Saturday, August 05, 2006

This morning, (alright, yesterday morning) moaning a bit about having to go and teach (it’s been a long week) I wondered when I was going to get some “ Admin duties” (a perk) sent my way so I could have a break from my gargantuan efforts hewing away at the chalkface (we have more teachers than we need at the moment, hence someone is always surplus to requirements). I was told, quite jovially, that I would probably never get them again, as on previous occasions I was “crap” at them. This is certainly true in a literal sense I can’t even mono-task and am hopelessly disorganized but in fact, what being "crap" meant in this context was “ crap at not acknowledging that what we ask you to do is meaningless”, in other words failing to take seriously jobs that I’m given when there is no teaching work and which are effectively dreamed up a minute or two before by one of the managers/ treating them with any urgency.

Stuctural reinforcement is more important than competence/utility.(Although admittedly in my case you get neither. Employee of the month award perhaps going elsewhere again ). It’s not even that, ”we both know it’s useless/ pointless, but we mustn’t acknowledge it” game, they even helpfully suggested the ways in which I could more adequately pretend in order to fulfil the “admin” requirements (appear enthusiastic, appear keen for more, don’t sit for half an hour reading the Economist and drinking coffee in the corner first or spend a conspicuously long time in the toilet only to emerge with a paperback jammed in back pocket etc, but appear to be diligently working away instead) so the process was thoroughly and cheerily demystified but nonetheless remained.

I know that other work-places are MUCH worse than mine ( I actually really like mine, and feel pretty lucky) but here, being a manager (in this instance a cool, liberal, non-traditional manager, even an anti-manager) means insisting that others fall in line with your bad faith rather than allowing them to simply fester in their own. Why can’t we/they simply make that seemingly tiny but in reality apparently unthinkable shift into allowing employees to openly, rather than covertly do nothing? There’s a kind of ne plus ultra here, a linchpin, a foundationstone. Get rid of that and suddenly everything pivots and involutes, it must be held in place at all cost.

So far, so obvious, anybody who’s ever wandered around an office with a piece of paper in one hand and a purposeful look on their face trying to appear busy, (ie 98% of the population of Blighty) will know what I mean( arguably it’s actually more demanding and difficult in the long run than really being busy). What makes it especially strange though is, as I’ve said, that I work in a very informal environment vis a vis relationship with management and that, besides, if they didn’t give us anything to do during our non-teaching time, they wouldn’t get in trouble, (there’s no one above them) begging the question again as to why they bother. It’s not as though they themselves will be punished if we “slack off”, just do “nothing”, read , check our e-mails, write blog entries, go home for a while, sleep under a desk etc. So what’s at stake?

(aha! Is this the Big Other of which I have heard the sage ones speak?!)

On one level, nothing, as the invented job itself is non-essential, on the symbolic level everything. We must not acknowledge the futility of what we do, a “mature” attitude resides in knowing this. These kind of reciprocal, participatory fantasies are everywhere in life, obviously, (the Pub-bullshitter circles who accept the egregious, self-aggrandizing lies of their fellows, (“ this was back when I was jamming with the Stones, mind,” “ then the next thing you know Vinnie Jones rocks up and he’s, like, “ fancy a pint?””) knowing they are lies but refusing to challenge them as, reciprocally they will then be allowed their own opportunity to project their bullshit-persona on others.) Presumably this is because so much of what we really are is unbearable to us, in the same way that the evident meaninglessness of being a manager ( which consists in largely dreaming up pointless tasks which then have to be imbued with significance by the workforce) is unbearable to those who have invested in becoming one, just as much in those who have invested in the idea that they haven’t invested in becoming one, as in those who have.


Actually that "bad faith" thing reminds me of a story about the late Donald Barthelme making a big, po-mo tit of himself in a restaurant he swept off to with his biographer.

" Hi, I'm your waiter," the waiter said.

" No you're not!" Barthelme replied.

" Well, yes I am your waiter, sir, " the waiter insisted.

"No you're not!" Barthelme was equally insistent.

This exchange went on for several excruciatingly arch minutes, with Barthelme constantly flicking glances at his no-doubt mortified guest, until the waiter finally relented and asked to know why Barthelme was insisting that he wasn't the waiter.

"Because," Bartheleme said, " in New York no-one is merely a waiter, they are a poet, an artist , a writer , an actor in waiting. This is why you are not my waiter."

At his point the waiter explained that in fact he came from a long line of waiters, had never wanted anything other than to wait tables and bore no other, loftier ambitions. To which Donald "Collage is the art form of the twentieth century" Barthelme replied,

"We'll start with the soup....."

1 comment:

Raw Patrick said...

Amen, brother.

That said, my work doesn't care what I do and I am now in the unfortunate position of having read the entire internet. Where do you go from there?