It is a truth universally acknowledged that work sucks and you shouldn’t do it.
This is an argument – the one Kathi Weeks puts forward early in her boIt is a truth universally acknowledged that work sucks and you shouldn’t do it.
This is an argument – the one Kathi Weeks puts forward early in her book – that I can definitely get behind. The first half of “The Problem with Work” is a very adept analysis of the way work, and workers’ concepts of work, shape our lives (she focuses primarily on the United States). Beginning with Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” she describes the “work ethic” and its function in keeping workers active at making money for their bosses, and fits her analysis within the anti-work strains of Marxist thought, most notably the autonomist tradition. While it’s heavily academic and often a slog to get through, the analysis and critique of work she puts forward is engaging and convincing, though thoroughly depressing to read while commuting.
The second half of the book is something of a prescription: Weeks sees a Universal Basic Income (UBI) with no strings whatsoever attached, along with a curtailed 6-hour workday (with no loss in pay), as ways to begin to decouple the human subject from work – in the first case, by separating sheer subsistence from a requirement to work, and in the latter by opening up additional spaces for non-work activities. She connects these concepts to Marxist feminist thought via a connection to the “wages for housework” movement that was once prevalent in feminist circles, both in the similarity of the demand for money (in one case, for as-yet unpaid work, in the other for no work at all) and in the act of demanding itself.
While she makes some convincing points about the act of demanding and its potential effect on the system even when the demands are not met, the second half of the book feels slightly bloated with a long chapter on utopian thinking and a lackluster explanation of the demands (that don’t, in the end, seem all that utopian). In the time-worn reform vs. revolution debate, she seems to consider her propositions as revolutionary, but I see them as fairly unimpressive reforms. Many libertarian thinkers have proposed a basic income of some kind, for instance, as a way to reduce the size of bureaucratic government and let market forces take even further control of people’s lives. And while an income without restrictions would be liberating for a great number of people (I’m not against it, I should say, I just find it wanting), it still requires a body to administer it (the state, one assumes) that is presumably seen as distinct from the people who receive the income.
Ultimately, the UBI/6-hour-day project seems better capable of assisting an alternative group to exist alongside the capitalist class, but in no way seriously challenges capitalist hegemony. If the goal is to create space within capitalism for people to either not work, work less, or some combination of both that leads to expanded autonomy, then that seems like a nice short-term goal. However, while Weeks makes some arguments that this short-term goal will make space for long-term thinking, the self-styled utopianism of the book’s specific demands feels a bit lacking.
Overall, like many of this kind of text, the analysis of the problem was considerably better than the prescriptions for solutions. It’s also worth noting that the book is clearly intended for an academic audience, and can often be dauntingly heavy with references to various concepts that are not explained in detail (in other words, you’ll be Googling stuff). ...more
Look, you pretty much know if you’re going to like this book because Morrissey has been famous for 30 years and the sides are pretty well dug-in by noLook, you pretty much know if you’re going to like this book because Morrissey has been famous for 30 years and the sides are pretty well dug-in by now. Fans will enjoy it, non-fans will not – and the strange, troubled, masochistic fans-who-hate will enjoy hating it. (Some categories are bigger than others – that last one is quite large.)
The first half is better than the second, with poetic descriptions of 1960’s Manchester and a childhood spent mostly alone – the pages about television program(mes) from his youth become almost tiresome, though he knows how to make things interesting. His experience at school reads like the first act or two of a story in which abused schoolboys get their revenge on sadistic teachers, but there’s no comeuppance – in fact, a large theme of the book could be that, for all one’s pain, there’s no guarantee of revenge. Sometimes you just have to take it.
That, of course, is the martyr in Morrissey speaking – he certainly paints himself as one, and for the most part you’re compelled to agree. The second half of the book isn’t as good, but it has its moments. After the breakup of the Smiths, treated more like an awkward bit of downsizing than anything emotional, Morrissey clearly has moments of pride, but sees himself as used and abused by pretty much everyone. The trial, in which drummer Mike Joyce sued both Morrissey and Johnny Marr for back pay during his time with the Smiths, may not be interesting to everyone, but the logic and legal thinking Morrissey displays suggest that Stephen Morrissey of Manchester could have made a fine barrister, if he’d been allowed to attend a decent school.
The trial, however, goes on too long. Just when it seems over, there’s an “and another thing!” moment that brings on another segment of unnecessary complaining. Once he finally puts that to rest, we get an extended tour diary that feels more like a spreadsheet about concert attendance numbers than it does a memoir, but the pithy observations and funny stories that pop up here and there make it easy enough reading, if not particularly moving.
That’s the thing that the ordinary Morrissey image doesn’t tend to reflect – the Smiths were a band that wrote funny songs, not just miserable ones (even “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” is a pretty damn funny song). The book is, really, hilarious at its best moments, full of cutting barbs and ridiculous situations. He grinds his axes, and he gets what little revenge on a person that a mean portrayal in a book can give, but ultimately the book seems like one of his albums. Moments are petty, moments are awkward, moments are hilarious, and moments – a lot of them – are transcendent. ...more
Hedges is a talented writer with an impressive amount of experience, and this book, which came out shortly after 9/11 (when war was on everyone’s mindHedges is a talented writer with an impressive amount of experience, and this book, which came out shortly after 9/11 (when war was on everyone’s mind) is definitely a display of this. His specifics are primarily from the Balkan conflicts of the 1990’s, but he does good work in expanding on his specifics into more universal phenomena.
The book is short, which is a kind of mercy, since it is definitely not happy fare. It’s never boring, certainly, but it is consistently bleak and can feel like a sort of dental drilling on one’s humanity.
But that’s not my complaint with the book – in fact, the balance Hedges has between litany of sorrow and functioning polemic is really quite good. What doesn’t work, however, is the statement that Hedges makes at the outset: that for all that comes after the introduction, he is not a pacifist.
That’s fine, certainly – it’s not that I disagree with this point that makes me complain, but that at no point in the book did I feel like a proper justification was made for this sentiment. Everything in the book, with the exception of the “but I’m not a pacifist – I do think war can be justified” lines, points to the inherent unjustifiability of armed conflict. And while I understand that complete pacifism and anti-interventionism can seem like a naïve position, the naivete remains assumed, and never explained.
I walked away from Hedges’ accounts of his experiences questioning the acceptability of war even as a basic concept, which I think was partially his intent – but his statement that he cannot accept sheer pacifism is never sufficiently explored, left to stand self-evident in ways that the rest of his book undercuts. If war is never justified but in some cases necessary, then I’d like to hear more about the circumstances that necessitate it. ...more
While it doesn’t have the compulsive quality that her Cromwell books have, the key strengths that Hilary Mantel shows off in "Wolf Hall" and "Bring UpWhile it doesn’t have the compulsive quality that her Cromwell books have, the key strengths that Hilary Mantel shows off in "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies" are certainly here – distinctive voices for her characters, an expert manipulation of point-of-view, and a factually-based but somewhat iconoclastic representation of famous personalities. It’s trite to say, but she has a gift for breathing new life into historical figures that makes them new, unfamiliar, and exciting.
Writing about the French Revolution, here, Mantel has an odd project at hand: a historical novel told in this manner necessitates a certain highlighting of individuals, and yet one of the major ideas that the individuals she highlights share is a certain belief in the force of the People – the populism of the main characters is in some ways ironic considering their position as main characters. This is less of a criticism than an irony inherent to historical fiction in general – and Mantel is clearly aware of it as she shows characters considering the individual’s role in history.
Perhaps the era of Danton, des Moulins, and Robespierre is particularly harsh when it comes to the contrast between individual actions and populist forces, but even as the three protagonists try to shape history, they’re constantly swept up in it. This is a nuance that is less present in the Cromwell books, but gives an important wrinkle to this story.
Ultimately, though, the book is a bit long and can be a slog at times. While it has more layers to its approach, it doesn’t have the same gripping quality that makes the newer books so hard to put down. Still, it’s a good portrait of the revolution, and three of the men who shaped its early stages. ...more