For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"All I want to do is get that check and get drunk"

by Rhodes, Carl (2009)

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to examine the themes of resistance to organizations in Charles Bukowski’s novel Factotum in relation to contemporary theory in organization studies, and to consider the ways in which the literary depiction of resistance can be used to extend theoretical debates on the subject.

Key Passage

What is most despicable about work for Chinaski is that it robs him of life – robs him of time. Complaining about being sacked yet again, he argues with a boss, who claims that he has been arriving at work late continually, and has not been working hard enough. In his defence Chinaski says: “I’ve given you my time. It’s all I’ve got to give – it’s all any man has. And for a pitiful buck and a quarter an hour” (p. 112). But Chinaski’s resistance is not in the order of withholding his time – located as he is on the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder he cannot resist work entirely, lest he starve. His resistance is that it is only his time that he will give – and give of it as little as he can. Without buying into a the culture of “the job”, Chinaski’s only motivation for working is survival. He does not want “forty hours” and “a lifetime of security” (p. 128) JOCM 22,4 394 in exchange for becoming “faceless, sexless (and) sacrificial” (p. 130). He parodies such a work ethic as being based on a fear of living understood as a fear of losing one’s job. Chinaski’s humorously imagines a person imbued with such a fear: Usually, he is on the seventh of thirty-six payments for his new car, his wife is taking a ceramics class on Monday night, the interest on his mortgage is eating him alive, and each one of his five kids drinks a quart of milk a day (p. 133). It is not just a job that Chinaski resists – he resits “the job”, he resists a whole culture, a whole way of life. “Another problem after you had been on the job two or three weeks, most employers tried to get you to join their insurance plan” (p. 159) – such a call to responsibility is even too much for Chinaski – “by then I was usually gone” (Bukowski, 1975). Chinaski knows that resistance is more than an attitude. When working as a janitor in a newspaper office, he encounters an old janitor who appears to have the same approach to life as him. “These people are all assholes, assholes!” he yells at Chinaski, referring to the other workers: They have no intelligence! They don’t know how to think! They’re afraid of the mind! They’re sick! They’re cowards! They aren’t thinking men like you an me! [...] They make me sick! [...] No guts! Look at them! Hunks of shit! (p. 151 italics in original). But this janitor is also the person who the boss claims is “that way [...] but he’s the best janitor we’ve got” (Bukowski, 1975). For Bukowski resistance is not something that can be said, it has to be lived, and to live it is so hard that it borders on impossibility. (p.394)

Keywords

Bukowski, Anti Work, Against Work, Resistance, Organisational Studies, Organisation Theory, Alcohol, Alienation, Literature, Fiction

Themes

Resistance to Work

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