A man and his wife were once sitting by the door of their house, and they had a roasted chicken set before them, and were about to eat it together. Then the man saw that his aged father was coming, and hastily took the chicken and hid it, for he would not permit him to have any of it. The old man came, took a drink, and went away. Now the son wanted to put the roasted chicken on the table again, but when he took it up, it had become a great toad, which jumped into his face and sat there and never went away again, and if any one wanted to take it off, it looked venomously at them as if it would jump in their face, so that no one would venture to touch it. And the ungrateful son was forced to feed the toad every day, or else it fed itself on his face; and thus he went about the world without knowing rest.
This Pruoustian image of craft, as a memory that haunts the present, is an inextricable aspect of its extraordinary cultural power. When craft was invented, it was defined as a inferior, passive and limited. Yet it was also understood to be deeply necessary, and not just in a practical sense. Like the involuntary memories of a dimly remembered childhood that trouble Marcel in Remembrance of Things Past, craft simultaneously gives shape to our desire for continuity and reminds us of the actual, tragic discontinuity of our experience. It is firmly set in a position of servitude to the rest of modern culture, that is partly because it is indeed providing a crucial service: the task of memory work. It is a means of processing unsettled matters in history, always as that history is imagined from the perspective of the present.
The post-Taylorist workplace is not only a “virtuosic” workplace, lacking boundaries clearly defined by time or space; for the male zanies in The Toy, The Cable Guy, and The Full Monty, it is clearly also regarded as a feminizing one. Post-Taylorist zaniness thus speaks in a surprisingly direct and even confrontational way to what Antonella Corsani calls the contemporary “‘becoming-woman’ of labor,” a process that involves not only the “setting to work of feminine competencies” in a way that comes to affect the very concept of labor (now understood as “activity that produces economic value, goods, and services on the basis of extra-economic human qualities such as language, relationship, ability, and affectivity’’), but also a “generalization of specifically feminine conditions to a growing fraction of the active male population: precariousness, instability, and atypical contractual forms will no longer be exclusively the feminine condition, but will encompass all of human activity.”Laura Kipnis wryly notes that this is certainly not the kind of gender equality that feminists hoped to achieve; feminism’s goal was to end the economic vulnerability of women, not co make men economically vulnerable as well.In any case the message in The Cable Guy, The Full Monty, and The Toy is clear: in order to keep earning a wage in the post-Fordist economy, male workers in advanced industrial nations will have to get zany, a process that means either overzealously defending masculinity and male homo-social bonds in public arenas or embracing one’s transformation into a stripper/nanny/toy.”