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2004-06-29 - 4:21 p.m.

Start the Week is a radio programme where authors push their recently published books. One such caught my ear and I have tracked down some extracts:

“Empathy has become big business. empathy makes money. “The power of identifying oneself mentally with (and so fully comprehending) a person", has become an important skill in the labour market. André Gorz argues that while the assembly line represented "the total and entirely repressive domination of the worker's personality", what is now required is the "total mobilisation of that personality".

The defining characteristic of the relationship economy is ambiguity, and that can require immense skill to navigate. The boss now has to combine a wide range of skills, from those of a diplomat to those of a friend - skills of persuasion, tact, diplomacy, leadership, even of being "likable" and, worst of all, funny: David Brent, the infamous boss in the television comedy series The Office, wanted above all to be seen as a "good laugh" "Work is a vocation, a calling ... employees start thinking like artists and activists, they actually work harder for the company. If work is a form of self-expression, then you never want to stop. Business is not about making money; it's about doing something you love."

The concept of "self-realisation", as developed in the therapy and New Age movements of the 60s and 70s, can be trimmed down to mesh neatly with the neo-liberal labour market, comments writer and social critic Thomas Frank in One Market Under God. Paid work has so successfully absorbed the "project of the self" that it marginalises all other routes to fulfilment, such as caring or the passion of the amateur.

Success requires constant adaptation and reinvention of the self and its skills.

Yiannis Gabriel, professor of organisational theory at Imperial College compares Max Weber's famous characterisation of the "iron cage" of industrial bureaucracies with the "glass palace of flexible organisations" in contemporary work culture, where successes are never an equilibrium but "temporary triumphs at the edge of the abyss". This fuels its own rollercoaster of adrenaline and exhilaration; snatching victory - the next big deal, a big sale - from the jaws of defeat. Out of the discontinuous, episodic career "all of us construct and reconstruct our fragile selves, moving from glass palace to glass cage, at times feeling anxiously trapped by it, at others feeling energised and appreciated, and at others depressed and despondent," says Gabriel.

"The sale of the self makes relentless demands on one's life," writes Reich. "It also encroaches on one's personal relationships. When the personality is for sale, all relationships turn into potential business deals." In the overwork culture, personal relationships are forced to take on the role of offsetting the stress: love, like leisure, is purloined as an adjunct to keep the worker going. After the worker has spent a gruelling day in the office or the factory, his or her partner can expect little in return. Meanwhile, the emotional engagement in work is reinforced by employers who specifically address the emotional needs of their employees in a way that a working spouse and parent could never hope to emulate. They satisfy the employee's introspection and self-absorption with coaching sessions or mentoring.”

Like many other readers this seems a good description of how work changed in the 90s – part of a plate tectonic configuration that was very poisonous from my own point of view. Add a major long term decline and chaotisation of the transport system as part of commuting to this kind of work and the life changes which intensify self examination - also the break down of enlightenment based socio-cultural universality in favour bioligised factionalism not least in the popular media.

I am thinking a lot about the classic picked songs that helped get lots of my generation into acoustic guitar playing – eg through Jansch and Graham – things like Blues Run the Game and Candyman.

I also watched the Bodyspace Sequence vid “Magic” – dir and choreog S Rauchas – which I did half the music for. I was quite pleased with it – just one note I’d tune as is often the case. Def a matter of haunting I’d say.

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