Hard-working Idleness

Here’s a letter I wrote to Harper’s about an article in their Nov. 04 issue:
Mark Slouka (“Quitting the Paint Factory” Nov. 04) did an inspiring “job” of demonstrating the value of hard-working idleness”¦ his ruminations on our overworked culture and the religion of The Economy led serendipitously through the Futurists to the Future”¦er um, the present, personified by the visibly-rushing-busily-“working hard“-towards-psychosis George W. Bush. Maybe our new fascists will be defeated by the time this letter arrives in the Harper’s mailbox, but the larger logic that has dominated my life, that is The Greatest Speedup in Human History, clearly will keep gaining momentum.
There are plenty of dissidents tilting against this logic, most of them having difficulty finding time for idleness in the face of the planetary work machine. Thousands more are too busy creating the social and technological foundations for a life after capitalism to hold a steady job. Ironies abound.
My only frustration with Slouka’s piece is that it reinforces a false opposition between working frenetically and idleness. The real opposition that most of us are balanced on is between doing stupid work that serves no purpose (though it does pay wages) versus the important work that we do outside of the logic of remuneration because we enjoy it and it’s worth doing. Thanks to Slouka, though, for eloquently going public in favor of slowing down and making time and space for human life, not work.
–Chris Carlsson
The Committee for Full Enjoyment (not full employment!)

The Factory

The Factory
by M.J. Carden

www.publishamerica.com: Baltimore, 2004, 291 pages, ISBN 1-4137-0733-5

This novel is set in a small machine factory in England in the early 1970s. It begins with a young man, terribly disaffected after years of rote, mind-numbing schooling, getting a job from the local employment office and showing up to work with a cautious enthusiasm about his new adulthood. It takes a very short time before he is introduced to the insanity and brutality that rules the roost in this particular factory, a perverted dehumanization that we readers soon understand as the norm in factory life more generally.

I had the pleasure of meeting the author, and even staying at his house in Liverpool for a few days back in 1999. Carden was one of the main organizers of an ultimately unsuccessful effort to protect the unionized dockworkers of Liverpool. In that capacity he had plenty of chances to see up close and personally the ways traditional union structures” and the people who rise to lead them” become obstacles to workers asserting their own power.

Continue reading The Factory

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
by Haruki Murakami
This novel pulled me in and held me spellbound, occupying that favored niche known as my night book” the one I read for 15-45 minutes before falling asleep. I prefer good fiction as my eyes fail and I grow tired.
This story is not easy to characterize, being part science-fiction, part mystery, part existentialist drama, and part psychological thriller. What more could one ask for from a novel, really? Murakami, who my 20-year-old daughter has been pushing on me with wild enthusiasm already for a couple of years, is a brilliant prose writer, and the translation from Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum must be great because it’s taut, whimsical, ironic, and pointed. If any previous book I read came to mind it was Phillip K. Dick’s “Through a Scanner Darkly,” not because the stories are really similar, but because this book is the only other one I’ve read that really gets inside a brain that is completely halved itself. I can hardly imagine such a schizoid reality; in Dick’s novel it’s brutal and painful and hard to take. In Murakami’s it’s funny and amazing, hard to believe but weirdly hopeful too.
Something about the tone of this novel kept reminding me the author is Japanese, but then around ¾ of the way through it, that finally fell away, only to re-emerge when the final scenes unfold in Tokyo. I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to the daily experiences and psychological worlds of contemporary Japanese (or any other era, for that matter) so I often found myself wondering if this book reflected that or not. Probably not, because Murakami is clearly a virtuoso, an imaginative genius, and like all great writers, captures a certain universal “truth” about our condition.
This is my first full novel of his, though I recall reading a New Yorker story a year ago or so. That was rather more somber than this novel, which is occasionally hilarious, but mostly utterly absorbing. But I’ll be voraciously going through his writings now. I’m really intrigued to check out his nonfiction. He apparently wrote a book on the Sarin gas suicide cult that attacked the subway system. Another real-life metaphor for larger dynamics I suppose.
Anyway, top rating for this one.