Does "labour-to-be" mean "the labour that is expected" or "the labour that is required for existence"?

The world is made up of random encounters (Lucretius, Hobbes, Marx, Althusser). Art, too, is made of chaotic, chance meetings of signs and forms. Nowadays, it even creates spaces within which the encounter can occur. Present-day art does not present the outcome of a labour, it is the labour itself, or the labour-to-be. (Bourriaud)


The plain reading (ignoring any nuances of art-speak) is that the art shows the worker doing the work instead of showing whatever the worker produced.

This work is either the work as it is being done (the labour itself) or the work expected to be done (the labour-to-be).

The form [X]-to-be is commonly used to mean "the person(s) about to become [X]", e.g. parents-to-be.

  • I'd comment further but I'm late for a meeting with some signs and forms. Or maybe it's a meeting where I have to sign some forms. Hard to tell. – deadrat Feb 22 '16 at 20:27
  • Continued from the reply on MW's thread. The phrase xxx-to-be is close enough to standard English terms like bride-to-be that it's understandable outside lit crit. I still maintain that these (well, this one's borderline) are more interesting than the guess what I'm thinking + guess my context also type of questions we've been getting. About signs and forms - yeah, there are days like that :P . – Lawrence Feb 23 '16 at 8:25

My guess would be that the author intended "the labour that is expected to occur", but that's just based on looking at the context.

Generally, the suffix "-to-be" means "that hasn't happened yet". Like if you were talking to someone about how you wanted to have children in the future, they might say "Do you ever imagine what your child-to-be will look like?"

I've never seen it used in the sense of "that is required for existence", but i don't know anything about Bourriaud or what they were talking about here.

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    Just a friendly note of caution - I stepped into this in another answer like you, just dealing with the English, without realising that some have strong opinions on the topic. Posts related to Bourriaud (and others of that genre) have attracted much criticism for going beyond ELU's scope because they use language in a non-standard way. For what it's worth, the primary basis for this objection is that analysis of the extremely stylised language is unlikely to be of use in any other context. – Lawrence Feb 22 '16 at 11:37
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    Thanks @Lawrence. I think the best that one can do here is to say "This is what it normally means, but i don't know what the writer meant". – Max Williams Feb 22 '16 at 11:42
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    @Lawrence speaks the name (or at least the style) of the devil, and I appear as if bidden into the comment thread. Didja notice how MW started his valiant attempt to explain the inexplicable? Yup: "My guess". May I renew my plea now? – deadrat Feb 22 '16 at 20:25
  • @deadrat indeed. Actually, guess didn't register until you mentioned it. Your unspoken toldjaso is noted. I'll continue in my own answer in an attempt to leave the innocents innocent. – Lawrence Feb 23 '16 at 8:17
  • @deadrat i come from a science background so obviously i try to avoid making any definitive statements ;-) – Max Williams Feb 23 '16 at 8:44

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