Laqueestapeor is a character from a book by Remedios Zafra. This gray-haired woman was born in Zuheros (Córdoba, 1973). Reading it is like reading the story of your life, it brings out the colors on each page. When you close the book, you feel cheap fuel for a creative machinery that does not stop. If you had to give it a title, I would say that we are going to talk to the expert on precariousness or the academic on digital vulnerability, but she has made this journalist promise that she would refrain from simplifying her work with a label.
Zafra is a tenured scientist at the Institute of Philosophy of the CSIC. And his subject of study is the present. You and me. One of his theses is that we live work-lives where the public and private, leisure and business are increasingly contaminated, and in which we exploit ourselves beautifully and then feel a certain sadistic satisfaction for the duty accomplished. In his latest book, Fragile (Anagrama, 2021), describes “motivated and vocational workers, to whom symbolic capital matters. Willing to see the salary as something secondary if the job likes it ”and to jobs seen as“ investments in visibility and positioning in a growing culture of the ‘gig’ standardized in creative work ”.
He has a “boyish and round face” and an adolescent voice, but even so, or perhaps because of that, his sentences are annoying. He checks it every time he presents a book. “People go because they like the title, and then they come up to me and say, ‘But why don’t you write something that makes us feel good? With the problems in the world! Why don’t you tell nice things? ‘ And I think: ‘But what I want is to disturb her, ma’am!’ She is convinced that “even when there are no alternatives, becoming aware of what is happening to you is liberating.”
In the small town of Córdoba where he was born “children could be free”. “I am the daughter of public education,” she claims. “Those of us who were born in the seventies were lucky that the teachers got very involved with us. Then people began to have the expectation of the social elevator, our parents were farmers and for the first time they thought that the poor could dedicate themselves to all those things that until a few years ago they would have told you: don’t do it, find yourself a real job ”.
His father did everything. Farmer. Plumber. Gravedigger. “He was very handy and botched the farmhouses. When the young men threw things, he would bring me the books. Someone must have told him they were important to us. ” The matter became older when Remedios’ father bought a car and started going to Galerías Preciados in Córdoba. There he found “a countryman” who worked in the balances and opportunities section. “My father brought more and more books, very cheap or given away, he only cared about the quantity. What was valuable about those books was that they did not follow any intellectual criteria. His friend stacked them by colors and sizes. Pocket editions of well-known authors coexisted with surpluses of exhibition catalogs and sexuality treatises. There were incomplete encyclopedias. My sister and I began to wonder why only men came out, and we deduced: ‘Surely the volumes that we are missing are those of women.’ The gaps generated questions for us ”. The philosopher who is today Remedios Zafra calls this literary chaos “entropic books.” To accommodate the books, the shelves arrived “which took the place of the communion photos, the crucifixes, the inverted pots, the relics of saints (…)”, he writes in another of his books, A connected room of your ownor (2010). Title that one of your students has recently updated: An own zulo connected.
He spent his adolescence painting windowless houses and accumulating the desire to see the world thanks to a book on swimming pools. “In the town there were only pools and the pools were the definitive proof of the existence of a universe outside, unknown and luminous.” In high school he developed the syndrome of “leaving to return.” She was pathologically shy. “My sister used to say that I had suddenly started speaking at 18 years old.”
He began to study Telecommunications because it seemed to him “a career that had to do with the times.” Within a few weeks he realized that there was nothing creative in that world and entered Fine Arts. “I put it together for a while and eventually I left Telecommunications. It was hard. We were just two girls and many said: ‘Sure, another one that can’t stand it.’ Since then, one of my lines of research has been the place of women in science ”.
Since the age of 18, he has led a nomadic existence. “I live on buses and trains. On the buses I read, and on the trains I have written a large part of my books ”.
Is Madrid here or there? “I am on the platforms, in an intermediate space. I have been between Zuheros, Madrid and Seville for 20 years ”. In 2000 Remedios began working at the Autonomous University of Madrid and just then got a permanent place in Seville.
Not only did she leave town, but she decided to change her accent and stretch the “snails” in her dark hair. “I have always been interested in the conflict between what one wants to be and the identities that one has inherited, and I understand that one can intervene in what is inherited”. So you decide how you want to speak and build a neutral accent that allows them to pay more attention to what you say and less to how you say it. The color of her hair changed a decade ago, “as a positioning gesture to build an image,” he says. The good thing about talking to an academic is that you learn to explain your wishes from imperatives and philosophical categories.
In the last three years his life has changed a lot. Remedios Zafra sees very little and uses two magnifying glasses and headphones. “I have a great visual and hearing disability derived from a genetic disease.” He says that he strives, as we all do, to offer an impression of “vital person.” “Nobody notices that my eyes are downcast because my makeup entertains them.” Every day she puts on makeup almost without seeing and considers it an act of resistance. “I put on my makeup by touching myself, I know I start here and end there,” he explains, traveling with his fingers over the ends of one eye. “This requires order and time, and causes problems. Many times I have come to class very stained and nobody says anything to you until the end ”.
A decade ago, the life stories of his students were his first source to investigate the precariousness of creative work that was then beginning to normalize. Remedios, with a fixed position and an office, does not try to measure itself in precariousness with anyone, but warns: “I do live it as a sign of a time in which it is normalized that only the amount matters and in which we are encouraged to enter a machinery productive that does not leave us time to delve into anything “.
We have all experienced one of the pre-pandemic experiences that could be classified as “vintage” in front of the El Corte Inglés totem poles that forced their employees to give marks with faces that degraded from a big smile to a monumental anger. And all in the face of those evaluated. Was there anyone capable of denying one of those people the highest rating? Remedios wonders. Being subjected to constant and explicit evaluation, he says, further contaminates our working life because each of our actions is followed by a score. “Evaluate this conversation.” “Evaluate this taxi.” “Rate the quality of this call.” “I can’t quite get used to this consultation practice that accompanies each movement (…). It seems that only those who are not subjected to this anomalous and obsessive score can feel free, “he writes in Fragile.
Remedios Zafra has written eight essay books and has been co-editor of other volumes and several articles. He recognizes that the first thing he does when he gets up is to turn on the computer.
“Don’t tell me it’s self-exploiting!”
“Of course I am, but I’m correcting myself.” Some philosophers think that self-exploitation consists of squeezing ourselves and, on top of it, bragging about spending the day working.
After posting The enthusiasm, The writer has tried to set limits so as not to lead, she too, a life-work. “We believe that we choose it, but what is inertia of a labor and digital context that encourages us to enter into a hyper-productive machinery to gain visibility is camouflaged from choice,” he warns. Visibility is the new added value. If Karl Marx raised his head, he would repeat in stunned that legendary joke of the ex-communist countries: “Proletarians of all countries, forgive me”, and perhaps he would add: I have not seen this coming.
– Is this interview a practice of the culture of the gig?
-Can be. I allow myself some contradictions.
“Have you outgrown your hyperproductive passion?”
“I almost succeeded, although I have had a relapse.” I have the feeling that the return to presence has multiplied the work. It’s as if analog has been added to what we were already doing on screens.
“Who are the truly free people now?”
—Those who have more control of their times.