DOI: 10.30443/POI2019-0015

The Ludicization of Work and the Principle of Performance: The Topicality of Herbert Marcuse

Luca Baldassarre


This paper aims to investigate the current interconnections between play and work, as an outcome of technological development, starting from Herbert Marcuse’s early view of labour. In a 1933 essay entitled On the Philosophical Foundation of the Concept of Labor in Economics, the German philosopher defines the ontological concept of labour, attempting to combine the Hegelo-Marxian with the Heideggerian categorical apparatus. Labour is not Tätigkeit, but Tun, as the praxis that pre-exists every specific activity: it is the ground of human existence itself, whose three main characteristics are qualified by Marcuse as duration, permanence and burden. Marcuse’s analysis starts from the distinction between work as a process of objectification and work as alienation: the shift from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom will not then be marked by the overcoming of work tout court, but by the abolition of the alienation only possible by considering work as praxis. In this sense it is possible to promote a hedonistic conception of labour as not opposed to leisure time. The issue is addressed in his Eros and civilization, where he sees in that dichotomous opposition one of the essential expressions of the insurmountable self-contradictory character of the capitalist logic. Starting from these coordinates, I will therefore try to examine the current gamification of the working dimension as a false liberation, as it is still marked by the alienation that oppresses the forms of work experience, and thus to analyze the current social configuration in terms of an intensification of the logic of performance.

Keywords: Play, Performance, Alienation, Objectification, Burden

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