Hélène Barthélemy, New York, New York
Willing Slaves of Capital, by Frédéric Lordon
It was initially a bit tedious to plow through the heavily theoretical language of Lordon’s Willing Slaves of Capital, but I did it because I had no choice: I was working at the publishing house that had published it. Yet, now six months later, I find myself constantly going back to the book’s ideas, notably the question of why we work. Not only do we work to gain sustenance, we eventually become so enlisted and dedicated to our employer that we find pleasure in work. Company culture, faces, marketing, team-building all contribute to enlist us to the cause of our work (now our cause!), concealing the negative reason why we do it (to be able to live) with more pleasurable ends. It convinces us that it is, for instance, our vocation.
A lot has been written about the problem of conceiving of someone’s work as pleasurable (which often serves as a justification for decreasing wages or problematic gender roles). Lordon just says that the way your desires are formed has to be taken into account when imagining an alternative society. And, as long as you remain aware of the obligation, perhaps happy enslavement doesn’t sound too bad. There are not that many other viable options… till we abolish wage-labor, of course! For the lucky few, it is also intellectually fulfilling: to prove the point, this is about a book that I read… at work!
Summer Concepcion, Los Angeles, California
Just Kids, by Patti Smith
Given that being an intern has provided me the opportunity to work and live in New York City for the first time, it was only appropriate that a dear friend of mine from Chicago gave me Patti Smith’s National Book Award–winning memoir as a gift. Smith, the fortieth anniversary of whose debut album Horses will be celebrated next year, effortlessly weaves stories of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe together with life in NYC during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The couple’s dedication to art was their own version of the “American dream”—a dream many New Yorkers can relate to and come to the city for. Despite the struggles the couple faced between their relationship and keeping their artistic ambitions alive, Smith’s innately poetic voice makes Just Kids an homage to the many worlds that come together when one lives in NYC. It is no wonder why Smith has remained an icon decades later—her art continues to resonate to this day.