Erosion by Drive (Repetition) and Erosion by Desire (Renewal) — Işık Barış Fidaner

Money is a piece of ‘dead president’, it is a morsel from the sacrificed primal father [1]. The one who has the money assumes the customer position and claims rights over you based on the universal power of the commodity fetish. If you have a desirable ‘product’ ready in your hand, you can shake off the customer by giving it to them. But if your hands are empty, then you will have to chip away and give pieces from yourself in order to counterbalance the pieces of ‘dead presidents’ that the customer hurls at you. As a result of this operation that’s called ‘selling labor-power’, the customer becomes an ’employer’ and you become their worker.

In fact, nature does not contain any substance called ‘labor-power’; ‘selling labor-power’ indicates the engagement of an effort [2]. The worker’s effort has been engaged in ‘work’ for the worker to gain a temporary and limited customer position. The word ‘work’ assumes two different meanings: Work sometimes indicates (1) the engagement of any effort, and sometimes it indicates (2) an effort engaged for pieces of ‘dead presidents’. The first of these meanings indicate a general work in a private space, whereas the second meaning which is more dominant indicates a private work in a general space. General questions like ‘Do you work, what do you do?’ refer not to the person’s general engagement but to their private engagement for pieces of ‘dead presidents’. General words like ‘work’, ‘project’ become substantialized, officialized and reified through pieces of ‘dead presidents’. The relations and processes signified by these words make up the large hierarchies that we call the ‘capitalist system’.

At the bottom of the capitalist hierarchy are the workers who chip away pieces from themselves every day in the face of the pieces of ‘dead presidents’. The erosion of self that they experience has two kinds: (1) the worker takes themself to pieces by repeating the drives and habits of ‘work’ again and again, let’s call this the erosion by drive; (2) the worker takes themself to pieces by renewing their desire for the ‘work’ they encounter each and every time, let’s call this the erosion by desire. Erosion by drive and erosion by desire roughly correspond to the distinction between manual labor and intellectual labor.

When the worker turns towards a new work at first, it’s always by their desire, so the first piece that the worker chips away from themself is always presented to the society as a gift. The rest of the process will take shape according to whether it is manual labor or intellectual labor.

If it’s manual labor, the desire withdraws to the background and the execution of work by drive repetition comes to the fore; as a result, the exchange of the pieces of the worker’s self for the ‘dead presidents’ gains constancy and loses its initial status of being a gift. The other side of the exchange based on drive repetition is the recognition of the workers’ rights in the public space and the struggles for these rights. The workers’ erosion by drive was politically answered in history by the idea of communism.

But in intellectual labor, since every new work reinitiates the desire, drive repetition can never become dominant, one always needs to renew the desires and keep them alive. The erosion by desire in intellectual work makes the exchange in the work relation fragile, it prevents its constancy and makes the worker precarious, it even erodes their ‘worker’ status, it creates the precariat, it undermines rights in general and it undermines the idea of communism based on the struggle for rights. There is a great irony in the erosion by desire: The intellectual worker who continues presenting new gifts to society by chipping away from themself every day (and thereby inspiring the ‘general intellect of the multitudes’ (Negri & Hardt)) is in fact no longer respected as a worker [3].


Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


[1] See “Sacrifice for Dead Presidents”

[2] See “Effort is engaged labor-power”, “Masculine and Feminine Marxism”

[3] When I speak about the intellectual worker who presents a gift to society every day, I don’t mean the white collars who settle in the capitalist hierarchy and become a bureaucrat. The paradigmatic example of the intellectual labor that I call the erosion by desire is a translator, a worker of the signifier. See “Sahilik Arayışı İmleyen İşçilerine Emanettir”


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