I should really be sleeping. Alarm’s at 8am sharp, a whole day work’s looming, and yet procrastinating rest is still too appealing, even more so with this laptop’s enticing diversion to haphazardly look at random pictures of random people and feed a relentless informatic gluttony for the latest update. 15 tabs open, 5 applications running, each with separate files that need saving, storing, converting, embedding, backing, transferring… This machine is straining me or I am straining myself through it; but once I’m asleep, it will still be working, downloading the night away.
It’s partly a conscious choice to write this blog contribution in the night, to feel its atmosphere so as to recount powers I think it holds. With my body clock ticking, there’s a whole other energy right now. I can hardly find time to write with free rein in the day, partitioned and interrupted as it is by emails, requests, meetings, trains, timesheets, plans, expectations and templates. Time’s a precious commodity indeed, that does little harm to fetishise: the less you spend, the less you have to work; the more hours taken back or stolen, the better.
Jacques Rancière surely must have spent several nights in the archives writing his PhD thesis, published as La Nuit Des Prolétaires (officially translated as ‘The Nights of Labor,’ though more appropriately ‘The Night of Proletarians’), researching what 18th century workers were up to before the times of revolutions. As with any of Rancière’s works, the trick is the expected one: to take words already chewed over and over and oft invoked to convey some ultimate truth – such as, ‘proletarians’ – and to alter always-contestable co-ordinates of meaning.
What he ‘discovered’ is nothing more/less than an expedient for ‘weav[ing] a tale’ of a ‘few dozen or hundred laborers in their twenties around 1830’, workers who ‘no longer tolerated the intolerable’, not very self-conscious of their alienation, still awake when they should be asleep, precisely because they could not bear not so much poverty but the constant subordination to daytime demeaning demands. And thus, the night of proletarians is ‘a harmless and imperceptible interruption of the normal round, one might say, in which our characters prepare and dream and already live the impossible: the suspension of the ancestral hierarchy subordinating those dedicated to manual labor to those who have been given the privilege of thinking. Nights of studying, nights of boozing’ (1989, viii).
Should Rancière be taken seriously? Should the night be taken literally? Does this tale prevent one from taking such breaks during broad daylight, switching off the lamp and drawing the curtains? There’s no question that by ‘labouring’ at night, one becomes more inclined to doze off when required to re-perform daily certain(ly) ‘intolerable’ functions – to ignore the very blinding light fixating the very distinction between work and leisure. One should be very conscious not to confuse the tale with the ‘true’, at all times.
For more on the theme of the night- see Nyx 3