Pressed upon me by the unsuspecting morning mailman (I marvelled at how little did he wonder: that within the contents of my parcel an author could bePressed upon me by the unsuspecting morning mailman (I marvelled at how little did he wonder: that within the contents of my parcel an author could be about to unpack all the futility of his public service endeavours) de Botton's latest fetched up, with it's newly-minted, freshly-printed, straight-from-the-creative-oven aroma and literally spine-breakingly creaking with words.
One subject at a time de Botton is gradually unpicking the stitching of the modern age. On the heels of travel, architecture, and our anxieties about status, work makes the perfect topic; after all, all of us use buildings but few of us seem bothered enough to form an opinion about them: not so work. Thanks to bourgeois mores and the need for a stable workforce we have all been conditioned with an expectation of locating happiness in our working lives (along with love inside our marriages).
So like the ship-spotters who improbably manage to find beauty alongside the cargo-docks that line the Thames and with admirable originality de Botton sets out to discover what might be meaningful in our daily toil amongst the artists, the accountants, the aeronautics industry. And logistics: sometimes refrigerated.
Someplace in the Midlands spectres haunting warehouse car parks night-lit by hissing halogen street lamps load 10,000 pre-packed prawn cocktail sandwiches together with out-of-season strawberries onto supermarket lorries. The horror of homogenized lunchbox logistics contains a troubling truth: an acknowledgement of our childish incapacity to defer our gratifications to the seasons.
In a seductively silky patter de Botton occasionally lets slip a statement which, as much as we might all want to nod our heads, comes unbuttressed by any supporting argument, for example: the causal relationship between a disenfranchised working class and binge drinking. Perhaps a more academic study would have found a place to deal with this in depth. In the section devoted to the painter (of the stretched canvas variety rather than a decorator) he seems to disappointingly rely on a Romantic notion of the artist living in poverty and driven by tragedy without considering that many people working in the visual arts may find their jobs mundane on a daily basis.
So nearing the time for clocking-off, appropriately enough as Eliot's 'violet hour' approached, it seemed proper to ask myself: what had I learnt?
Implausibly that in our modern age "Biscuits are nowadays a branch of psychology". Apparently Freud would have had a field-day (or at the very least a field trip: no doubt out to the home of United Biscuits in Hayes: described in deadpan prose as "surprisingly" devoid of charm).
If our present attitudes to work give any indication then we have reached the tepid teatime of our species: an age in which our sweetmeats are advanced by sub-commitees and subject to focus-groups. So much so that their very (insubstantial) pleasures seem in inverse proportion to the efforts of their planning. Yet this state of affairs characterizes so many of our efforts. As humans we add nothing to our previous achievements and we're doing it in triplicate, rubber-stamped by hollow city-suits sat in increasingly impersonal air-conditioned environments. It is with the determined risk aversion of the corporate accountant, the middle-management bureaucrat, and the Health & Safety officer that Man hedges ever closer towards extinction....more