Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book without a reader

From Anton Steinpilz's "First-Person Corporate," in The New Inquiry:

It might be, however, that Tretyakov’s biography of the object was an idea whose time had not yet come and may now only be just arriving. Specifically needed was development in the direction of what has come to be termed “post-Fordist” relations of production, in which value inheres no longer in goods primarily but in information and services. Within such relations, labor becomes immaterial, and Tretyakov’s conveyor belt doesn’t so much disappear as attenuate and ramify, becoming more a mediating trope than a real mechanism. In the novel
Personal Days (2008), author Ed Park offers a spirited send-up of postmillennial, post-Fordist office drudgery. The final section consists of an enormous e-mail composed on a laptop by a character named Jonah while he is trapped in an elevator. The correspondence, addressed to a former colleague of Jonah’s named Pru, ends with this arresting observation:

You said yourself, once, waiting for stuff by the asthmatic printer, that the office generates at least one book, no, one novel every day, in the form of correspondence and memos and reports, all the reams of numbers, hundreds of sentences, thousands of words, but no one has the mind to understand it, no one has the eyes to take it all in, all these potential epics, War and Peace lying in between the lines [...]

Here Park manages to articulate a narrative point of view you might call first-person corporate — which, incidentally, he marshals throughout the whole of
Personal Days to great effect, giving new impetus and texture to Dilbertian anomie. The resonances with Tretyakov’s biography of the object are obvious; but whereas Tretyakov points toward overcoming workers’ alienation, Park simply characterizes such alienation in terms consistent with 21st-century work life. Tretyakov imagines a novel without a hero. Park imagines one without a reader.

Heyyy—I'll take it!™


(One interesting note: toward the end, Steinpilz writes: "Social media simply consolidate and lend greater force to the anxiety felt by the characters of Personal Days. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter are the treadmills that fuel this anxiety." One thing that pins PD to a certain point in time is the fact that FB and Twitter aren't mentioned—I wasn't on either network while writing the book. I'll update it in the next version.)

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