Adorno, Minima Moralia:

#84 Timetable.–Few things differentiate the mode of life appropriate to intellectuals so deeply from that of the bourgeoisie than the fact that the former do not recognize the alternative between labor and pleasure. […] “Work while you work, play while you play” [in English in original]–this counts as one of the founding principles of repressive self-discipline. The parents who wanted their children to bring home good grades as a matter of prestige could least bear it when the latter read too long at night or, in the parents’ judgement, intellectually overexerted themselves. Yet out of their foolishness spoke the genius of their class. The doctrine drilled in since Aristotle’s, of moderation as the virtue befitting reason, is among other things an attempt to establish the socially necessary division of human beings into functions independent of each other so firmly that none of these functions would get the idea of crossing over to others and calling to mind actual human beings. One could no more imagine Nietzsche in an office, the secretary answering the telephone in the foyer, sitting at a desk until five, than playing golf after a full days work. Under the pressure of society, only the cunning intertwining of happiness and labor would leave the door open for actual experience. It is constantly less tolerated. Even the so-called intellectual occupations are being utterly divested of pleasure, by their increasing resemblance to business. Atomization advances not only between human beings, but also in the single individual [Individuum: individuated], in its life-spheres. No fulfillment may be attached to labor, which would otherwise lose its functional obscurity in the totality of purpose, no spark of sensibility [Besinnung] may fall in free time, because it might spring into the work-world and set it aflame. While labor and pleasure are becoming more and more similar in their structure, they are at the same time separated ever more strictly by invisible lines of demarcation. Pleasure and Spirit [Geist] are being driven out of both in equal measure. In one as the other, brute seriousness and pseudo-activity prevails.

I thought of this aphorism earlier today and mistakenly associated it with some takes on immaterial labor that I find problematic; specifically I’m thinking of what could be called sociological explanations that focus on the subject’s social-class position. Certainly Adorno does start with a sociological opposition, and even briefly leans toward the more problematic “objective” definition of labor (i.e., the character of the product produced), but in the end he makes it clear that labor cannot be described subjectively or objectively (or at least not only in those terms) but only as activity, as acts of creativity that are vulnerable to constant alterations, resistances, and accidents.


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