As much as I like writing about art and trying to pin down why I think certain things work well (or don't), I also think of this as an act of creating, not just revealing. the talking about art becomes a separate thing than what the experience of the art was to begin with. Talking about stuff is its own skill, separate from the act of "audiencing" (uh.. I'm trying to come up with a form-agnostic verb for engaging with art like "reading" for books or "playing" for games. I supposed "consuming" is the usual choice, although it doesn't feel quite accurate, does it?).

Sometimes the most exciting artistic experiences are the ones that we don't really have the frameworks to justify or explain. They may increase our feelings of wonder or spur us to try and understand why we were affected by it. It may feel like waking up from a dream: within the dream we are positive that whatever was happening was astonishing and important, but upon waking it feels impossible to explain to anyone, perhaps even ourselves, why we felt that way. How frustrating!

One of my favorite books is Seasonal Associate (the German book Saisonarbeit by Heike Geissler translated into English by Katy Derbyshire). I try to tell people about this book, but it resists satisfying description. For me it is one of those dream experiences that creates a bubble of context around itself. It seems to say: "while you are here, I am the only book that matters!" It's really sort of a bratty book, which I appreciate very much. This book is written in the second person, and the author tells you that you are her (in the past). And as her, she can tell you what you think and what you feel and what you do. Perhaps this is what most writing does, only here it has been made explicit.

It strikes me that Seasonal Associate is an "inverse video game". In a video game, you are told that your choices matter, and that the video game's world is set up such that you, the player, can extend into it. But here, you are the video game, and by reading this book you are being piloted around like Heike Geissler's own little virtual avatar. Of course I'm joking, because that is only a surface read on both ends. We won't just take the marketing copy at face value! A video game's world, regardless of how much you the player can do or customize within it, is always a product of curation, which inevitably conveys themes from the developers to the player. And to read a book requires the continuing active participation of the mind. In the case of a relatively obscure book, you had to stumble upon it or seek it out (unlike, say, a viral tweet or major ad campaign, it cannot just jump unsolicited into your mind as you go about other tasks). And so the author's voice in Seasonal Associate is a bit of a tyrant, but a tiny tyrant. A little lion cub that roars defiantly but it comes out as a squeak, and so we feed it and water it and it grows stronger. These days, we spend much of our time being pushed around and manipulated by powerful corporations who pretend to be our humble servants. So I find it refreshing for an author to essentially say: "Hey, can I boss around your mind for a minute?" And at the end of the day, it's only art: the author saying "You think this" doesn't automatically mean that you think it, any more than Amazon's logo containing a smiley face means that it is a fundamentally benevolent company.

An excerpt:

From now on, you are me. That means you're female; please don't forget that because it's important in places. You're a writer and a translator, and at this point in life you have two sons and a partner who suits you well, something you're usually aware of.


You don't normally have a boss. You'll soon know something about life that you didn't know before, and it won't just have to do with work, but also with the fact that you're getting older, that two children cry after you every morning, that you don't want to go to work, and that something about this job and many other kinds of jobs is essentially rotten.

You'll spend a lot of time thinking about what work is, why work ought not to be imposed on anyone. You'll misunderstand things and muddle things up and your sensitivity will be processed and challenged by the very first instance of the fatal, so it will take you a while to find out what's really troubling you, and to realize that your trouble and suffering are by no means specific to you, but astonishingly generic. Yes, you are generic; I intend to regard you as generic and introduce you to your most generic traits. But the specific ones come first. (Seasonal Associate, 2018, p. 11-13)

I didn't mention it yet, but this book is about the author's experience working in an Amazon fulfillment center. What I appreciate about the book is that it does deliver on what you'd expect from that premise: a revelation of the myriad little and not-so-little indignities heaped upon the Amazon worker by their smiling corporate overlords. Still, the figure of the laborer (via the Geissler/reader hybrid and the co-workers around her) resists valorization. We feel ourselves becoming smaller and pettier, not greater or more noble. The ways we set ourselves apart from it all gradually melt away. In such a world, all the best art will feel bratty, too obscure, too demanding.

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