“Either way I’m demoted to a tiny cubicle :” a traumatic encounter with office work, bureaucracy, and the culture industry in contemporary American fiction

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jeremy South (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Ben Clarke

Abstract: This dissertation uses trauma theory, theories of labor, bureaucracy, and late capitalism, as well as critical theory to analyze contemporary office work in the US, revealing an interrelated system of cultural and economic oppression and trauma for the white-collar worker. A bureaucratic modality structures day-to-day existence and is intertwined with late capitalism, as these structures are the “rational” means of achieving capitalism’s demands for productivity and maximum profit, revenue, or bureaucratic information from expendable workers. The effects of this are not immediately apparent but take the form of slow violence, often resulting in delayed trauma responses. Office work in particular obscures this violence as the shift to an information economy has created new forms of stress and injury which are not necessarily physically apparent. The white-collar worker, as they appear in contemporary American literature, is rarely offered an escape from the drudgery of their labor. It is through the medium of literature that the workers’ suffering is expressed and reflected back to the reader, offering a mediated and momentary glimpse of the Real that confronts the reader with their position in late capitalism and exposes a fissure in late capitalist ideology to a mass audience. This dissertation considers how this fissure is revealed in Wallace’s The Pale King, Phillips’ The Beautiful Bureaucrat, Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, and Ferris’ Then We Came to the End. The radical alterations in the white-collar workforce as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests the potential for a new literary form for representing, discussing, and critiquing labor through the workplace novel, and this dissertation provides new intersectional strategies for future analyses of literary depictions of labor.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2022
Bureaucracy, Contemporary American literature, Critical theory, Labor, Late capitalism, Trauma theory
American literature $y 21st century $x History and criticism
Psychic trauma in literature
Bureaucracy in literature
Capitalism in literature
Work in literature

Email this document to