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Hélène Cixous: "At Work, a Kind of Murder of the Person"

Translated Monday 5 October 2009, by Leslie Thatcher (www.truthout.org) and reviewed by Hervé Fuyet

In "Modern Times," Charlie Chaplin’s character may have been oppressed, but at least, argues Hélène Cixous, he was not the cog itself and workers’ organization for self-defense was possible - unlike in today’s workplace.

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Charlie Chaplin (Wikipedia)

For writer and philosopher Hélène Cixous, the wave of suicides at France Télécom is "a metaphor for the cruelty that is also manifested elsewhere." The "dehumanization machine" does not spare the university either.

Yves Housson for L’Humanité: The series of suicides at France Télécom has aroused barely any reaction within the intellectual world. Recently, while speaking on this subject, you talked about "murders"...

Hélène Cixous: People cover up the bloody reality of the thing with the word suicide. It’s really a matter of murders, extremely perverse murders, which is to say that everything is done in a way such that people do away with themselves. These are histories of elimination: elimination of jobs, elimination of souls, hearts, bodies ... The history of France Télécom, which is atrocious, is a metaphor for the cruelty that is also manifested elsewhere. I belong to the university. Universities are undergoing double violence at this time. The university is required, under the pretense of autonomy, to self-destruct, to reduce itself, to eliminate positions on all sides. The victims themselves are delegated the task of eliminating themselves. It is necessary that people see the ignominy of this approach. The unfortunates receive the order from the minister: "Cut off your own heads!" So there you are. "Kill yourselves!" they tell France Télécom’s workers, and, to others, "Carry out your own executions!"

Behind these orders, there is suffering. Not only the suffering of former times, the suffering we have experienced before: no more work, unemployment. Now, it’s about exile at the workplace, within the work itself. Situations with no exit are created. No possibility of salvaging one’s humanity. The dehumanization machine is so very well organized. At present, something called "DHR: Directors of Human Resources" are being installed within universities. Of course, this comes to us from the United States. What’s it all about? The exploitation of human beings as a material. As a kind of ore. How is the human ore to be organized ... I assure you, people feel these words in their bodies. It’s absolutely dreadful: telling yourself that you’re treated as a bit of materiel by a so-called director of human resources. Beyond the economic crisis, there’s a crisis of civilization.

In the university, everyone knows no research is possible without what, in the United States, is called "academic freedom" - academic freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Well, what’s being eliminated is any kind of freedom; there’s no longer any freedom, either in the university, or within companies. We are employees in the service of a machine, and these employees, they’re bits of processed materiel. Look, for example, at the law on mobility passed right in the middle of July so that there would be no public reaction: It’s the elimination a priori of all freedom. Mobility? A word to tell you, you will be moved, you will be displaced. You are no longer anything but an inert bolt, a little pawn. This law compels the pieces to be displaced, unscrewed and replaced anywhere, with a person’s destiny, family circumstances, needs etc. not taken into account at all. And if one should not agree, after three rejections - which are obviously planned, calculated - I have no doubt solutions will be implemented such that people will be led to reject them - they are ejected from their civil service position. "Mobility?" Eradication.

Huma: Specifically, at the heart of the France Télécom drama, there is the issue of "compulsory mobility"...

Hélène Cixous: In this way, among people who work, there is a generalized implementation of more than destabilization: the most profound distress. They are expelled from their right to be human. I find that it’s criminal. As the directives come from on high, there subsequently follows a kind of hierarchization of exploitation and oppression: The big boss transmits the pain to the mid-level boss, who transmits it to the little boss etc. What is being secreted - because it really is a kind of creeping auto-immune disease - is resentment and hatred at every level. Solidarity no longer exists. We know that the unions are no longer strong enough, protective enough, but it must be said that the systems of transmission for this destruction assure that there will be ruptures in connections and isolation such that the self-defense associations of the past are no longer being created.

In Charlie Chaplin’s "Modern Times," the oppressed had the possibility of organizing themselves. Today, when they succeed in organizing themselves, they have a tendency to think of their distress in economic terms, while that’s not it: What is hiding behind the economic issues is a sort of murder of the person at work. People think of numbers. Every word counts: People say they’re going to "reduce the workforce;" they must provide "costed" accounts of what is incalculable: meaning, invention. It’s insane: The numbers are crazy. In the university, there’s also what’s called the DBN: That means, every three months you must describe your projects to the financial management department, along with their anticipated financial results! Teachers become accountants doomed to failure. So then, of course, people feel dreadful humiliation. That’s not life: Life is conversing with others, circulating meaning ...

Huma: After a period during which management ideology has dominated, with the consequences on work that we observe today, are we not confronted with the challenge of rearming transformative thought on the labor question? Specifically, as we are confronted with a Nicolas Sarkozy, who has personally seized the subject with his famous, "work more!"

Hélène Cixous: I totally agree. In the world of literature, to which I belong, that I attempt to defend because it is attacked on all sides, the value of work has also been destroyed. There is no writing that is not a work, a transmission of traditions. Even though the so-called literature that is disseminated everywhere today is literature that does not work, that does not remember, that has not read. You may well imagine that I am in favor of the value of work. Nicolas Sarkozy says that we must work more to earn more. It’s a tragedy to send such a message to workers: That’s telling them that their work is the equivalent of their earnings. While it’s infinitely more than that: it’s obviously their pride, their satisfaction, their creativity, their beauty. What a monstrous discounting of reality, to say such a thing!

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