there is no free lunch… … but permanent breakfast…
Beyond the Economy
“There´s no such thing as a free lunch” … but permanent breakfast…
[Scene one:] “I don´t have time. ´´ said the old man leading a child by the hand across the main plaza in the town of Güssing. His pace increased after he was invited for coffee. Others are so agitated that they can´t verbally say no, they merely flick their wrists to where some show their wristwatches, to indicate they have no time.
[Second scene:] The main square in the town of Laa/Thaya. There is a breakfast table in the middle of a crowded parking lot. It becomes clear that people have come here to shop. They use the main square, which is also a parking lot, to hurriedly pack their purchases into their cars. Funny, people don´t seem to really take notice of the surreally–placed table. When people take a break it is in the overcrowded café´ on the edge of the square. A single local man approaches us. He says that his reputation in the town “is already ruined.´´ If it was not, it would be extremely embarrassing for him to be seen eating breakfast here in the middle of the day. And that, we learn, is why no one else wants to sit down with us.
What is going on?
It is clear that the old man and his grandchild who were walking across the main square in Güssing in reality did have time. But for whatever reason it is important that the suspicion not arise that they have too much time.
The glance and pointed finger at the wrist is a widespread gesture. We are given notice then that there someone is in a hurry, that time is running. No actual wristwatch needs to be there. The clock face has been internalised as if it were engraved into the human wrist. Gilles Deleuze calls it the “electronic collar´´ as a metaphor for the replacement in society of discipline by control.
That it is “too embarassing´´ to sit down is probaly due to the fact that we are having breakfast. Meals in themselves are social events which can also be enjoyed by guests outdoors. But to invite unknown passersby as guests and to confront them with a gesture of trust is an exciting part of the performance which is often reciprocated in a friendly way.
However, breakfast is that meal which takes place after the involuntary act of waking up, but which, despite the advice of experts, is usually eaten quickly or not at all.
A leisurely breakfast is usually had on Sundays, which marks it as a special day. Therefore, whoever eats breakfast in the middle of the day is somehow seen as stealing part of the day, someone who does not have the job which breakfast is supposed to nourish them for. The public breakfast culture has changed in recent years to the point where it has become a business, the rehabilitation of breakfast.
It has also recently provided the message that those who can leisurely enjoy their breakfast must belong to the most successful segments of society, who are not bound by office hours, who are on the road with cell phone and laptop, and who can do their jobs anywhere and everywhere. Hip breakfast bars as places for press conferences (press breakfasts!) and business meetings show that the new economy is willing to play with forms of leisure and to use them to their own ends (as in “Taxi Orange”, where the countercultural concept of the perfect communal apartment became instead a metaphor for neoliberal policies of selection, constantly being watched, and which mutated into an entertaining version of a society being controlled. Lunch is often the ideologically freighted meeting with other family members, including the saying of a prayer before the meal. But where this is not possible, namely in the office, the family is then simulated by wishing everyone “Mahlzeit!” at 12 noon. In comparison, dinner is used for talking about business or for a rendezvous and blind-dates. Breakfast is (or was) a private affair. In a robe, sleepy, silent, listening to the radio. Everyone at their own pace.
permanent breakfast also means bringing this private ritual into the public and to share a part of the interior life with strangers. It is seen as a provocation by many that we use the time before the sun goes down to breakfast, and that we see this as a meaningful use of time, and, even more so, that we do it in public. To participate in a small Austrian town is not without danger. It is a small leap from being a good citizen to being a bum. The distribution of free food is also seen as a provocation, although in scene two, relaxing in a cafe´ was completely acceptable. In the actual classic permanent breakfast, the consumption of food has a subordinate role, however, that there are discrete treats on offer when coffee is being served (as a silent gesture to provide something edible) is a necessary part of the ground rules: Everyone invites a person to breakfast, while payment comes in the form of “grasping at straws” (Paul Watzlawick calls it a “chain reaction of the good ”, the end of “zero sum games”). Everyone is familiar with public gifts, especially those involving food, and we´re all well-trained in the proper cultural codes: there is no free lunch. For many people this is a fact which for them also applies to free samples in advertising campaigns. These people have enough reasons to avoid our table. Being a member of the economy, therefore, means to be thoroughly mistrustful of all other possible lifestyles, especially those which do not or will not follow economic norms. For such people these are danger zones to be avoided because they might place a question mark over their day-to-day lives.
We should seriously consider if there is not really such an imperative: there is no free lunch. And there should never be any because people think “I want to earn my own.´´
In recent decades there has been the recurring discussion about the crisis within the working class if the identity-creating effects of working and earning should be completely rethought to consider forced periods of unemployment as containing the positive potential of a “time out”, if the economy was organized in a different way (that is, a guaranteed income for everyone). Then these involuntary loafers would not have to hide themselves by aping normality in refusing our offer of breakfast.
Clearly, in light of climbing unemployment and an alleged economic crisis and the surrender of any real attempt to realistically reconfigure the economy while thinking of economic growth results in nothing but handwringing. Yes, and we also go along with it because we know there is nothing “beyond the economy´´, that all “timeout islands´´ from the workforce were always part of the organization of the economy, etc., etc. Dialectically, for us professional loafers the breakfast is hard work and a difficult way to make a living.