Questions for Jochen Gimmel

Read the German interview here.


Dr. Jochen Gimmel is a research associate and postdoc in the subproject G3 “Decreeing Work, Regulating Leisure – and Otium? Marxism and dosug in Soviet Culture”.

“Places of Otium – worldwide”: The subproject G3 is, on the one hand, about the concepts of otium which run throughout Marx’s writings and, on the other hand, about how these concepts were taken up by artists, writers, and intellectuals. It spans a very broad field. What are your key activities and how do they relate to the project’s fundamental questions?

Jochen Gimmel: My research revolves around the work of Marx, his different work phases, and his work environment; that includes early socialist writings, his take on Hegel, and in a more general sense the Young Hegelians. The point is to determine what otium means conceptually. That is not at all easy because even though the term ‘otium’ occurs, it is not particularly central. Rather, otium appears as a concept- a recurrent motif or theme, admittedly in different places and in different forms throughout Marx’s works. Concepts around spare time, spare available time, and hence around leisure are central. Specifically, time is not only understood as a function of work (in the sense of recovery or the regeneration of capacity), but rather as an actual chance at self-fulfillment or self-realization on the individual level; so instead of time as a quantity, the quality of time becomes essential. This motif is relevant for the research questions of the subproject. In the Soviet Union, which was heavily influenced by Marx’s writings, the nature and function of free time/leisure were being put to the question. “Do we understand ourselves as a pure working society? Or do we aspire to a society which aims to create spaces for self-fulfillment? And what does that actually mean?” – that is a somewhat simplified summary of the questions of those times. They were certainly pressing at the time, even if they were pushed to the background due to the practical constraints that tend to come with a revolution.

“Places of Otium – worldwide”: With the Places of Otium project, we are interested in places in which otium is possible. How relevant are places and spaces the life and work of Marx?

Jochen Gimmel: In Marx’s writings these aspects are of rather indirect relevance, and I have not considered an exclusively spatial dimension. I addressed this to some extent in the lecture series “Otium and Science”, in reference to the scientific relationship between Marx and others, for example Max Weber. I tried to demonstrate how the actual scientific working conditions of people such as Marx were examined, with a number of descriptions of their working modalities invoking notions of otium. In this respect, certain spaces/places (office, dining room, walkways, etc.), or even certain artifacts in those places, play an important role, for example the sofa. The space and its specific arrangements are integral parts of a sense of scientific productivity. This is very interesting since most of the time we are looking at very ambivalent places, in the sense that they can either foster scientific productivity, or often offer some occasion for distraction. For me, this tension is evident in nearly all text passages where the space or location of scientific production plays a role.

“Places of Otium – worldwide”: Was Marx alone in these places, or is his scientific and journalistic production connected with a form of sociability, from which otium for production or productive otium could have resulted?

Jochen Gimmel: In the way that you are using the term, I would say that these spaces were actually very sociable. Apart from the lonely work of writing, they were very often places of conversation – places where a quiet discussion amongst friends came about, or even a sociable gathering, in which ideas were significantly developed. I would therefore not rule out that otium also occurred in a social setting. Incidentally, this sometimes involved intoxication and the excessive use of substances for pleasure. The subject of intoxication and smoking regularly arose in descriptions of Marx, both by himself and by others. The drinking would then in effect be described as the starting point of an intoxication that can later develop into something elevated and productive. In those texts, intoxication is often directly linked to productivity. Especially outsiders relate that Marx drank heavily while simultaneously achieving brilliant intellectuals feats; here, intoxication serves as inspiration. The same motif can be found with regard to Max Weber. This thinking in and as a part of an intoxication stands in a certain humanistic tradition – at least Weber refers to Plato in such contexts.

“Places of Otium – worldwide”: Mr. Gimmel, thank you very much for the discussion!


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