Fit For Purpose, or rather, ‘Not Fit For Purpose’ conjures up the kind of hackneyed amorphous headline frequently found splashed across redtops. A derisory scoff, often attached to the perceived effectiveness of ever-dwindling public services, or the management thereof.
The particular Fit 4 Purpose I refer to is posed not as a question or contestation but as a statement, an agreement, an outcome. This Fit 4 Purpose promises sports and lifestyle conditioning at a small local gym in Arbroath. This Fit 4 Purpose does not question the public it addresses; more disconcertedly, it makes assumptions.
Fit 4 Purpose has already decided who you are, what you are for and how it can help you achieve and excel within your preordained purpose. Fit 4 Purpose presupposes that the body has already been subjected to these trials of self-identification.
In Exhaustion and Exuberance: Ways to Defy the Pressure to Perform, Jan Verwoert pertinently foregrounds the semantic shift from 'work' to 'performance' in the post-industrial West. According to Verwoert, this 'on demand' nature of the 'Information Economy' creates a schism in which we are simultaneously 'the avant garde' and the ' job slaves'. Verwoert goes on to question where might we find spaces, modes, and strategies for resistance within performance driven culture. Written in 2008, it’s clear to see that what Verwoert had positioned as spaces of resistance have already been colonised by the aggressive and persistent land grab of late capitalism.
'Does the utterance of the words I Can’t already constitute or confirm a breakdown, a failure to perform, justifiable only if our body authenticates our incapacity by refusing to function'
In Verweort’s essay, bodily limitation, measures of aerobic capacity, ‘energy’, resilience, can be interpreted as undisputable instruments in verifying the inability to perform. They can not be dismissed as something that a ‘can do attitude’ or will power can resolve, and as such, articulate an indisputable ‘no’ spoken on our behalf by exhausted limbs and fleshy limitations
The kind of #lifestyleconditioning promoted by Fit 4 Purpose negates this form of bodily authentication. Fundamentally ablest in its assertions, its logic is reliant on the perceived merits of being perpetually in training…
'…even if we can’t get it now, we can get it, in some other way at some other point in time.'
To be Fit 4 Purpose is to be prepared for future situations and therefore self-creating ‘opportunity’ - open to limitless possibilities. It trades on the correlation between health, wellbeing, and productivity that has the suited middle aged men in Harun Farocki’s A New Product, talking excitedly in poorly constructed metaphors.
'We considered changing the fitness centre into office space, but the clear order came: No, the centre is part of the work concept.'
'He realised, it’s a special culture that allows people this freedom.'
It is easy to be dismissive of this kind of hyperbolic language, conjured in a think tank but of little consequence to the real world. This understanding of productivity however cannot be relegated to the domain of the corporate open collared zealots featured in A New Product, as it is also further propagated by the public sector in the form of ‘Fit for Work’ schemes. One of the objectives of Fit for Work Scotland is the claim to 'increase the awareness of the benefits of working to a person’s health.'
‘Still, you can never be sure whether the free time you gain is not just the time you need to restore your energies to be it to perform again the next day’
In The Productive Body, Francois Guery and Didier Deleule explore theories of body-machine and position the human body and its labour in relation to modern regimes of control. They describe the body, re-engineered by capitalism as
a machine whose maintenance requires the evaluation of it’s potential and the regulation of its functioning
There is a wealth of writing regarding theories towards the ‘body-machine’ and ideas of augmented performance under late capitalism. What were once evocative sci-fi narratives of technologically enhanced futures become the most banal and mundane of presents. The notion of Fit 4 Purpose via Verweort is interesting to me precisely because it does not speak of HI-NRG cyborg performance but rather, is more suggestive of us being the product of a kind of insidious practicality, which is ultimately much more troubling. The relationship between practicality and common sense is often accepted as being inherent. The conditions of being fit for purpose, call for a judgement of ‘common sense’ or to quote the Sales of Goods Act 1979: that 'any reasonable person would find satisfactory.'
Further legislation from The Trading Standards Office states that ‘fit for purpose’ can be established by 'the routine testing of goods and equipment.' Fit 4 Purpose then in the spirit of Guery and Deluele is regulation, a form of maintenance, a servicing in the form of fitness training.
One consultant in particular in A New Product, calls with a mixture of exuberance and exasperation for his colleagues to think outside of the box. He discusses with great enthusiasm, the ‘logical’ extension of the idea of a company taking a genuine interest in the personal development of its employees. He details a fictitious appraisal where the employee is asked what his personal achievements and goals for the forthcoming year will be. Whether said employee achieves these personal goals would then be reflected as his appraisal the following year. One colleague quips, ‘should I bring my wife?!’ Unfazed by his colleague’s apparent cynicism, he replies ‘yes of course! But why not?!’
So often, it would appear that ‘thinking outside the box’ is simply a process of extending its parameters to colonise whatever lies outwith it. Transcending the possible could, at one point in time, have been seen as a mode of a resistance – an exploration of possibilities offered outwith the dominant regime systems governance. This exploration of ‘possible’ is now colonisation - exhaustion is a form of polity, a form of labour that is being monetized and mobilised.
Counter-cultural rights of excess have always been about deliberately squandering that capital
In the contorted register of late capitalism, even squandering is an act of productivity. Spending time in the gym, pursuing a hobby is not wasting labour power, but rather is made legible as training.