Works & Days
Hunters and gatherers. Miners and merchants. From butchers to bakers to candlestick makers, some four hundred generations have engaged in the practice of making ends meet. Long after Hesiod wrote his famous poem—whose nearly three-thousand-year-old title we’ve appropriated as it worked so well—a life’s labor has moved beyond idyllic if arduous farming of the fields. Our work has evolved into myriad possible endeavors, from sunrise to sunset to sunrise again.
Now we are chefs and morticians, file clerks and barge mates, coders and locksmiths, midwives and teachers. We are migrant laborers in drought-dry fields, and desk-job burnouts at five-thirty bars. We’re sex workers and bureaucrats, fixers and hitmen, failsons and titans of industry, bricklayers, biochemists, firefighters and the doctors who tend to their injuries. We are side hustlers and slackers, solopreneurs and temps, night watchmen and burglars. Working stiffs, nine-to-fivers, part-timers, self-employed. From specialists to jacks-of-all-trades, we do what we can. We’re on the dole and off the books. We have jobless friends who’d love to find work and gainfully employed ones who want to quit. We labor in offices or remotely, we do work that’s not even deemed work, work for which we’re neither paid nor valued. And always there’s the Big Boss Man who, as the song says, ain’t so big, just tall that’s all.
Work is an experience that some love, some loathe. For many, it’s our very identity—“What do you do?” has often meant “Who are you?” Work’s an action, a concept, a metaphor; labor has social and economic overtones; a job is something specific one does. In this special issue of Conjunctions:82, Works & Days, some of our most innovative writers—a difficult vocation itself—will explore the vast world of work, jobs, labor in its many visible and invisible guises.