Short Review: Dead Man Working

23Jul12

Carl Cederstrom and Peter Fleming’s Dead Man Working (Zer0) is an interesting account of living and working in a dead world. It diagnoses several affective elements of the managerial co-option of life. Cederstrom and Fleming argue that life in a society dominated by capitalist realism becomes one in which the divide between life and work is completely obliterated where all that remains is life-work and the wait for the approaching tsunami, for the end of capital (which may very well co-arrive with the end of civilization). Following the flood of capitalist control what remains is the affectively gray wait for the end.

This is of course complicated by the fact that managerial tactics increasingly recuperate (in the Situationist sense) anti-capitalist figures, strategies, and culture while at the same time try to make work fun, casual, etc. One of the more interesting and well crafted moves made in the text is to show how checking out of the capitalist game in the form of suicide serves to confirm the length and breadth of capital’s tentacles making interesting connections to Mark Fisher’s recent article in the Guardian here.

Cederstrom and Fleming also address interesting characters of the dead world of labor (or perhaps the world of dead labor?) such as the liberal communist (typified by the likes of Bono) – someone who makes capitalist seem like a perfectly fair game through the use of philanthropy to have our cake and eat it too (Zizek’s comments about cultural capital in terms of Starbucks comes to mind).

What sticks out most in the book is the postscript on girls.  I would have like it be longer but being fully aware of the length of Zer0 books this would require a separate text altogether. Cederstrom and Fleming that after the purported death of capitalism in 1970 (and since then we have neoliberal zombie capitalism) that the child has become a privileged symbol for hope, the child is the intimate embodiment of a readily noticeable future possibility however generic it may be. However, they argue that there is a crucial difference between the figure of the child as boy and as girl (this questioning of the future no doubt has ties to their earlier use of Franco Berardi).

Cederstrom and Fleming compare and contrast Danny from The Shining and Charlie from Fire Starter. Both Danny and Charlie are kids (the former a boy the latter a girl) that have remarkable powers and star in films based on Stephen King novels. They then discuss Deleuze and Guattari’s figure of the little girl, and the importance of becoming imperceptible and that while Danny tries to adapt to the system (by talking to the costs of the hotel) Charlie remains inaccessible and simply burns everyone who comes after her alive. But if this politics is one of imperceptibility I am not sure why the figure of the girl, and I am not sure that just doesn’t give us a smooth space.

But regardless, the affective account of capital that Cederstrom and Fleming give is a convincing one. The question becomes what is the political response to feeling like shit in the gray fog of capital that isn’t infinite resignation nor feeling good according to capital?

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2 Responses to “Short Review: Dead Man Working”

  1. As a former contributor to this blog, I feel I must comment on this!

    You might be interested in article I wrote, “Memories of the Future,” on a time when there actually was still a future. It engages with a number of recent writings on the subject by Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Slavoj Žižek, T.J. Clark, Owen Hatherley, Chris Cutrone, Max Ajl, Asad Haider, Salar Mohandesi, Ben Lear, and Malcolm Harris, which have been published by AK PRess, Zero Books, Jacobin, New Left Review, and others. Just thought you might want to check it out.


  1. 1 Non-Stop Inertia – Precarity and the Workplace, a ‘workers society and Dead Man Working - Zero Books Blog

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