8th Jun 2017 6:30pm
G7 Pavilion Parade
Fiction is Not Working: From Time-Wasting to the Refusal of Work
Dr Liam Connell, University of Brighton
In this paper I want to offer an overview of the fictional representation of clerical work in the contemporary novel. Looking across a number of novels I want to consider what kinds of things novelists depict when they try to capture the everyday experience of working in the contemporary office. I suggest that office work is usefully considered the characteristic form of contemporary work and also that its fictional representation involves certain formal problems that inhere in the work itself. That is say that, certain things that we expect from the novel are incompatible with the character of work as it is commonly experienced in the contemporary office. In particular I suggest that the repetitive nature of much contemporary work compels narrative fiction to characterise work via a series of non-work or time-wasting activities.
Secondly I suggest that the condition of precarity or precariousness is also the condition of most contemporary work and that this condition manifests forms of crisis that are perpetually imminent and yet, necessarily, perpetually forestalled. I speculate how much this experience of crisis accommodates fiction’s need for plot and resolves the difficulties with representing work that otherwise characterises the contemporary novel. Nevertheless, it also tends to propel the protagonists of novels away from work and I suggest that this takes two main forms: first as a neoliberal narrative of improvement, in which characters leave their job in search of better prospects and, second, as a potentially political form of the refusal of work.
Dr Liam Connell researches and lectures in modern and contemporary English Literature. He is the Director of C21: Research in Twenty-first Century Writings. His research focuses on the relationships of cultural texts to nations and transnational movements and he is an established writer on the representation of globalization and economy. Drawing from both literature and visual cultures, his work examines how changes in public discourses on these issues are reproduced and challenged. His book Precarious Labour and the Contemporary Novel will be out with Palgrave later this year.