From The Literary Hub:
Midway through Seasonal Associate, Heike Geissler describes a day off from the Amazon warehouse. It is spent at the Leipzig Christmas market, drinking mulled wine, and then at the fine art museum, strolling through the galleries, looking at paintings, and taking her first deep breath since getting hired for the holiday rush.
I’m thinking of this rare, tranquil moment in her book as Geissler and I visit the Guggenheim Museum on a brisk March day. I find her waiting out front, wearing a wool hat low over her face, angular and framed by blunt brown bangs. We shed our coats to bask in the warmth of Hilma af Klint’s lush, floral paintings, to take a photo together in the reflective surface of a Robert Mapplethorpe assemblage. In Seasonal Associate, art and literature serve as scarce reprieves from the dull work of the warehouse—unpacking, scanning, counting, imputing—a way to restore the creative potential “buried behind your fatigue.” Geissler knows this struggle first hand.
“When I was working at Amazon, there was no time for reading. I was too exhausted,” she told me over an impromptu lunch at The New Amity Restaurant. We split the coleslaw and pickles that came with my BLT and drank many cups of coffee.
. . . .
“There are plenty of nonfiction books written by journalists who embed themselves in bad industrial situations for a limited time, but no one has given a subjective, and literary account of 21st-century flex-time industrial work,” wrote Chris Kraus, writer and co-editor of Semiotext(e), over email.
Geissler, the daughter of a postmistress and a steel worker, grew up in East Germany and now lives in Leipzig, where, in 2010, she worked as a seasonal associate. Eight years earlier, at the age of 25, she won the prestigious Alfred Doblin prize for her debut novel, Rosa, which was met with wide critical acclaim. Less so her metafictional second book, on the difficulty of writing a second book. She then published a children’s book with an illustrator friend, relishing the freedom to experiment and collaborate. But she didn’t interview at Amazon looking for a good story.
“I needed money,” she told the audience at her New York Goethe Institute event. The mother of a young son (she now has two), writing and translating were not paying the bills.
Geissler did, however, take notes on her daily experiences in the warehouse, later assembling them into a manuscript. It was rejected by five German publishers before she decided to pull it. Instead, she re-edited and recorded herself reading several chapters out loud and put the audio files on her website. She wanted to speak to the listener directly, so she supplemented the first-person narration with a second person address.
. . . .
This means that reading Seasonal Associate feels disconcertingly immersive. You, the reader, are the one experiencing the monotony of training day, the draft that comes in from the loading dock, the flu that inevitably develops, the relief of the sick day, and then the dread of returning to work. Meanwhile the first personal narrator serves as a guide to your experience at the warehouse, the version of Geissler who has already experienced everything you are about to: the casual misogyny of the managers, the hands cut up and then wrapped, the half-hearted attempts to spend time with family after a long shift.
. . . .
At the warehouse she is spoken to like a child and treated like a “tool gifted with a voice no one wants to hear.” Everything that makes her an individual is an annoyance to her employer, who will not hesitate to automate her work as soon as it becomes cost-effective.
“There’s this whole narrative of your working life, the narrative of suffering,” Geissler said. “I’m always curious about how people live, what they have to do for money and we can change or improve that. The struggle must be to strive for better working conditions, for the best working conditions.”
. . . .
Amazon has embedded itself in consumer culture on both sides of the Atlantic. I think of the products that pass through Seasonal Associate: punching bags that come in multipart packaging, hair dryers, novelty mugs, and of course, books, thousands of books stacked up, health books, vampire books, and, in ironic twist of events, books of a writer Geissler once knew, a man who supports his family with his books, while she supports hers by boxing them.
. . . .
“There’s a large level of precarious work that creates the conditions by which you are buying a book for $9.99,” says Alex Shepard, writer at The New Republic, who has written about Amazon for the magazine. The promise of well-paid, white collar jobs in urban centers also depends on “ruthlessly cutting costs at every level. Not just in their supply chain, but in the supply chains of the companies that sell on their platform as well.”
. . . .
At her Goethe Institute event, the audience asked Geissler questions about not just Amazon, but also the possibilities of socialism, the rise of the far right, and the decline of labor rights, even in Germany, which has a strong tradition of unions and workers’ councils. German writer Kevin Vennemann, who wrote the afterword to Seasonal Associate, tells me that German readers responded to Seasonal Associate as a critique of a particularly American brand of capitalism now affecting work culture in Germany too, leading to strikes and ongoing issues with workers’ councils. In this context, Geissler has been read as a strong, new voice amid rapidly changing political and economic norms.
. . . .
“She reemerged with this book as a writer who takes a firm political stand and has theoretical tools for analyzing late capitalist working conditions. It’s rare for that kind of book to be embraced on a larger scale within German literature,” says Venneman.
. . . .
In Seasonal Associate, Geissler writes that she wishes she had done more to disturb the peace while still an employee, that she had resisted the urge to play by the rules, ingrained in her since childhood. Damaged the products. Stuck an insult inside a package. Slowed down the supply-chain. Instead, she writes, she and her co-workers took out their frustrations on each each other.
Link to the rest at The Literary Hub
PG says, in case you missed it, the author of the OP and the author of the book would like you to buy Seasonal Associate.
And, as indicated, you can buy Seasonal Associate at Amazon!
As a matter of fact, if you’re a warehouse worker, you’ll almost certainly pay less for Seasonal Associate at Amazon than anywhere else. That way, you’ll be able to buy the book and have more money left over for basic necessities.
PG says Seasonal Associate falls into the literary genre of slumming.
“I’m an intelligent, refined and educated person who spent time with the proles and this is what it was like. I hated it!!! You can’t imagine the scope of the squalor and filth. You can thank your lucky stars that you’re not a prole and have to live like that. And, while I was a Seasonal Associate, I met some proles who said they don’t like squalor and filth, but they can’t afford to go to graduate school.”
“But now I’ve been there, done that, wrote the book. I knew my publisher would want some authentic prole color from real proles for Seasonal Associate, so I got it and I’m finished with the prole scene except for talking about it in my book interviews.”
“For my next book, I think I’ll write about the empty lives of the filthy rich who live on yachts and sail around the Mediterranean with no thought for the poor. That will be a nice change from being a Seasonal Associate.”
As the author of Seasonal Associate learned, warehouse work (and a lot of other jobs involving manual labor) is physically hard work. The OP doesn’t say whether the author had ever had a job involving manual labor before, but, if she had not, then her being sore and tired after work is to be expected.
From his own experience doing manual labor significantly heavier than the author’s, PG suggests that you become physically accustomed to the work after a couple of weeks, but going home sore lasts longer than that. Eventually, your body adapts. However, if the author is in her thirties and has spent several years writing books, absent a serious and continuing workout program, her body would take longer to adapt.
This is information that anyone with experience in manual labor would understand. A Seasonal Associate without such experience would be surprised and might come to the erroneous conclusion that everybody’s work experience was the same as her own, even if they had worked in the Amazon warehouse for several months or years.
As to “late capitalist working conditions,” if capitalism is going to disappear, what will replace it?
“The possibilities of socialism” are mentioned.
That certainly worked out well for the workers’ paradise formerly known as the German Democratic Republic. East Germany was so wonderful that its citizens kept leaving paradise for West Germany. They were probably worried about the potential for adverse effects from too much of a good thing. By 1961, one in five East Germans had fled the country. That left fewer people for the Stasi, the East German secret police, to watch.
The mortality rates for both men and women were significantly better in West Germany than in East Germany. As one example, reported suicide rates were about 60% higher in East Germany than in West Germany prior to reunification. These differences persisted over a period of about 20 years despite the fact that most observers believed the reported East German health statistics were substantially massaged prior to publication.
Mortality from heart diseases and alcohol abuse was also materially higher in the East than in the West. Much of the difference between other causes of death in West Germany vs. the Worker’s Paradise was the marked superiority of West German medical facilities and a chronic lack of medical supplies in East Germany.
PG has calmed down and will stop now.