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in the cage: call-center aggregation

with 3 comments

See sometimes the reporters themselves know where to find it:

Ms. Cothias’s callers on a recent morning were mainly trying to make sure they would be getting their benefits. All 15 callers were women, and all agreed to let a reporter listen in as long as their names were not used. At least nine were young mothers. Three were 50 or older, and several were dealing with public assistance for the first time.

Their tones varied greatly.

Caller 13, who was in her 20s and from Stuart, sounded relieved when Ms. Cothias told her that there were no restrictions on what kind of food she could buy with her newly issued food stamps.

Caller 4, from St. Petersburg, sounded more frantic. With a raspy voice echoing through what sounded like an empty house, she said she had lost her job in the service industry and needed her food stamp application approved quickly.

“I’m freaking out,” she said. “I have no income, and I’m starving.”

Even after being assured by Ms. Cothias that her food stamp account should be open within days, the woman could not be calmed. “Is there any other help you can offer for someone who’s been looking really, really, really hard for a job?” she said. “I’m 50 years old, and all they want are young girls. Do I drop off the face of the earth? Do I die? What do I do?”

The idea perhaps would be to run the logic of Henry James’s In the Cage in reverse, slipping from over-intimacy to the aggregate and impersonal instead of the reverse.

It had occurred to her early that in her position—that of a young person spending, in framed and wired confinement, the life of a guinea-pig or a magpie—she should know a great many persons without their recognising the acquaintance. That made it an emotion the more lively—though singularly rare and always, even then, with opportunity still very much smothered—to see any one come in whom she knew outside, as she called it, any one who could add anything to the meanness of her function. Her function was to sit there with two young men—the other telegraphist and the counter-clerk; to mind the “sounder,” which was always going, to dole out stamps and postal-orders, weigh letters, answer stupid questions, give difficult change and, more than anything else, count words as numberless as the sands of the sea, the words of the telegrams thrust, from morning to night, through the gap left in the high lattice, across the encumbered shelf that her forearm ached with rubbing. This transparent screen fenced out or fenced in, according to the side of the narrow counter on which the human lot was cast….

Once again, but in another register: the trick would be, I think, not simply to paint the call center, to allow the distinctly generic into the text that way, but to make the text itself into a sort of call center, in which the vividly individual crops up in such a way that, despite the all given names and idiosyncratic situations, they become both more and less than their given names.

The difference I’m trying to articulate is the difference between the New York Times running a story about a Florida call center and the New York Times itself becoming a national call center. When you hold that comparison in mind, perhaps you can start to see more clearly the difference between the thematic adaptation of content and the performative adaptation of form – helps me to anyway.

Why I’m so reflexively wedded to form as the answer to unasked questions is a complicated and truly overdetermined story. It’s a complicated story, though some of the component answers are very simple indeed. I will say more, clearly…. I will definitely being saying something soon about Ilya Ehrenburg’s The Life of the Automobile, which is very very close to what I’m talking about I think, once I’m finished with it.

(Oh, and one broader point. Is funny. They have this poetics thing, the subgroup, right, where the academic study of a form merges into the polemical or philosophical engagement with the form at present day. Instead of just analysing how it was done, the ultimate point is to reconsider how it might and should be done now. But there’s no prose equivalent of this sometimes even institutionally sanctified approach. Can you imagine writing a piece on how the novel should or might be written? Only Milan Kundera gets to do things like that!)

Anyway, perhaps start to consider me on the path to doing something else with my school work. I am starting to think a little bit differently about my school work.

Fuck – back to paper marking!

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 26, 2009 at 11:30 am

Posted in aggregate, crisis

3 Responses

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  1. This post connects a lot of things for me… funny story, I’m a Uni student writing a long research paper on a Henry James novel, and I’m having this same dilemma about what to call what it is that I’m searching for in the text. I just recently submitted a paper proposal saying something about finding “the novel’s ontology”, but that doesn’t quite cut it, no. Poetics is such a wonderful concept and as a poet I’m rather too used to leaning on it. If you come across any good, non-pretentious sounding words for the fiction equivalent of poetics, please do let us all know.


    February 26, 2009 at 2:02 pm

  2. Shame noetics is already taken!

    infinite thought

    February 26, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    • Well, there’s always prosaics, which isn’t bad as long as you take the double-entendre head on….

      Hmmm…. I’ll think about it for you anon…


      February 27, 2009 at 8:22 am

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