Executive Organs: Fit 4 Purpose

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.

Acker and the Language of the Body

the part of the ‘I’ that bodybuilds: Acker and the Language of the Body

As long as we continue to regard the body, that which is subject to change, chance, and death, as disgusting and inimical, so long shall we continue to regard our own selves as dangerous others

Acker writes with an incisive precision which is at once both meditative and generous. Lingustically, she has the deftness and suppleness to navigate, hone, and define the various splinterings of selfhood that you can imagine her applying to the training of isolated and distinct muscular group within her body.

Ironically, Acker writes with punishing eloquence about the difficulty she suffered when attempting to transpose her experience of bodybuilding into written word. She writes of the antagonism between bodybuilding and verbal language, characterising it as an experience that rejects language.

I want to fail

Acker’s account of visceral tuning and the experiential qualities of bodybuilding is characterised by a calculated and profoundly understood relationship to failure. Failure is not encountered as some kind of binary opposition of success but rather as a confrontation with the material body, encountering it’s own edges and limits - wandering within the labyrinths of the body. She writes:

By trying to control, to shape, my body though the calculated tools and methods of bodybuilding, and time and again, in following these methods, failing to do so, I am able to meet that which cannot be finally controlled and known: the body

This notion of failure is particularly valuable within the context of Cursor given that the prevailing ideologies at the centre of many QSelf and fitness tracking applications are predicated on ideas of success and goal oriented or incentivised achievement. They coach the competitive externalisation and articulation of this activity that is rewarded by ‘gains’ that are becoming increasingly material.

Resistance Training - using an opposing force

The space created by bodybuilding for Acker offered a geography of no language, a space that foregrounded gestures of self presentation that are not structurally linguistic.

Self tracking applications could be seen as a kind of violent imposition of language that has colonised the body. A process of enforced contortion, they motivate with reckless agility the urgency to transpose experience to capital that tears, strains, and fatigues. The tacit potency of the slow twitch of deep tissue is wretched into language; legibility is total rupture.

~ total embodiment ~

How to Exercise without Sweating: Leisure and the Erasure of Labour

This post is the first of a strand of enquiry that seeks to contextualise capitalist renderings of the body. What are the affective implications if ‘wellness’ is set out to tender as a means of keeping bodies fit and supple for neoliberal agendas?

~ syncing bodies to the incessant rhythm of capital

In Neomaterialism, Joshua Simon explores how machines inflect and design the body to change and reconfigure itself in service of the movement and flow of capital. In the chapter The Language of Commodities, Simon positions the relationship between the post-industrial proletariat and the gym. Here, the ability to expend surplus energy as a leisure pursuit presents itself as an opportunity for the proletariat to continue to perform their propensity to work, demonstrating their seemingly inexhaustible material value.

~ total body conditioning

In this high-performance culture, Q-Self software applications promise self knowledge through numbers, offering individuals top-sight of their own lives. The recent proliferation of Q-self and fitness tracking software applications serve to further co-opt perceptions leisure time in late capitalism. Social fitness is imperative, value is tethered to one’s on digital toil, to one’s ability to transpose experience to capital. This element of ‘gamification’ that these applications introduce mobilise the formally leisure activities in such a way as to extract value without payment. Through their alignment to ideals of ‘self betterment’, these applications colonise the body, positioning ‘self improvement’ as a process of becoming legible to capital. This cultivation of the data-self serves to efface the borders between life and work, between dominance and servitude

~ sweat as public exhaustion

Through the affect of efficiency, work is transposed from a conscious activity performed within a distinct workplace and internalised to become thoroughly habitual - ingrained in all facets of life.

These economies of value are contingent on the systemic exploitation of vital energy. As agents of neoliberal soft control, these fitness applications articulate the demand that the mechanisms of labour be invisible, abstracted and mystified. The idea of exercising without sweating is analogous to how so much of neoliberal working conditions of the global north serve to expedite the erasure of labour altogether ~ results are yours for the taking (without sweating)

Google returns page after page of search results that offer advice on how to work-out without sweating in an effort to conceal the squandering of biopower. Here, sweat can be read as an unwanted indicator of toil, the deprivatisation and public externalisation of exhaustion - a sign that work is taking place, that a bodily limit is being reached.

Sweat belies so called immaterial labour by revealing it’s all too material reality