Mark Kingwell, co-author with Joshua Glenn of The Wage Slave’s Glossary, the book that The New York Times called “a witty guide” for “energized Marxists and depressed Dilberts alike” visits the Conversation Crossroad radio program.
When a group of striking textileswell workers coined the phrase “wage slavery” in 1836, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was outraged. It’s an “abuse of language,” he said. His point was simple: wages, however slight, accord people a social distinction which society denies to the slave. Granted the milliners disagreed–but what the debate points out is how closely bound our senses of dignity, selfhood, and freedom are to the language we use to describe the work we do.
In other words? It’s no accident that weeks after the debt-ceiling scandal, on the heels of recession, in the face of Obama’s controversial jobs bill, and in a economy riddled by unemployment, Philip Levine was appointed US Poet Laureate. By valourizing the language of work, we valorize a central part of North American culture, and we valorize ourselves.
Mark Kingwell and Joshua Glenn already proved exactly how pro-labour our language can be with The Idler’s Glossary (2008). Yet when the recession hit and unemployment skyrocketed, even they had to acknowledge that a defense of idleness–however spirited–doesn’t go far enough. The language of work is insidious. It’s everywhere. “In clever hands,” argues Kingwell, “the controlling elements of work are repackaged as liberatory, counter-cultural, subversive: you’re a skatepunk rebel because you work seventy hours a week beta-testing videogames.”
Now, with The Wage Slave’s Glossary, Mssrs. Kingwell & Glenn are back, and they’re setting the record straight. The phrase “laid off” not cutting it? Maybe that’s because you were axed. Canned. Booted, cashiered, bounced out, let go. Or perhaps you find you’re not a 9-to-5er so much as a flexecutive, a McJobber, or a freeter. But whatever your job or your experience, what’s clear is that we’re in more need than ever of words to talk about what’s on everybody’s mind: employment. The Wage Slave’s Glossary is necessary reading from two of the sharpest cultural critics and moral wits our age has to offer.
Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based journalist and scholar. He has labored as a bicycle shop manager and skateboard courier, a busboy and barrel-washer, a researcher and teacher, a handyman and housepainter a bartender and espresso jerk, and also as a magazine and newspaper editor. The only work he has ever done was: publishing Hermenaut, an intellectual zine; contributing regular columns to Feed.com, The Idler (UK), Britannica.com, The London Observer, and The Boston Globe’s Ideas section; and editing Taking Things Seriously, a 2007 collection of essays and photos devoted to oddly significant objects.
After some years of graduate education in Britain and the United States, Mark Kingwell found he had inadvertently perfected a form of idling for which he could get paid. He is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, and has written for publications ranging from Adbusters and the New York Times to the Journal of Philosophy and Auto Racing Digest. Among his twelve books of political and cultural theory are the national best-sellers Better Living (1998), The World We Want (2000), and Concrete Reveries. In order to secure financing for their continued indulgence he has also written about his various hobbies, including fishing, baseball, cocktails, and contemporary art.
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