Let us return, for a moment, to the specific ideology of leisure. Rest, relaxation, escape and distraction are, perhaps, ‘needs’: but they do not in themselves define the specific exigency of leisure, which is the consumption of time. Free time is, perhaps, the entire ludic activity one fills it up with, but it is, first of all, the freedom to waste one’s time, and possibly even to ‘kill’ it, to expend it as pure loss (this is why it is insufficient to say that leisure is ‘alienated’ because it is merely the time necessary to reproduce labour power. The alienation of leisure is more profound: it does not relate to the direct subordination to working time, but is linked to the very impossibility of wasting one’s time).
The true use-value of time, the use-value which leisure desperately tries to restore, is that of being wasted. The holidays are this quest for a time which one can waste in the full sense of the term, without that waste entering in its turn into a process of calculation, without that time being (at the same time) in some way ‘earned’. In our system of production and productive forces, one can only earn one’s time: this fatality weighs upon leisure as it does upon work. One can only ‘exploit [faire-valoir] one’s time’, if only by making a spectacularly empty use of it. The free time of the holidays remains the private property of the holiday-maker: an object, a possession he has earned with the sweat of his brow over the year; it is something owned by him, possessed by him as he possesses his other objects — something he could not relinquish to give it or sacrifice it (as one does with objects in making gifts of them), to yield it back up to total availability, to that absence of time which would be true freedom. He is tethered to ‘his’ time as Prometheus was tethered to his rock, tethered to the Promethean myth of time as productive force.
Sisyphus, Tantalus, Prometheus: all the existential myths of ‘absurd freedom’ are reasonably accurate representations of the holiday-maker in his setting, with all his desperate efforts to imitate ‘vacation’, gratuitousness, a total dispossession, a void, a loss of himself and of his time which he cannot achieve, being, as he is, an object caught up in a definitively objectivized dimension of time.
We are in an age when men will never manage to waste enough time to be rid of the inevitability of spending their lives earning it. But you can’t throw off time like underwear. You can no longer either kill it or waste it, any more than you can money, since they are both the very expression of the exchange-value system. In the symbolic dimension, gold and money are excrement. It is the same with objectivized time. But it is, in fact, very rare — and logically impossible in the current system — for money or time to be restored to their ‘archaic’, sacrificial function of excrement. That would really be to deliver oneself of them in the symbolic mode. In the order based on calculation and capital, things are, in a sense, precisely the opposite way about: objectivized by it, and manipulated by it as exchange-value, it is we who have become the excrement of money, it is we who have become the excrement of time.
Thus, everywhere, in spite of the fiction of freedom in leisure, ‘free’ time is logically impossible: there can only be constrained time. The time of consumption is that of production. It is so to the extent that it is only ever an ‘escapist’ parenthesis in the cycle of production. But, once again,this functional complementarity (variously shared out in the different social classes) is not its essential determination. Leisure is constrained in so far as, behind its apparent gratuitousness, it faithfully reproduces all the mental and practical constraints which are those of productive time and subjugated [asservi] daily life.
Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer Society