Monday, May 21, 2007

La Perruque

Kristen Gallagher and Tim Shaner just started a journal called WIG, which they launched here in Portland at a strong group reading with Chris Alexander and Kit Robinson last week. Inspired by Michel de Certaeau’s account of la perruque, the French term for doing one’s own work on the job, WIG features writing that in some way “employs labor for poetic ends that implicitly critique—through the action of poaching company time &/or materials—the productivist logic of what Hannah Arendt calls ‘the laboring society.’”

It’s a good concept for a journal, since nearly all of us work for a living, and working’s largely an impediment to writing. That may be the biggest challenge for WIG as it rolls on: if it’s work vs. writing, as it is at the bulk of the corporate-sanctioned information jobs most poets do (including teaching), there are only so many moves on the chessboard to make. You can steal company pens, print your chapbooks in the copy room, cull spam or job argot into poems, scribble on airplanes and lunch breaks, take ‘work’ as your poetic subject (irony/threnody/stoic nobility), or ditch the effort altogether and plunge into debt via grad school.

I may have missed a few options in there. But it seems once that adversarial relation’s in place—the job vs. the writing—there’s not that much new left to say about either. Work has been theorized so heavily that it threatens to disappear under all the standard positions a creative person’s expected to hold about “work,” which can paradoxically confirm by inverse the very limits the corporate job imposes. You could even make a case for “creativity” itself—the idea of that little sparkle of trueself gasping for air in a soul-sucking job—as a product of the corporate work environment, its sexy brunette double with the cigarette holder and the mole.

Not that I’m harboring any great new truths about writing and the workplace. I’ve never had a job that sustained my writing, except in an adversarial way. I’ve never known poets to admit there’s no money in poetry, so they’re grateful for a job that brings in cash. (Dana Gioia comes close, but even he didn’t let the door hit his ass the day his Jell-O stock vested.) What’s nearest to the truth—that I’d probably walk straight into the Willamette if I didn’t have a job to buffer me from the work of facing the blank page every day—doesn’t do much to redeem the time I’ve exchanged for employment. Drinking, or reading, or maintaining a vast correspondence in the delicious manner of the 19th-century rentier, would have done the buffering just as well. Thinking about WIG forces me to confront my own inability to think about work as anything other than the sucky reality that drives thousands to expensive degree programs annually, despite all the data showing that’s silly.

Which is why I’m excited to see where WIG goes. If “writing work” works—if the workplace and writing can be put into a new relation, at the 401K-filling, morning-commute-with-a-9 a.m.-staff meeting grunt level so many of us face—it could save a whole generation from grad school.


BB said...

Hi Rodney,

Hey, I'm leaving this comment from my desk job--yes! It's not easy to find out how one can purchase and/or read WIG. Any advice? I've been giving it shallow Google all morning, and no luck.


rodney k said...

Hi BB,

"Shallow Google"--love that.

I couldn't find Wig online either, but here's the submission/subscription info from the inside cover:

130 E. 49th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97405
$4, checks payable to Tim Shaner

BB said...

Hey, thanks RK!

Wow, purchasing a print journal with a check by US Mail...feels like 1994!

John Sakkis said...

Hi Rodney,

Hey, I'm leaving this comment from the desk that Brandon Brown used to work on as I have now taken over his old job. Maybe this is new way to think about la perruque. poet's passing jobs onto their other poet friends ad infinitum. I know Brandon wrote at least 3 books while working at this desk and I plan on writing a book called Hella Hellas at this desk as soon as I get to it.

great great post Rodney.