I read this Donald Barthelemeian text this morning, and fell instantly in love, as I tend to do with writing that is as apparently spot-on as this. Written by Anna Wiener, it felt recognizable, updated, literary, and self-aware all the way down to the intermixed Freud and feminist references buried in the title.
It also felt confessional enough to make me feel disconnected, not from the text but from the larger culture that is growing up around these Silicon Valley heroic start-ups and their continued fetishization (an oldie but goodie critical term). It reminded me a bit of Ben Lerner’s novels which I have discussed in other post entries, and made me wonder about the continued lens I use to look at these pieces – is it autobiographical or not? Would I like this narrator if I knew them? Is it self-indulgently asking us for pity (a plea that I like to reject even as I seek pity myself), or is it just self-indulgent? Is it so relentlessly hopeless about our ability to change this (it doesn’t feel like our) culture that hopelessness itself becomes cathartic?
My reading lens, I guess, runs in this fashion – ah, here’s somebody who understands the inherent contradictions in this system. I feel your pain, she is saying, I have identified (again) the cultural manifestations of this evil, I have provided an empathetic space from which we can share (and thus de-emphasize, perhaps) our corporate-induced misery. We can share our sardonic, cynical, yet-want-to-believe-that-there-is-hope perspective, and laugh together over things that seem to keep working out okay.
Maybe the Bartheleme feel I get from this text (think “Indian Uprising”) is simply the lens I’m looking through this week, but it feels particularly appropriate in this context.
The contrast, then, is perhaps someone like Whitney Cummings or China Mieville, folks also incredibly well-versed in all the concerns that Weiner discusses here. Cummings is a comedian who has had network success as a show creator and producer, and whose own stand-up is confrontational and empathetic simultaneously, producing those moments in which I find myself not laughing but thinking, and thinking about ways to create change. Mieville is deliberate, conscious, self-aware, and an activist, rethinking literary genres from the perspective of both craft and theory, an academic who sells enough fiction to make a living comfortably, and yet someone who participates in activist movements in surprising and active ways, constantly seeking to change the narratives of current conversations.
Both seem unwilling to take the we-are-defeated-and-our-best-hope-is-to-hang-on approach. I understand Weiner’s essay, and I feel her pain – the gig economy is both scarily old and new, with its piecework economy feel leavened with a fascination with a new economy. Still, resistance I think is not necessarily futile…