<img src=“https://cdn.uploads.micro.blog/139275/2024/1922dd0f-2054-4f52-b82f-d17c513dfe80.webp" width=“600” height=“342” alt=“This image is a digital collage that layers photographic textures with digital painting. A monochrome urban landscape in dark gray symbolizes the conventional work environment, while vibrant pockets of red, yellow, and blue form miniature worlds floating above the city. These bubbles represent “temporary autonomous zones” where individuals can engage in purposeless action and creativity, highlighting the contrast between the daily grind and the personal sanctuaries we create for ourselves.">

I hadn’t thought of the early days of the pandemic as being akin to a general labour strike. Interesting. I could quote the entirety of this article, but I’ll just mention one thing that I haven’t included below: “It is because of its emptiness that the room is useful.” (Lao Tzu). The author of this article, David J Siegel, uses this to make the point that I’ve used as the title for this post; that absence is not defection.

The early period of the pandemic (which approximated in many respects a kind of general labour strike) gave some of us an intimation of what life lived largely off the clock can be like when much of what passes for work is suspended or slowed and we are afforded precious ‘little gaps of solitude and silence’, as the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze called them, to engage in worthy pursuits that elude us under normal circumstances. We found incomparable personal freedoms and new opportunities for enrichment and fulfilment in the cessation of many of our standard operating procedures.

Then, as everyone recalls, we were summoned back to the office. But, once we had experienced this new way of being, the prospect of returning to the old order – submitting to the control, policing and surveillance of our former workaday lives – became almost unthinkable, especially for members of a chronically insecure workforce forced to endure low pay, lack of opportunity for advancement, inflexible schedules, and a multitude of everyday insults and indignities. Perhaps the chief insult to us all is the governing assumption that we must be collocated – or collated – to do our best work, despite having demonstrated our capacity for self-directed productivity from home (or other private quarters) under the most trying circumstances.


In The Scent of Time: A Philosophical Essay on the Art of Lingering (2009), Byung-Chul Han suggests that our experience of intervals is being ‘destroyed in order to produce total proximity and simultaneity’. When everything (and everyone) is within reach at all times, we lose a sense of what it means to be in – and even to savour – transitional states of in-betweenness. As an antidote, [some authors] recommend that we ‘tarry with time’ and ‘make spaces for the play of purposeless action’.

We can, in other words, reappropriate some of the time and space being withdrawn from us. These can be reclaimed in the fugitive moments we thieve from the calendar, or they can be recovered in what the anarchist Hakim Bey in 1985 called ‘temporary autonomous zones’: undetectable underground enclaves that we carve out of the landscape of our everyday lives in order to find or free ourselves. Simultaneously, practices of disengagement might withdraw from organisations (workplaces primary among them) their extraordinary power to mediate – to dictate and direct – far too many aspects of our existence and experience. Opting to bypass certain workplace amenities and conveniences expertly designed to keep us at work – the cafeteria, the fitness centre, the dry cleaner, the onsite health clinic – might not seem like much of a tactic of rebellion, but it does its part to lessen our dependence on our employer as lifehack, helpmate or healer.


Withdrawal has an almost universally negative connotation in public life, where it is treated as the ultimate transgression and disdained as retreat or defeat – the very opposite of engagement. However, to withdraw is also, crucially, to repair – both to go to a place and to mend. From this perspective, withdrawal is not merely a defeatist tack; rather, it is, or can be, direct action for a restoration of intellectual life – the kind that is free to ask (to fully engage with) impertinent questions – in settings that have practically banished it, made it inaccessible, or are attempting to monitor and monetise it according to terms not of our choosing.


Among the questions some of us are investigating in our contemplative moments of disengagement, withdrawal, removal, retreat or escape – however we choose to designate those instances when we take our leave – are these: when, or to what extent, do our norms of organisational affiliation and attachment make us sick or otherwise compound the very problems such forms of connection are meant to solve? In what ways might our occasional absences improve our solitary and even our solidary experiences of work and of life more generally?

Source: Aeon