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Posts Tagged ‘work’

Floating Capital

October 21, 2015 | by

Fear him.

The eeriest and most gravid of today’s new emoji is this guy: the so-called Man in Business Suit Levitating. In Apple’s rendition, he cuts an imposing figure, like a rich kid who’s just aced his LSATs—a simpering, dubiously pompadoured fella in polarized glasses and a natty suit. His tapered silhouette hangs above a blip of a shadow. He’s a superhuman exclamation point. He’s the floating face of capitalism. And if literature has taught us anything, it’s that he brings nothing but bad news wherever he roams.

I’m prepared to advance an entirely unfounded argument based on an hour of Googling: that this levitating businessman is the latest, most accessible form of a character who has haunted literature for more than a century. Sometimes wily, sometimes unscrupulous, and sometimes merely misguided, he’s held aloft by Adam Smith’s invisible hand only to be flung earthward again. Join me, won’t you, on an impromptu whistle-stop tour of THE LEVITATING BUSINESSMAN IN LITERATURE.Read More »

The Honeymoon Package

October 13, 2015 | by

Pál Szinyei Merse, Balloon, 1882.


She said that my good qualities were my bad qualities—this I have come to realize is true of everyone. On the one hand, I was game, eager and perfectly ready to see what was in front of me. On the other hand, I had no sense of direction or destiny. —Laurie Colwin

Those of us without a sense of direction have never known anything else; its absence is more annoying to others than to us. Actually, to us it seems normal to be marooned in a mysterious landscape, reliant on technology, at the mercy of others. Maps are of course inscrutable; they depend on an essential understanding of space. It is interesting, and sometimes enviable, that other people should have an internal compass. But also strange, and maybe even sinister. How do they know? Read More »

You’re Hired

September 9, 2015 | by

I wrote ringtones for Donald Trump.

The year was 2004. Both NBC’s The Apprentice and really fun cell-phone ringtones had taken an unsuspecting public by storm. I had managed to elude both—I kept my phone on vibrate and I was ready to stare in bemusement at anyone even thinking of telling me I had been “fired.”

But I needed money, so when the call came to write ringtones for Donald Trump, a quiet businessman from Queens who had been reluctantly thrust into the spotlight by the seventh most popular program on network television at the time, I said yes. I had been doing some freelance writing and one of my clients was among the tangle of corporations assigned to the case. Fortunately, they decided to throw me a bone.

Of course, I knew a thing or two about Trump already. He had flawless hair; he slept on piles of money each night; given the choice between having something not gold-plated or entirely gold-plated, he chose door number two every time. Still, I wanted to do the best job possible, so I had one of Trump’s minions send me copies of two of his books, Trump: The Art of the Deal and Trump: The Art of the Comeback, as well as an anatomically correct Trump doll that would tell me all sorts of things every time I pressed its back, something I couldn’t help but do repeatedly as soon as it came into my possession. Read More »

In Which Mark Twain Perspires

July 20, 2015 | by

Sam Clemens in September 1867.

A letter from Mark Twain to John T. Moore, July 1859. Moore, also known as Tom, was an “old river man” and a longtime friend of Twain’s. More than twenty years later, in 1883, this note appeared in The Arkansas Traveler and was afterward reproduced by papers nationwide—a few weeks later, though, the Traveler’s editor, Opie Read, claimed it was a hoax, thus casting doubt on its authenticity. Today most Twain scholars believe it to be genuine, suggesting that the notion of a hoax was, itself, a hoax.

Memphis, July 6, 1859.

My Dear John:—

I have made many attempts to answer your letter which received a warmth of welcome perspiringly in keeping with the present system of hot weather; but somehow I have failed. Now, however, I screw myself down to the pleasant task. It is a task, let me tell you, and it is only by the courtesy of friendship that I can call it pleasant. Read More »

Clown Pain Is True Pain, and Other News

May 29, 2015 | by


Hans Breinlinger, Clown mit Spiegel, 1948.

  • Face it, America: ours is a culture that hates clowns. Coulrophobia is real, and it is systemic. But how do its victims feel? “I want respect, and I don’t want respect,” Boswick, a clown from San Francisco, has said. “I want respect for who I am and my résumé and how hard I work, how many classes I’ve taken, and at the same time I think respect for clowning is the dumbest thing in the world. Why would you have respect for clowns? Clowns are the ones who’re making fun of the world. If you respect the clown, the clown’s doing something wrong.”
  • Americans don’t give French Canadians much respect, either—and even if most of that can be blamed on Celine Dion, it’s still time to make a change. We might start by reading Raymond Bock’s Atavismes: Histoires, now available in English: “Readers will need to break through its decidedly specific references: the book, a collection of thirteen short stories, makes few concessions to those unfamiliar with the particulars of Quebec culture—a helpful appendix explains joual cursing (in which equivalents of chalice and host are two of the most vile expletives) and French Canadian touchstones such as the Quiet Revolution, les filles du roi, and the folksinger Paul Piché.”
  • In which Arthur Conan Doyle experiments with drugs—specifically with gelsemium, a dried rhizome of yellow jasmine: “A thick, black cloud swirled before my eyes, and my mind told me that in this cloud, unseen as yet, but about to spring out upon my appalled senses, lurked all that was vaguely horrible, all that was monstrous and inconceivably wicked in the universe.”
  • To look at a list of the most popular headlines on social media is to become deeply sad and afraid: “publications’ sensibilities have conformed to the platforms that send them visitors; their sites have adopted the tone and language of social media; news and entertainment, mixed as ever, now mingle according the demands and preferences of the feeds into which they are deployed.”
  • In Europe, fiction is the new reality in the workplace—if you can’t get a job, you can try to get a fake job. “Inside virtual companies, workers rotate through payroll, accounting, advertising and other departments. They also receive virtual salaries to spend within the make-believe economy. Some of the faux companies even hold strikes—a common occurrence in France.”

Work About Work

May 14, 2015 | by


Mika Rottenberg, Barbara from Mary’s Cherries, 2004, color photograph

Mika Rottenberg’s installation NoNoseKnows, showing now at the Venice Biennale, focuses on production, as much of her work does: in the video, we watch an assembly line of women making pearls. They turn hand cranks; they manipulate knitting needles; they partake of the despondent rigmarole that is factory life. Soon enough, though, the images lurch toward phantasm. Some of the women are dozing peacefully at their stations; some have their feet submerged in whole baskets of pearls; and their labor is directed from underground by a kind of Pinocchio-nosed queen bee, an exhausted, frazzled woman with a nasty cold. Then, as Randy Kennedy writes in the New York Times, comes the denouement:

the woman sneezes explosively, causing steaming plates of Chinese food and pasta to burst from her inflamed schnozz, which seems to provide the pearl workers’ sole nourishment; the process repeats, maybe endlessly.

Yum. Read More »