‘I don’t see myself as a prole. And I don’t see myself as a super- intellectual, not like a student. I’m not … Well, I’m here’, Christine says on the steps of the Beaubourg Centre. And Eric explains, ‘We walk about one way and another, sit on the benches and watch people pass by.’
The mute voice of a subjectivity seeking to assert itself in the abbreviations of a rareﬁed vocabulary? A look returned from the great voyages of proletarian self-consciousness to the zero degrees of palpable certainty: ‘That’s it, we’re here, it’s like that?’ Or rather a new trick of the dialectic that underpins the look of the observer in this apparent return to the simplicity of its origins, that little nothing that, at its birth, is identical with its being?
Beaubourg, according to popular wisdom, is like a factory. Is that the reason why this is the place to come today, to seek among these ‘non-workers of the non-working class’ those voices of alienation and rebellion that Sorbonne students looked for at Billancourt twelve years ago? At that time, as a bourgeois break- ing ranks and an activist breaking with gauchisme, this was where he saw the miracle: the working class, the concept in ﬂesh and blood. Enough to sicken those petty bourgeois whom Marcuse, Gorz, Mallet and Belleville had led to dream of a new class of auto- mated white-collar workers, or manual workers trapped by credit and bourgeois comfort. A CGT secretary who hailed from the old Faubourg Saint-Antoine had turned the key to the fortress: the key of the evident identity of the worker in his labour and his struggle.
‘An identity lost, an identity rediscovered’, he proclaimed. But no sooner rediscovered than lost again, since to be honest, the proletarian is deﬁned only by being alienated: fashioned by capital, but also, himself as Other, present to himself in his alterity. The inventory of conditions of his alienation, in other words the enumeration – in capital letters – of the characteristics of exploitation (work rhythm, noise, accidents, etc.) was enough for this identity to be recognized, and thus virtually reconquered. Knowledge of the conditions of exploitation immediately opened the way to emancipation: the science of capital, the organization of workers.
Existence was thus adequate to the concept, and labour adequate to capital – existentially painful but theoretically fortunate. As for the factory – it was as the Atelier des Beaux-Arts drew it in 1968, with its gear wheels and tall chimney. The factory-centre, where the epic of alienation and emancipation was played out, from where the torpor of civil-bourgeois society was to be shaken. So the order went from the factory to the city, the neighbourhood, the home.