Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell. The Wage Slave’s Glossary. Designed and decorated by Seth. Emeryville, Ontario. Biblioasis. 2011. 173 pages. $11.95 US / $12.95 CA.
One of the saddest things is that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours — all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.The work of a writer and editor (Glenn), a philosopher (Kingwell), and artist and designer (Seth), The Wage Slave’s Glossary is a sequel to the trio’s The Idler’s Glossary (2008), whose entries explored a world free from the imperatives of getting and spending. (Sample entries: skylarking, sleep, slouch, stroll.) This new book is both well and oddly timed. In an era of economic collapse, it makes good sense to examine the language of work and the ways in which such language naturalizes perspectives and practices that might otherwise seem repellent. (Consider downtime, which identifies the worker at rest with an out-of-service machine.) Yet when so many are desperate to find a job, any job, the authors’ anarcho-revolutionary suspicion of “the work idea” itself seems strangely detached from human circumstance and urgency. It’s nice to envision the world “as a site not of work but of play,” but one still has to eat.
William Faulkner, in a 1956 Paris Review interview
Suspicion of “the work idea” aside, The Wage Slave’s Glossary is a grand and saddening tour of language past and present. So many of the terms herein suggest weariness as the necessary consequence of work: boreout (“a syndrome of exhaustion and disillusionment caused by office work that is underwhelming and unsatisfying”), burnout (“long-term mental and emotional exhaustion and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment”), grinding house (slang for a house of correction, then for a place of work), guolaosi (“Mandarin neologism meaning ‘overwork death’”), karoshi (Japanese for “death from overwork”). Euphemisms abound: downsizing, for instance, which seems to have euphemisms of its own:
Also known as: recruitment, delayering, early retirement, force shaping, headcount adjustment, offshoring (or bestshoring), rightsizing or smartsizing, operational simplification, personnel realignment, rationalizing the workforce, recession, reduction in force (RIF), skill mix adjustment, workforce optimization, and workforce reduction (WFR).I’m struck too by the metaphors of modern working life: the many ceilings that impede ascent (bamboo, brass, concrete, glass, and stained-glass), the transformation of the human being into machine (bandwidth, multitasking) or obedient drudge. Busy as a bee?
Bees works tirelessly, without ever taking orders or varying their routines, only to be unceremoniously shoved out of the hive when they become useless to the collective.The Wage Slave’s Glossary is beautifully designed and made — small (4" x 6"), with a glossy embossed cover, cartooned endpapers, and numerous illustrations (each about ¾" square). It’s the kind of book that represents, I think, the future of print — the book as desirable object. (Decidedly not better on a Kindle.) The Wage Slave’s Glossary is — I’ll say it — a labor of love, and worth your money and time.
William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12 (Paris Review)
[Thanks to Biblioasis for a review copy of this book.]