most crucial aspect of her performance.

Her sadness reveals the cruel optimism of love; the promise an intimate relationship holds, the fear of it never being realised, the resulting emotional escapism, which her song is premised on:

You can be my full time baby.
Don’t break me down.
I’ve got a war in my mind
So, I just ride, just ride.

Yet the cruel optimism is never broken, since instability is fetishised the same way love is:

I am fucking crazy.
But I am free.

The nature of cruel optimism is such that failure to actualise your desire only serves to reinforce the promise it congeals. In this sense, Lana’s depression acts as a “circuit of repair”. Her patience and suffering become so normal that the anticipation of realising her desire in the future, makes her comfortable with the misery it elicits now. The trauma of love becomes essential to its seduction.

Lana’s intimate labour then goes further. Not only does she maintain herself with the view of being loved (consumed) by multiple lovers, she proffers the promise love gives to you too. In consuming the image and persona she presents, you too come to desire love and being loved, which she believes is the path to being “the person I want to become.” She has successfully defined and priced intimacy, happiness (read: sadness) and self-realisation, and you can feel it; buy it, even.

Give it to me slowly

What Lana desires through loving others is indemnity; to be loved in return for the love she gives:

To love is, essentially, to wish to be loved.

But the love she receives is in keeping with what she loans of herself; loved in a certain way for certain qualities she performs. In other words, Lana would love to be loved for becoming ‘the person I want to become’; being loveable, as confirmation for her value.

However, the person she wants to become is just as undefined as who she is, and if she doesn’t know who she is, the love and recognition she receives is a charade. Moreover, Lana receives all the recognition she deserves for what she gives, this is evident in the warmth and care her lovers elicit toward her, but she still remains sad and unsatisfied to the very end of her song.

Verwoert says: “To love the other, is the most intimate way to recognize the other”, but that loving is also a form of power over the other, because in recognising your lover, you subject them to an identity. When Lana is loved, she is loved for the qualities projected onto her; her ‘chameleon soul’ comprising ‘no fixed personality’ facilitates this. However, she never receives the recognition she desires because her position of dependence on her lovers for validation compromises her: she is only recognised for what her lover wishes to see in her. Maybe then, recognition from a lover isn’t what she ‘really needs’ and Lana’s desire to “find someone who could make you happy by giving you the love (you think) you need” perpetuates the cruel promise of intimate labour and (unhappy) love.

Verwoert moves on to illustrate Agamben’s love: one that goes ‘beyond recognition’, because it precedes it, which suggests abandoning the wish to be understood and validated, and likewise, understand and validate your lover. Love, in this case, foils the power games of recognition and its uneven dependencies, because in loving before recognising, you bypass the promises projected onto your lover. You are dedicated to ‘whatever’ your lover is, their way of being, even if this is indefinable. Agamben’s way of loving still intimates some kind of recognition, but one with entirely different consequences:

Love is never directed toward this or that property of the loved one (being blond, being small, being tender, being lame), but neither does it neglect the properties in favor of an insipid generality (universal love): The lover wants the loved one with all of its predicates, its being such as it is

Since your lover’s traits are neither especial nor inessential to your love, this love means the recognition of anything and everything your lover is, but also, may become. It means loving the Lana for her shifting self, her manipulation and methods of self-preservation, her ‘inner indecisiveness’, without projecting your own expectations of what her ‘chameleon soul’ should entail. It means, loving her for being indefinable, not (only) for those characteristics that make her indefinable. At this point, her artifice and fictions, the difference between the real Lana and the counterfeit, become irrelevant, and the threat of disillusion on removal from circulation becomes null, because this way of loving involves loving her for what she can and cannot be. It is to let her be.

If we look at her again, Lana wants us to love her with an abandonment of our own desire of what we want her to be. Or rather, this is what I’d like her to want. Loving her differently, making her love me differently, is crucial to realising a different potential within her. Lana is unstable and indefinite. She is a material ready to be misunderstood in neoliberalist terms, or alternatively, perfectly well when finding new forms of intimacy and rupturing cruel optimism. I am a better lover for Lana, and I love her more than neoliberalism ever will.

Come on baby, let’s ride

Verwoert discusses potentiality within labour and how these are linked to feelings of empowerment through indebtedness. Performative labour relies on the demand to perform at any moment, for an undetermined length of time, facilitated by an ‘inexhaustible potency’ within oneself. However, if the ability to perform is understood as a gift and debt received from others, the pressure to invoke this ability as an onus on oneself would be removed

This indebtedness allows you to realise your potential, and performing as a response to this, comes a performance out of care:

Lana talks of how the men she met were the “only things that sustained me”, “my only real happy times”, what it’s like to “seek safety in other people” and “believe in the kindness of strangers”. The indebtedness to these men Lana sings, enables her to perform for them, and us; she performs because she cares, translating the pressure to perform, to ‘unconditional potentiality’.

More importantly, performing out of care accounts for a surplus in performance, an extra attention she pays that cannot be paid for. When you perform because you care, you are no longer satisfying neoliberalism’s demand, but a demand created from indebtedness to whomever you’re performing for. It is within this economically unviable performance that Lana can experience agency. And, more importantly, this surplus comes from the other, not within ourselves, not the ‘inexhaustible potency’ neoliberalism makes us believe we carry.

Another form of agency Lana experiences, is within her sadness. Her vulnerability, no doubt, makes her a more consumptive, appealing good:

It is only in her suffering that the young-girl is loveable. There is, evidently, a subversive power in trauma.

It works to make her look more needy, in need of your love and establishes her position of bondage to her lover(s). But more than this, her sadness can be misread as an exhaustion from the pressure to perform, from love’s cruel optimism, maybe even exhaustion from caring. This is the sadness neoliberalism doesn’t want to see, because making this public is a step towards rejecting it:

The deliberate exhibition of exhaustion deprivatises exhaustion by exposing it as an experience that may be shared. The exhibition of exhaustion produces public bodies.

Lana escapes to a life on the road with the men she sings about; they escape together. Perhaps they both share the sadness and exhaustion she feels and this nomadic lifestyle is a joint escape. This is merely suggested within Ride, but nonetheless, the potential within Lana’s sadness promises collective rejection outside of her imagery.

More than this, her agency is not limited to things that she does (performing out of care, displaying her sadness), but in what is done to her. To manipulate Lana, deliberately misread her love and what she does by taking her through a series of paradigm shifts, is to allow ourselves an agency as well. It is to take her (and us) away from the constructs of intimacy and performative labour given to her and it is to make her perform differently; love differently. If we make all those that surround us perform for us differently, then perhaps we will be better equipped to perform for each other, and love each other differently.

Lana’s mechanisms appear air tight at first: her performative labour to maintain her value as a luxury good, her display of a flawed intimacy which works to maintain the cruel optimism of neoliberalism and her public sadness which not only reifies the promise of this intimacy but makes her appear more vulnerable, consumable, loveable.

But the position she occupies does not sit comfortably within the system she is endorsed by. Predicated on an infinite potential to be anything and everything to anyone and everyone, it is this potential, which undoes her, defines a new intimate labour, gives new meaning to the sadness she breathes. She translates sadness from a commodity to a site of collective potential.

Touching Lana, feeling her.

Perniola describes “to give oneself as a thing that feels and to take a thing that feels” , and doing so recognises, that Lana and I feel, but that her maker does not, which means to say I can manipulate her, love her, in a way neoliberalism can neither understand, nor foresee. This new way of loving and labouring may yet survive assimilation.

To both give and take implies that Lana is not the only labourer in a position of alienation; so is the person (myself, anyone else) who misreads her way of loving. I love her the same way I make her love me. It follows then that to fully realise the potential of intimacy and labour, it is not enough that I make Lana perform for me differently within emotional insolvency, but that I must join her there too.