Time's Deadly Arrow: Time and Temporality in Narratives of Immaterial Labor

Sabine von Dirke
2016 Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature  
The article investigates the discourse on time and temporality in non-fictional and fictional accounts of paid, white collar labor, or, in the broader terminology of Maurizio Lazzarato, immaterial labor since the last quarter of the twentieth century. More specifically, it brings the critique of neoliberal capitalism by two influential social philosophers, Richard Sennett and Oskar Negt, in dialogue with fictional narratives of white collar labor: Rainer Merkel's novel, Das Jahr der Wunder (The
more » ... ahr der Wunder (The Year of Miracles, 2001), W.E. Richartz's Büroroman (Office Novel, 1976) and Wilhelm Genazino's Abschaffel-trilogy (1977Abschaffel-trilogy ( -1979. Sennett and Negt's nonfictional accounts contrast living and working conditions under the current hyper-flexible, neoliberal market economy to an earlier mode of a socially responsible capitalism. The latter is often nostalgically depicted as a golden age of a state-regulated labor market designed to protect the majority of the working population from exploitation and economic hardship. Yet, narratives on the working world published during the 1970s call into question the assumption that state-regulated work hours offer better conditions for lived time and the constitution of subjecthood. Since the late 1990s, sleep deprived, hurried, disoriented figures have stumbled across the stage, populated feature films and have been the focus in social science as well journalistic accounts of making a living and a life under the auspices of neoliberalism's "dictatorship of efficiency" (Kurbjuweit). The dire tenor of these narratives highlights the ills of our times such as the erosion of face-to-face communication and increasing psychosomatic problems in the workforce. These maladies are usually attributed to the digitally induced culture of speed and immediacy that has profoundly transformed the working world and altered the experience of time and the conditions for the possibility of self-or subjecthood. 1 The following discussion investigates the discourse on time in nonfictional and fictional accounts of paid, white collar labor, or, in the broader terminology of Maurizio Lazzarato, immaterial labor since the last quarter of the twentieth century. Immaterial labor has become the dominant mode of remunerated work in Germany in the age of globalization, in which many blue collar jobs are lost to countries with lower production costs. This material development explains why most of the current nonfiction narratives condemning the pernicious effects of digital culture focus on this tertiary sector of the economy. In addition, the immaterial labor sector is most affected by recent advances in information communication technologies (ICT) (Tomlinson, Brynjolfsson and McAfee). For all their benefits, these devices are cited as a primary cause for the "Entgrenzung der Arbeit" 'delimitation of work hours,' as a 2010 cover story of Spiegel magazine characterizes today's erosion of clearly demarcated work and leisure times. 2 Most such narratives contrast living and working conditions under the current hyper-flexible, neoliberal market economy to an earlier mode of a socially responsible capitalism. The latter is often nostalgically depicted as a golden age of a state-regulated labor market designed to protect the majority of the working population from exploitation and economic hardship. An exploration of narratives of the working world set in the late 1960s through the 1970s calls into question the assumption that state-regulated work times offer better conditions for lived time and the constitution of subjecthood. My analysis of exemplary narratives of making a living and life under the sway of neoliberalism begins with nonfictional accounts generated in the social sciences. This is not meant to privilege social science narratives as "truthful" portrayals of neoliberalism's 24/7 time regime for which literary narratives are only of illustrative value. Instead, I consider social science accounts to be
doi:10.4148/2334-4415.1887 fatcat:zi7w7c5w45fgrdxbk5ptymymm4