Ben Gest: Laboring to Enact the Real

December 18, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest post by Virginia Konchan

 

Photography must annihilate itself as medium to be no longer a sign, but the thing itself.

 

—Roland Barthes

 

Ben Gest’s photorealist photography, comprised of stark, neo-classical tableaux, depicts alienated subjects engaged in workaday and domestic tasks, and carries a full fetishistic load in an image saturated culture—that of the evacuated figure, from painting, as well as the signature of the “author,” as declared dead by structuralist critics.  The “surface reading” strategies of Sharon Marcus’ and Stephen Best, Francois Dosse’s call for the “descriptive turn,” and Bruno Latour and Erving Goffman practice of “flat” reading based on actor-network theory (the game model of human interaction) connect to the “flat” or two-dimensional evacuation of depth fields, suggesting that as the text is now being “read” like a screen (the orthographic significance of the word alienated from semantic, affective, and cognitive percepts), so too are the visual images (in figurative art, the appearance of the other), we consume.

For Roland Barthes, this surface quality was a limitation of medium (the photograph is undialectical, as a denatured theater where death cannot be contemplated, reflected and interiorized:  the foreclosure of the Tragic excluding catharsis), yet this slickness of surface is also a function of the occluded depth of capitalist subjects, wherein intimacy, futurity, and affect, because unable to be represented (priced, and sold), ceases to exist first as a cultural value, then, as a cultural experience (temporally, of duration rather than instantaneity).   A privatized market first commodifies then distributes the sensible (Marx’s dream of the  ‘liberation of the senses’ of unalienated individuals in unalienated communities) fueling desiring-machines to demand, yet never receive, aporias of meaning:  presence, aura, soul.  [i]

 

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The digital reproduction of the photograph and the text share an analogous relationship, foremost in hierarchies between the word (letter, or sign) and image (symbol, or referent).  Today’s medium specificity (Clement Greenberg’s belief that “the unique and proper area of competence” for an art form corresponds with the ability of an artist to manipulate those features specific to a medium) is now metaphorized in the relationship between a reader and a text, or a viewer and an artwork, not as an encounter or relationship, but an interfacing, between user and electronic text, or screen (N. Katherine Hayles’s media specific analysis in “Print is Flat, Code is Deep”).  Barthes’ descriptions of photography as “messages without a code” describes the limitation of the medium, for the photograph, yet this obviation of meaning has become an conscious aesthetic in post-structuralism, evacuated of content and intention.   For Hegel, “art” was only art in subordination to meaning:  modern art, in a post-Reformation world, for Hegel, wasn’t therefore “art,” but rather abstracted potential.   [ii]   The desire to decode photography’s “message without a code”  may be what constitutes the dream of absolute (not reified) presence (Barthes’ Winter Garden Photograph):  the “the text of pleasure” or sublime (dynamic or technological, wherein perceptual synthesis temporary collapses in experiencing the material force of a supersensible idea, whether of beauty or horror).

Affect theory provides a rational-empirical account of what we know intuitively:  the sublime has a life of its own.  The jarring quality of paintings such as Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” Francis Bacon’s apocalyptic friezes, and Frieda Kahlo’s self-portraits, fix such images forever in our collective imagination, for giving form to a mediated, yet still felt, aspect of human experience.  Just as Cézanne sought to capture the “apple-ness of apples,” and Russian formalist Victor Shklovsky the “stony-ness of stone,” any discussion of the sublime returns us to logos (language’s ability to embody, and evoke, objects).

 

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(Francis Bacon, “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X,” 1953)

The absence of meaning in photography is its power, conveying its “message” through semiotic rather than semantic means.  In writing, an absence of meaning can take, according to Derrida, three forms:  mathematical meaning; agrammaticality (“abracadabra”); and the social contexture of meaning (preestablished symbolic and linguistic codes), implying that the limitations for what one can “say” are scripted, in photography, by medium, and in the text, by culture as well as genre:  the associative logic of poetry requiring a different reading strategy than that of linear prose.

Modernist paintings, like Egyptian hieroglyphs or the intricate symbology found in the Lascaux caves, complicate the boundary between image and text (Cy Twombly’s abstract expressionist paintings were inspired by texts from Stéphane Mallarmé to Alexander Pope, incorporating baroque themes and titles, such as Apollo and the Artist and traces, or erased marks of textual inscription).  Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte, of course, creating the watershed moment in art history when the act of visual representation was, in his 1928 “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” rendered counterfactual (ironic) through the insertion of text.

Flatness is not always the image’s refusal to yield meaning:  it can be its apotheosis.  As Aloïs Riegl says:  “Bas-relief brings about the most rigid link between the eye and the hand because its element is the flat surface, which allows the eye to function like the sense of touch; furthermore, it confers, and indeed imposes, upon the eye a tactile or rather haptic, function . . . ensur[ing], in the Egyptian ‘will to art,’ the joining together of the two senses of touch and sight, like the soil and the horizon.” [iii]

 

 

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During the 1920s, Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov explored the technical potential of montage, developments new media theorist Lev Manovich claims to underlie the aesthetics of contemporary video.  Eisenstein believed montage could create ideas or have an impact beyond the individual images (two or more images edited together create a “tertium quid” or third thing making the whole greater than the sum of its individual parts).   How is this “tertium quid” experienced in a photograph, or, for that matter, a text?  Gests’ figures are “all end” (terminal subjects, trapped in contingency) and flat to the point of disappearing from the surface of the plane.  To say, however, that flat images are a “realist” or photorealist art, or that visual art depends upon language to enter signification has troubling implications, refusing to consider the bounds of perspective (from the artist, the medium, and the spectator).  Yet, in exploring photography’s medium (indexical and reproducible), we can begin to understand how the assignation of “post-photography” relates to that of “post-literacy.”

Even Dickinson understood depth perception (phenomenologically, and politically, in the granting of subjecthood, rather than treating the other as an object or manipulable industrial machine – vending, milking – in the service economy) to be predicated upon metaphoric hierarchy:  “ . . . We can find no scar,/ But internal difference,/ Where the Meanings, are–“).    The rise of the image and subsequent degradation of language to emoticons is a function of technocapitalism, advertising and marketing blitzes, and bipartisan racketeering, whereby independent thought is crushed by neo-fascist fears of the unknown (the wizards behind the screen?)

Rather than aspiring to the denotative powers of text (a Gordian knot, interpretatively), highly stylized photography (Gest, Thomas Struth, David LaChapelle) suggests a desire for the image to become purely connotative, appropriating the iconicity of the mirror (the only purely indexical object).  Struth:  “Photographs that impress me have no personal signature,” and yet this depersonalized aesthetic doesn’t impede the sheer pathos of his museum photographs, juxtaposing spectators at the Louvre with, for example, the shipwrecked figures in Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa.  Struth’s museum-goers observe rather than participate in history (religious and mythological narratives), formalizing Western Art’s debt to Christian symbolism, but not attempting to subvert or parody this tradition.

 

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(Thomas Struth, Hermitage 1, St. Petersburg, 2005)

 

Reading demands, as Guy DeBord says, making judgments at every line;  how does this description of literacy accord with an accurate perception of the imago, as a two-dimensional object?  [iv]  Modernists’ dream to find forms of representation adequate to experience of phenomenal “reality,” once declared a failure, in morphing from the rejection of authority, the subject, and meaning, to a worship of the object, now worship the frame (material context) itself.  For visual art the context of the image is doubled:  the literal frame, as well as the cultural space in which the work is displayed, distinguishing it as an objet d’art, worthy of consecration in a public space.The shifts, in constructivist and futurist movements, between art’s use-value (e.g. painter Alex Rodchenko’s poster art, furniture, wallpaper and fabric), to l’art pour l’art, had aesthetic and economic implications (the feared aestheticization of politics and politicization of aesthetics):  today, conceptual art trumpets its value-lessness as a form of waste aesthetics:  resistance to cooptation by the market, and utilitarian ideals.

Following suit, Gest’s figures, while ranging in age, largely white and middle class, are pictured in nuclear family couplings, or alone, tending to tasks in well-appointed homes and state-of-the-art kitchens, en route to work, or at the workplace itself.

 

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(Gest, “Joe Finishing Lunch” 2005)

In Gest’s work, these quotidian scenes (shaving, shelving books at a library), are a form of anti-epic:  representing the habitus of daily living.  In “Ben and Dawn” (below), the couple is preparing dinner:  Dawn manifesting the vacuity of non-presence, and Ben, absorption in his task (forming meat patties).  How to read these allegories in which narrative is supplanted by the gaze (either off-center or vacant)?  Gest heightens the post-Enlightenment collapse of progress narratives and a unified self by refusing the viewer a vanishing point or horizon line:  his subjects’ expressions are frozen in shock or ennui.  The unmitigated solitude of many of Gest’s subjects also suggests the impossibility of self-knowledge or consciousness, particularly of class.  Mired in transitional situations, and rarely facing the camera directly, these subjects, as they water the lawn, or pause before exiting a brand-new SUV, manifest an innocence of themselves as complicit agents in or victims of commodity culture—or, as posed subjects.  Sentience is indeed on display in Gest’s portraits, but this sentience is often in the service of material entrapments rather than the subject’s experience, shown benumbed in these portraits of status quo maintenance without the promise of deliverance (through class ascension, religion or theater).   As Baudrillard says, we live in a “jungle of fetish-objects”:  in order for an art object to free itself from fetishization it must first emerge as a “newly victorious fetish,” then work to destroy itself as a familiar object by becoming monstrously unfamiliar.  “This foreignness is not the strangeness of the alienated or repressed object,” he adds.  “It excels through a veritable seduction that comes from somewhere else . . . by exceeding its own form as a pure object, a pure event.”  [v]

 

 

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The fantasy of art qua object is a desire for it to eventually become, in a Zarathustrian sense,  event:  Brechtian theater, Jerzy Grotowski’s “theatre laboratory” (Teatr Laboratorium), the Opernhaus Wuppertal of Pina Bauch.  Michael Fried opposed art and objecthood in his 1967 essay relating objecthood to theatricality, wherein the reader or viewer is necessary to bring the interpretive act to completion:  in other art forms, however, the line is easily blurred.  A wholly intentioned work of art, or Frankensteinian, bioengineered production of human life (dramatized in movies such as Synechoche, New York, The Truman Show, and the Tom McCarthy novel Remainder) enact the fantasy of a subject with the power to micromanage contingency (i.e. weather), creating others as a pure extension of the author-producer’s will (the sinister sine qua non of formalist aesthetics)?  From Remainder:   “Opening my fridge’s door, lighting a cigarette, even lifting a carrot to my mouth: these gestures had been seamless, perfect. I’d merged with them, run through them, and let them run through me until there’d been no space between us. They’d been real; I’d been real without first understanding how to try to be: cut out the detour.”   McCarthy contemporizes the Wagnerian dream of the “total” work of art, by attempting to solve for indeterminancy in plot, language, nature:   the post-industrial spectacle of by which citizen-consumers, are already, albeit unconsciously, enthralled.

Fried turned to photography with the 2008 publication of Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before,  exploring works by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jeff Wall, and Andreas Gursky, asserting that the poles of anti-theatricality and absorption are central to the turn by recent photographers towards large-scale works “for the wall.”  The tableaux vivant of these photographers, and the work of Gest in particular, attenuates the politics of spectatorship by rendering the viewer complicit in the subject’s performance not of self-consciousness, but the lack thereof.  In Gest, we observe, voyeuristically, subjects in media res, or engaged in repetitious labor (domestic and corporate):  these scenes may be “for the wall” but their very nature is theatrical (constructed), forecasting the transition from art as object, to event.

 

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(Gest, Kate Fixing her Earring, 2005)

Narratives of subject formation (or, in painting, a reconstitution of the figure, whether rendered as grotesque by Dana Schultz, or pornographized, in Egon Schiele), continue to be elided by the neoliberal death of extra-aesthetic context, heralded by Francis Fukuyama as the end of history (therefore allegory, Manichean and otherwise, and narrative):  the fracas of the negative sublime (eco-catastrophes, Warhol-inspired readymades, appropriated and digitally reproducible art).

Art-as-event (the “revised sublime”) has the potential to loosen the hypnotizing  inertia of the image, encouraging passive spectatorship, and the dangers of pure formalism (the reduction of art to ornament, or frame, and language to citational and ironic metacommentary, ceasing to exist in or interpolate with the world) allowing space for critical reflection, eroticism, and presence-as-grace.

Whether all art is reification, as Hannah Arendt said, or whether the war is still being waged between aesthetic reification and the counter-concept of aesthetic use value (both prey to commodity fetishism, whether by cognitariat aesthetes and/or the market), the final criteria for artistic “value” or proof of art’s autonomy may not be decreed by the moral majority (popular or critical opinion) or its price tag (floating or fixed), but its participation in a sacrificial economy, for the purposes of extirpation:  to reject the bankrupt calculus of credit economies and fiat aesthetics to risk annihilation, so as to rise from the death of ontological and literal debt (posthumously, for Van Gogh) into the shock of signification (G.H. Hardy’s aesthetic criterion marrying unexpectedness to inevitability):  the real.

 

Notes



[i]  Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (New York:  Hill and Wang, 1980), p. 90.

 

[ii] Roland Barthes, Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York:  Hill and Wang, 1978) p. 45.

 

[iii]  Qtd. in Gilles Deleuze’s Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1995).

 

[iv]  Guy DeBord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (Verso Press, Brookyn, 1998), p. 29.

 

[v]  Jean Baudrillard,“Simulation and Transaesthetics: Towards the Vanishing Point of Art” (International Journal of Baudrillard Studies), web, Vol. 5, No. 2:  July, 2008.

 

 

 

Virginia Konchan’s poems have appeared in Best New Poets, The Believer, The New Yorker, and The New Republic, her criticism in Workplace:  A Journal for Academic Labor, Quarterly Conversation, New Madrid, and Boston Review, and her fiction in StoryQuarterly and Joyland, among other places.  The recipient of grants and fellowships to Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, Ox-Bow, and Vermont Studio Center, Virginia is co-founder of Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary.  She lives in Chicago.




Caught Between the Privatized Marriage Market and the Corporatized Labor Market: the Zero-Sum Binary of the (Failed) American Dream?

November 12, 2013 · Print This Article

 Guest post by Virginia Konchan

Cultural treatments of what Jeffrey Eugenides (qua Austen) termed the “marriage plot” of fiction include post-romantic polemics (Laura Kipnis’ 2004 Against Love), arguments for and against biological and gender essentialism, chick lit and post-feminist writings, and queer and trans literature (as well as post-9/11 and world literatures reframing the metaphor of war as between cultures and races, rather than genders).   Keeping pace with the culture industry’s manufacture of fantasy, Hollywood continues to churn out variations on the theme of marriage, whether representative, in the US, of market demand and actual statistics, or not, in reality TV (The Bachelor; Wife Swap) and, in film, such as the 2013 rom-com Austenland, directed by Jerusha Hess (an adaptation of Shannon Hale’s novel, based off Pride and Prejudice, about a British resort recreating the Austen era, to fuel the obsession that every woman’s platonic double—Mr. Darcy, aloof yet smoldering with passion—awaits us just around the corner).

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The timelessness of the marriage plot is today played out against the backdrop of radically transitive labor conditions for women, as the bar for accreditation (an industry’s “terminal degree” or minimum standard of experience) are continually raised, in a post-manufacturing, service, and what Sarah Kendizor calls a “post-employment” economy, sealing the neo-pilgrim passage (noir version) from a welfare to a fully corporatized (i.e. neoliberal) state.

Today’s resurgence of Darwinian logic, manifest in neo-Gladiator survivalist narratives such as The Hunger Games, undergirds global capitalism, with the exception of independently-owned businesses or careers (internally funded or reliant on patrons, philanthropy, and trustees).  A women who chooses to entreprenurialize (work independently, start a business or brand, freelance) adjusts not only to the rollercoaster cash flow, as Whitney Johnson, who left Merrill Lynch to co-found Rose Park Advisors with Clay Christensen, in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, points out, while the recent global downturn fuels the American DIY rhetoric of entrepreneurial activity, such ‘independence’ isn’t always volitional:  layoffs abound, and, despite soft stats of “productivity gains,” job creation does not.  “Approximately 43 million people, or roughly 35%-40% of the private workforce in the U.S., are currently doing some type of contingent work; this number is expected to grow to 65-70 million within the decade, well ahead of the 1% rate at which the labor force is growing,” Johnson notes, citing research from MBO Partners’ State of Independence in America report, about “independent” U.S. laborers (an individual working 15+ hours per week whether as a freelancer, contractor, or owner of a micro-business):  “Stripping out the c. 25 million people who are working part-time and are potentially under-employed, MBO calculates there are currently about 17 million independents,” a statistic expected to increase to 23 million by 2017, based on a 6.3% per year growth rate, that could easily swell to over 30+ million in the next decade as large and small corporations, as well as the government, continue to employ contingent labor (40% of the workforce is defined currently as contingent labor; that number is expected to rise).

Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett, is Woody Allen’s 44th feature film:  his protagonist, Jasmine neé Jeanette, is a divorced socialite whose husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, after amassing millions the Bernie Madoff scandal, is caught, jailed, and commits suicide.  This female lead differs radically (in her labor situation and social rôle) from the female ingénue of Annie Hall, the irascible Diane Keaton.

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Jasmine struggles to accept her functional unemployment (she has virtually no job skills in a market where you can buy goods, but not survive, on credit) after her divorce, arriving on her working-class stepsister, Ginger’s, doorstep in the Mission District of San Francisco with an equipage of Louis Vuitton luggage, perfectly-coiffed hair, and a desire to begin again (but not before polishing off several stiff martinis with Grey Goose).  The conversation Jasmine has with Ginger about her prospects, post-Hal are nothing short of comedic:  I was always good at design, she muses, and decides to take a day job as an assistant in a dental office to pay for online classes in interior decorating, a revelation of subdued hilarity echoing that of Aunt Bernie in George Saunders’ story “Sea Oak,” who, resurrecting from the dead, answers the call to neoliberal entrepreneurialism by directing male strippers.  Her advice, to evolve from sex work to a white collar career:  “Go show your cock! [ . . . ] That is the first part of Phase One.   After we get the new place, that’s the end of the first part of Phase Two.  You’ll still show your cock, but only three days a week. Because you’ll start community college.  Pre-law. Pre-law is best. You’ll be a whiz. You ain’t dumb.”

Jasmine’s painful labor skills assessment doesn’t stop her from catching the eye of a new money tycoon with coastal property.  She meets her second alluring husband prospect, played by Peter Sarsgaard, at a party—impressed by her Chanel digs, he asks her out, and she proceeds to play the part of a successful businesswoman to a hilt, offering to design his new home.  The following scene has them antiquing together, before looking at engagement rings.  The prize, if we follow the moral logic of Blue Jasmine (the rhetoric of American democracy) goes not necessarily to the hardest worker (Calvinism), smartest entrepreneur (meritocracy) or most monied sophisticate (philistine aristocracy), but the best con-man—or woman—the artful, or artless, swindler with a heart of gold.

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Jasmine’s life, seen within Western cinematic (independent and mainstream) representations of women from David Lynch’s doppelgangers, to besties escaping, by driving their car off a cliff, abusive spouses——Thelma and Louise—or for Madame Bovary,  what Jonathan Franzen calls “married person’s (i.e. false) consciousness,” reflects the fact that in today’s contemporary novel, cinema, and pop culture, our “heroines” have more choices, but they are still often scripted, between the dangerous fiction of a woman that has, or does, it all (cinematized in 2011 feature film I Don’t Know How She Does It, starring Sarah Jessica Parker), and the neo-confessional celebrity spectacle of a woman such as Gaga, who bares her struggles publically, usually receiving social grace upon delivering the now-ubiquitous message that celebrities (and royals) are people too.

Whether broadcasting happy-go-lucky debauchery (Chelsea Handler), sexscapades (Paris Hilton), gold-digging (Anna Nicole Simpson), infidelity (Elizabeth Hurley, Sandra Bullock), domestic violence (Rhianna, Halle Berry), addiction (Lindsay Lohan), or the everyday travails common to all women (childbearing, weight gain, marriage, divorce, and illness), in the public eye:  the more seemingly human the portrayal (Kate Middleton taking her time—two weeks—as reported in the media, to return to a size O, post-George), the more love from the public, despite the most basic incongruity of all:  celebrities and royals, unlike the average consumer of their self-representations, aren’t forced to work a 9-5 job, or any job, beyond performing, to survive.

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Never has the anti-logic of the privatization movement been more relevant as an extended metaphor, to domestic security—not for our homeland, but for women.  The rule of the market (liberating free or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government—the state—no matter how much social damage this causes), and, internationally, NAFTA, has resulted in widespread wage reduction, de-unionization, the elimination of workers’ rights, no price controls, slashed public expenditure for social services:  deregulation, in short, of all protections (environmental, commercial, financial) allowing citizens a basic standard of protection beyond the right to file a lawsuit (after one’s non-codified, and thus nonexistent, rights have been violated).  This state of non-rule leaves subjects or those without job skills vulnerable to market vicissitudes (governmental rule by the nation’s media conglomerates—i.e., the 1%) backed, as we know, by International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

 

Today, women receiving federal aid for supporting a child are cut off if living with or married to a man in the States, penalizing a working class woman’s desire to raise a child with the child’s father or other male figure, and making a two-family income, albeit with one income from Uncle Sam, an impossibility, and raising the question of how far we’ve come, as a gender, from being literal chattel or objects of tokenistic exchange (decried by Engels in his 1884 The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State) and today, when the  insecurity of all formerly stable institutions, including marriage and the family, underscores the fact that the market is the new head of state for Western women, just as the husband continues to be in many Islamic cultures, usurping law (husbands are allowed to beat their wives and children as long as they don’t leave any physical marks, an Islamic court in the United Arab Emirates ruled in 2010), to say nothing of ongoing cultural epidemics of sexual violence, domestic abuse, public stonings, factory labor, sex trafficking, and labor exploitation, keeping women, worldwide, in a dangerous existential (i.e. labor) situation.

 

In short, the stress of financial survival, in neoliberal America, trumps life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, for men as well as women (the latter camp still on the outskirts of legal personhood, the Equal Rights Amendment not having yet passed).  The inequity of our child care and maternity leave policies are the source of international shame, women aren’t being hired for executive positions, with obvious exceptions (New Zealand, Grenada, Barbados, and Andorra all have or have had female heads of state), and despite puncture holes in “the new glass ceiling” (the illusion that we occupy a DIY, may the best man win, meritocracy, innocent of structural inequities, as evidenced in Huff-Po writer Jeannette Cajide’s endorsement of her boss Mark’s neoliberal quip:  “If you want to overcome sexism and racism, be the best!”) continues.   The Count by VIDA, documentaries such as Miss Representation, and other reports on the dearth of authorial and executive parity between men and women in the U.S. workplace underscore the facts:  but while the “new glass ceiling” for women may indeed be prevailing, media-driven misogyny, and a restructuring of service economy jobs, even in senior positions, or internalized and externalized locked doors to design, IT, and engineering fields, the fact remains that, as Gail Becker said in the Huffington Post, “firsts” set a precedent that can then be modeled for other women, as relationship and cultural standards (equality and freedom from abuse, violence, and intimidation), codified laws, and hiring authorities.  “Frankly, I look forward to the end of that necessary prepositional clause — a time when we don’t need to define someone by the barrier they broke.  But until that day, my commas are standing by, ready to remember those who helped tear away barriers for me.”   As a New Yorker cartoon character put it to her husband:  “I prefer the illusion of safety to the appearance of privacy”:  reality, however painful, lying in wait beyond the illusory binary, for women, of marriage-cum-financial survival and self-fulfillment through career (Harlequin romance plots aside).

 

A neoliberal economy puts all subjects, particularly those whose commodity has historically been domestic labor or the sale of their flesh, in a precarious position, forced to choose between wage labor, sex labor, an unsalaried, uncontracted job in a helping profession, or, if lucky (possessing liquid capital or loan accreditation), entrepreneurial activity.  As Jasmine discovered before it was too late, women not independently wealthy must labor to survive, like men, either in a career or in a form of domestic or sexual service, to a husband, family or both.

 

What’s needed now are not just rooms, but salaries of our own, in careers that don’t bottom out upon our advancement, and domestic partnerships that don’t bottom out when the human commodity (the wife) reaches her shelf life in consumer capitalism (i.e. mature age).  “Should Sancho Panza, Oroonoko, Moll Flanders, Frankenstein’s monster, Queenqueg, Tom, Lily Bart, Josef K.., Lolita, and Om, in A Fine Balance, really have no say in their own fates?” asks Jane Smiley in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, broadening the live question, apropos to the health care crisis in America, of whether being able to cultivate the means to acquire needs, to echo Marx, let alone pursue one’s teleological ends without bearing the stamp of manufacture from a husband, or suffering, in silence, an exploitative labor situation, is a privilege, or a right.

 

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Virginia Konchan’s poems have appeared in Best New Poets, The Believer, The New Yorker, and The New Republic, her criticism in Workplace:  A Journal for Academic Labor, Quarterly Conversation, Barzakh Magazine, and Boston Review, and her fiction in StoryQuarterly and Joyland, among other places.  The recipient of grants and fellowships to Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, Ox-Bow, and Vermont Studio Center, Virginia is co-founder of Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary.  Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.