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"The Banality of Postmodern Labor": On the Memoir of an Amazon Warehouse Worker


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In Bookforum, journalist Jesse Baron reviews Seasonal Associate (Semiotexte, 2018) by German writer Heike Geissler, a startling account of the author’s six weeks working at an Amazon warehouse in Leipzig. Geissler, a novelist and translator, took the job when she was low on money and desperate for a way to support her two kids. As Baron writes, Seasonal Associate is “a hybrid of memoir and theory” that captures the hyper-exploitation and unbelievable tedium experienced by the invisible workers that enable our “convenience addiction.” Here’s an excerpt:

Issued a fish knife and a pair of cut-resistant gloves, Geissler is shown to her workstation in the cold, drafty warehouse. Racks of merchandise reach the ceiling. A forklift deposits a pallet of products beside her. The fish knife slices through the shrink-wrap. She scans the items one by one, inspecting them for damage and discarding any rejects. Then she places them either on another pallet or in a small box called a tote. Sometimes the computer monitor displays an error message, indicating that an item has been misrouted, and a “problem solver” arrives at her workstation, miserably pushing a desk on wheels. Once Geissler has completed a pallet, she presses a button to switch on a red light above the workstation, signaling to a forklift driver.

What damages the heart, aside from the disgraceful labor itself, seems to be the act of earning money from something other than writing. When a former friend’s book turns up on Geissler’s pallet, she thinks: “I bet he has time right now to think about his next work; it would have to be called a work, and he’d have to be called a successful writer.” That association of money with artistic success, with all its dubious connotations, sits at the core of Geissler’s book.

Image of Amazon warehouse via Bookforum.