I wrote this book under duress. My old friends made me do it. The most important of these are Bruce Robbins and Mike Fennell, with whom I have argued for many years over the questions about work I raise here. Larry Lynn, an even older friend, saved me from certain idiocy at a crucial moment, at the point two people we both cherish were threatening to die on us. (They lived, us too.) He was amplifying an argument against the book’s title that Scott Goodman, a new friend, had made a year earlier.
Correspondence and conversation with Christopher Mackin and David Ellerman educated me in the best sense. We’ve kept our differences along with our friendship. The same goes for James Oakes and Omar Abdul Malik.
Spirited debate with Shari Spiegel made me rethink passages and positions I thought were already set in concrete. So did accidental conversations on the subway with morticians and musicians. At the last minute, Catherine Liu had the same good effect on me.
(p.106) On the street where I live, my neighbor Melvin Alexander has been a constant source of insight on the meanings of work. So has Terry Schwadron, another neighbor. I quote both of them in chapter 4.
Jeff Sklansky and Nelson Lichtenstein invited me to their respective places of work to present some of these ideas. Leon Fink, of the University of Illinois–Chicago, was a remarkably acute interlocutor when I spoke there. Allan Needell was, too, as the host of a session at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. When I finished the manuscript, or so I thought, the dangerously clever Eric Banks invited me to give a talk at the New York Institute for the Humanities, where he presides as executive director. Thanks to him and the interlocutors who showed up at his behest — they made me rewrite.
The Internet has encouraged me to keep writing about this unwieldy topic, at Facebook; at my blog, politicsandletters.word-press.com; and at an online magazine I started in 2014, politicsslashletters.com. The rise of Jacobin, a left-wing little magazine, has too. Alex Gourevitch, Peter Frase, Seth Ackerman, and Kathi Weeks have written powerful, provocative essays on the meanings of work at this venue. I’ve never met them, and I certainly don’t agree with them, but I’m grateful to them for making me think harder and for their indefatigable labor on behalf of a better future.
My agent, Lisa Adams of Garamond, and my editor, Brandon Proia of UNC Press, worked long hours to get this short book published. Brandon has an uncanny ear that heard what I didn’t; I’m glad I listened to him in revising.
(p.107) My deepest debt is to Laura Kipnis, the hardest-working writer I’ve ever met. Maybe the best as well. Her example has been inspiring, her edits have been infuriating, and her advice has been invariably useful even, or especially, when it was unwelcome. I’m still crazy about her after all these years. This book is for her.
Not one of these people agrees with me. In thanking them here, I’m reminded of what G. W. F. Hegel, my intellectual model and principal antagonist in this book, wrote to himself in an unpublished fragment:
When a man has finally reached the point where he does not think he knows it better than others, that is when he becomes indifferent to what they have done badly and he is interested only in what they have done right.