A daring hybrid work that investigates the relationship between the individual and the institution
Jill Magi’s new book—comprised of fiction, poetry, and archival research—LABOR explores relations between workplace and workers, race-class-gender, the institution and the body, the “personal” budget and the economy, the archive and undisciplined paper trails. An “employee handbook” sequence runs throughout the text, providing a set of directions for ritual practices toward individual agency and workplace/worker transformation. But unlike the archived ideologies and hopes of traditional labor history that LABOR’s characters eventually abandon or never fully embraced, the transformation does not look like traditional progress or reform.
It is uncanny—or is it?—the (pre)occupation with suicide that haunts Jill Magi’s remarkable LABOR. Perhaps not, given Derrida’s theorization of the archive as equivocating between conservation and destruction, archivization itself a form of archival self-violence. Which brings us to the black-and-white, metaphorically ‘archiviolithic’ photograph the reader encounters at the almost-end of LABOR: a double-page spread of the interior of NYU’s Bobst Library, a brutalist building whose ten-story atrium notoriously attracts student death.
Magi makes us look at labor in a way we might have never before. Like a hybrid tapestry, she weaves a narrative, a beautiful, complex nonlinear one with different types of writing to explore labor inside out… Magi is adept at showing the multilayered affects of how archiving, while showing us hidden information we need to know, can do a disservice to real actualities of “labor” and “protests” and “work.” Yet without the archive, maybe we wouldn’t have had this book. It’s a complicated mix, and Magi is acutely aware of it and working with this double entendre to the max.
The book defies poetic and economic genre, such that everything is writing and writing is work and work could play out “as pleasure / as social self.” Magi’s formula proffers transcendence—the kind you might get riding the elevator to the top of a large library, your gut unable to keep up with your idea, your idea leaping off the roof, flittering archival papers everywhere and with everyone.
Jill Magi works in text, image, and textile and her books include Threads, Torchwood, SLOT, Cadastral Map, LABOR, SIGN CLIMACTERIC, and a monograph on text-image entitled Pageviews/Innervisions (Rattapallax …