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American Literature and Business Culture
ENGL 197 - Spring 2002,  Christopher Newfield

Tue, 4/2

The Self and the Network Society
“In a post-industrial society, in which cultural services have replaced material goods at the core of production, it is the defense of the subject, in its personality and in its culture, against the logic of apparatuses and markets, that replaces the idea of class struggle.”
-- Alaine Touraine, What is Democracy? (1994)

The Triumph of Open Systems?
Most people think that at least since the Industrial Revolution economies and societies have tended to move from closed to open systems. This view appears in plots like:

stability or chaos or at least complexity
routine mass production or flexible batch production
fixed capital or intellectual capital
formal discrimination or informal discrimination
command-and-control or participative management
hierarchical bureauc'y or virtual, networked enterprise
organization man or free agent nation
planned economy or "jazz" economy

There are many versions of this narrative of an overall progression from closed to open systems. So (1), is this story really true on the level of economy-and-society? (2) does the story for a particular region or nation produce a similar story for the individual? (3) If not, what is the underlying plot for a particular people or culture that is hidden by this master-plot in which openness has won?

Thu, 4/4
Hip Capitalism

"Three types [of consciousness] predominate in America today. One was formed in the nineteenth century, the second in the first half of this century, the third is just emerging. Consciousness I is the traditional outlook of the American farmer, small businessman, and worker who is trying to get ahead. Consciousness II represents the values of an organizational society. Consciousness III is the new generation. . . . Consciousness III postulates the absolute worth of every human being -- every self. Consciousness III does not believe in the antagonistic or competitive doctrine of life." -- Charles Reich, The Greening of America.

"A curious consensus [has emerged]: business and hip are irreconcilable |enemies, the two antithetical poles of American mass culture. Whether it is the crude rendering of Jerry Rubin and Charles Reich or the complex analysis of later academics, the historical meaning of hip seems to be fixed: it is a set of liberating practices fundamentally at odds with the dominant impulses of postwar American society. . . . Despite the homogeneity, repression, and conformity critique favored by so many avatars of cultural studies, historians like Warren Susman, William Leach, and Jackson Lears have pointed out that the prosperity of a consumer society depends not on a rigid control of people's leisure-time behavior, but exactly its opposite: unrestraint in spending, the willingness to enjoy formerly forbidden pleasures, an abandonment of the values of thrift and the suspicion of leisure that characterized an earlier variety of capitalism. . . . [For Leach], consumer capitalism [has taught] a 'concept of humanity' according to which 'what is most "human" about people is their quest after the new, their willingness to violate boundaries, their hatred of the old and the habitual.'" -- Tom Frank, The Conquest of Cool.

Readings Due: COUPLAND, Shampoo Planet, 3-89

Tue, 4/9
The Corporate Refuge

"Right from the start,” said [a former CEO of Procter & Gamble], “William Procter and James Gamble realized that the interests of the organization and its employees were inseparable. That has never been forgotten.” Poorer-performing companies often have strong cultures, too, but dysfunctional ones. They are usually focused on internal politics rather than on the customer, or they focus on “the numbers” rather than on the product and the people who make and sell it. The top companies, on the other hand, always seem to recognize what the companies that set only financial targets don’t know or don’t deem important. The excellent companies seem to understand that every man seeks meaning (not just the top fifty who are “in the bonus pool)”. -- Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.

Readings Due: COUPLAND, Shampoo Planet (90-end)
Jill NELSON, Voluntary Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience, p 3-101.

Thu, 4/11
The Corporate Reality

Managing Diversity / Corporate Authority
The people who make up the population of the organization . . . are different from one another. They are also similar in some respects, and there are no doubt many lessons to be learned from their experiences, but it is their differences with which we are . . . concerned. Some of the differences are easy to identify, for they are visible right on the surface: individuals are male or female, young or old, white or minority. Other differences are not so easy to see: education level, lifestyle, goals and ambitions, sexual orientation, personal values and belief systems involving loyalty to authority, commitment to the organization's vision, ways of thinking, and respect (or fear) for new ideas. Within any one organization, you might find representatives of several of these groups: some who are inclined to push against authority, some who are very cautious with change, some with an entrepreneurial, 'loner' style, some who flourish in a team setting. And you would probably see women and men of several different races and ethnic groups: white, black, Asian, Hispanic, native American. This mix is termed "diversity." -- R. Roosevelt Thomas, Beyond Race and Gender

Readings Due: Jill NELSON, Volunteer Slavery: (cont)

Tue, 4/16
Roots of the “New Economy”: From Fordism to Post-Fordism

Stabilization of material forces is not sufficient; human relations must be stabilized; stabilization of production is not sufficient; merchandising must be stabilized. Stabilization of production and merchandising is not sufficient; general administration must be stabilized. Stabilization of an individual enterprise is not sufficient; all enterprises in the industry must be stabilized. Stabilization of one industry is not sufficient; all industries must be stabilized. . . . Stabilization of national industry alone is not sufficient; international economics must be stabilized. Achievement of any of these ends is a step toward a more balanced and harmonious industrial and social life; each end is but a means to another greater end. -- Harlow Person, former director of the Taylor Society, 1931.

Readings Due: Jill NELSON, Volunteer Slavery:, pp. 102-end
Stephen L. SLAVIN, "Twentieth-Century Economic Theory," Economics 4th ed., pp. 335-48 (r)
David HARVEY, The Condition of Postmodernity pp. 164-188 (r)

Tue, 4/23
The Classical Debate: Free Trade v. Exploitation of Labor

“The worker, during one part of the labour process, produces only the value of his labour-power, I.e. The value of his means of subsistence. . . . During the second period of the labour process, . . . The worker does indeed expend labour-power, he does work, but his labour is no longer necessary labour, and he creates no value for himself. He creates surplus-value which, for the capitalist, has all the charms of something created out of nothing. This part of the working day I call surplus labour-time, and to the labour expended during that time I give the name of surplus labour. . . . What distinguishes the various economic formations of society - the distinction between for example a society based on slave-labour and a society based on wage-labour -- is the form in which this surplus labour is in each case extorted form the immediate producer, the worker. . . . The rate of surplus-value is . . . an exact expression for the degree of exploitation of labour-power by capital, or of the worker by the capitalist. - Karl Marx, Capital vol 1.

Readings Due: Adam SMITH, The Wealth of Nations, Book I, ch 8; Book IV ch 2 (r)
Karl MARX, “Excerpts from James Mill’s Elements of Political Economy” (r)

Tue, 4/30
The Network Society

The supersession of time is also at the core of new organizational forms of economic activity that I have identified as the network enterprise. Flexible forms of management, relentless utilization of fixed capital, intensified performance by labor, strategic alliances, and inter-organizational linkages, all come down to shortening time per operation and to speeding up turnover of resources. . . . Yet, in the informational economy, this time compression does not primarily rely on extracting more time from labor or more labor from time under the clock imperative. Because the value-making potential of labor and organizations is highly dependent on the autonomy of informed labor to make decisions in real time, traditional disciplinary management of labor doe not fit the new production system -- Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society

Essentially, Schumpeter believed that an increase in knowledge, plus the profit motive, will induce an entrepreneur to undertake something new and unfamiliar, usually borrowing money to build his innovative product. When the products of entrepreneurs are commercialized and sold in the marketplace, the total output and wealth of the economy are increased by far more than the old products or capital that were replaced or destroyed. What's more, Schumpeter not only believed that bursts of technological innovation are the single most important forces that create and drive a dynamic growth economy, he also asserted that technological innovation leads to more output, with better quality, at lower prices. According to the US Labor Department, personal computer prices have fallen nearly 100% since the early 1980s. High-tech capital equipment prices are dropping about 30% a year . . ." -- Lawrence Kudlow, American Abundance

Readings Due: Michael LEWIS, The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story pp. 13-159.
Joseph SCHUMPETER, “The Process of Creative Destruction,” in Capitalism, Socialism & Democracy, pp 81-86.

Thu, 5/2
The Heroic Entrepreneur

The capitalist was reinterpreted as a heroic life-force, a bringer of growth, innovation and riches to others as well as himself, associated with giving and generosity rather than meanness and avarice. As Gilder explained: “Capitalism transforms the gift impulse into a disciplined process of creative investment based on a continuing analysis of the needs of others.” -- Anthony Sampson

People with a high level of personal mastery share several basic characteristics. They have a special sense of purpose that lies behind their visions and goals. For such a person, a vision is a calling rather than simply a good idea. They see ‘current reality’ as an ally, not an enemy. They have learned how to perceive and work with forces of change rather than resist these forces. They are deeply inquisitive, committed to continually seeing reality more and more accurately. They feel connected to others and to life itself. Yet they sacrifice none of their uniqueness. They feel as if they are part of a larger creative process, which they can influence but cannot unilaterally control. . . .
Helplessness, the belief that we cannot influence the circumstances under which we live, undermines the incentive to learn, as does the belief that someone somewhere else dictates our actions. . . . This is why learning organizations will, increasingly, be ‘localized’ organizations, extending the maximum degree of authority and power as far from the ‘top’ or corporate center as possible. Localness means moving decisions down the organizational hierarchy; designing business units where, to the greatest degree possible, local decision makers confront the full range of issues and dilemmas intrinsic in growing and sustaining any business enterprise. Localness means unleashing people’s commitment by giving them the freedom to act, to try out their own ideas and be responsible for producing results -- Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

Mental toughness is humility, simplicity, Spartanism. And one other, love. I don’t necessarily have to like my associates, but as a person I must love them. Love is loyalty. Love is teamwork. Love respects the dignity of the individual. Heartpower is the strength of your corporation. -- Vince Lombardi

Readings Due: LEWIS, The New New Thing, 160-268

Tue, 5/7

No Class

Thu, 5/9
Democratic Technology?

The present computer world is built on crude traditional models: hierarchy (believed by some to be synonymous with "structure"); paper analogies, machine analogies, spatial analogies; a crude model of time and backtracking. Older computer methods have great unseen drawbacks, pushing huge problems out into users' laps.
The objectives are: the escape from paper, finding the best ways to support human thought and creativity-- building on a sophisticated knowledge of complex documents, not building up from the simplest implementation of the simplest documents. The search is for an orderly, fast-evolving, fast-accumulating universe of electronic documents, not modelled to paper, and showing detailed relations among documents and versions, including overlap and commonality. - Ted Nelson, The Xanadu Project


Readings Due: Independent Reading: Tim BERNERS-LEE, Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web, chapters 1-10, 14

Tue, 5/14
The Start-Up Phenomenon

I happened to walk into a basement workshop in the physics building at Cornell University. There I saw two students, dressed in the customary style, with bare feet and long unkempt hair. They were working with intense concentration, building a cryostat, a superrefrigerator for low-temperature experiments using liquid helium. This was not an ordinary helium cryostat that would take you down to one degree above absolute zero. This was a new type of cryostat, working with the rare isotope of helium, that would take you down to a few millidegrees above absolute zero. The students were exploring a new world and a new technology. . . . Their brains and hands were stretched to the limit. . . . At the time when I saw them as students putting the apparatus together, they were not dreaming of Nobel prizes. They were driven by the same passion that drove my grandfather [the boilermaker], the joy of a skilled craftsman in a job well done. Science gave them their chance to build things that opened new horizons, just as their ancestors built ships to explore new continent. They had found a creative middle way, between the hierarchical world of big business and the utopian dreams of student rebellion. -- Freeman Dyson, The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet

Readings Due: Charles FERGUSON, High Stakes, No Prisoners, pp 1-193
See also: Randy KOMISAR, The Monk and the Riddle, esp chapters 1-4

Tue, 5/21
Monopoly Tendencies

Its Windows operating system claims some 86% of [the PC] software market, and its Office suite of productivity programs, including a spreadsheet and word processor, has an 87% lock. . . . Microsoft is expected to reel in more than $4 billion in profits this fiscal year, which ends in June, on $14 billion in revenues, up 23% over a year ago. . . . . In calendar year 1996, its $8.7 billion in revenues accounted for 10% of all sales for the 613 publicly traded software and information-services companies . . . More significantly, its $3.1 billion in operating profits was a remarkable 30% of all such profits.
With the company’s pockets lined with riches from Windows and related software, it can spend a staggering $2.5 billion a year on new-product development -- more than the annual profits of the next 10 largest software companies combined. And what it can’t develop fast enough, the company can buy, -- Business Week 19 Jan 1998.

Wealth is never created by income. It's created by capital gains. If you can't let your profits run untaxed, you lose a huge compounding advantage. As a broker or a doctor or a lawyer, you're essentially paid by the hour. If you stop going to the office, you stop making money. The only way to wealth is to be an entrepreneur. How many people do you know who are worth tens of millions of dollars and have worked for a living all their life? On the other hand, most entrepreneurs’ resumes won't get them hired as CEO of a $10 billion company. You have to go build it yourself. -- Dick Heckmann, founder and CEO of US Filters, Success magazine (1997)

Truly original thinkers tend not to be entrepreneurs who've spent 10 years at Cisco and can be trusted to know what they're doing. They tend to be 26 years old and highflying. They often have a very childlike mind, with some naivete. We're impressed by people who don't know what can't be done. -- Steve Jurvetson, venture capitalist firm Draper Fisher

The nation’s largest Internet company has ordered an Aurora [Colorado] woman to stop selling and promoting her book You’ve Got Male because of the similarity to the America Online phrase ‘You’ve got mail.’” First time author Madelene Sabol says, “I’ve spent the past three-and-a-half years doing research and writing the book and invested at least $10,000 in it . . . My attorney told me, ‘You may as well change the name of the book because you can’t fight a big company like that. But why is a big company coming after a little girl like me.’” -- Denver Rocky Mountain News 20 Aug 2000

Readings Due: Charles FERGUSON, High Stakes, No Prisoners, cont

Thu, 5/23
The Persistence of Exploitation

    It is in this relaxed way that the new workday begins. A day filled with rancid coffee, angry clients, drawn-out staff meetings, grouchy supervisors, incompetent coworkers, lecherous bosses, unreliable equipment, relentless faxes, incessant voice mail and enough "Dear Colleague" memos to move the acid production in the stomach into high gear.
   It is in this relaxed way that the new workday begins. A day filled with rancid coffee, angry clients, drawn-out staff meetings, grouchy supervisors, incompetent coworkers, lecherous bosses, unreliable equipment, relentless faxes, incessant voice mail and enough "Dear Colleague" memos to move the acid production in the stomach into high gear.
   The debate gets framed in many ways. Critics talk about the widening gap between rich and poor, between workers and CEOs, but what really eats away a people and demoralizes them is their failed expectation of fairness in the workplace. For some reason they expect hard work to be rewarded, think those rewards should be proportional to the contributions made to an enterprise and feel everyone should be treated the same. The workplace has never been fair. Like they used to say in ancient Egypt, "You don't get promoted to Pharaoh by working hard on a pyramid." -- David S. Levine, Disgruntled: The Darker Side of the World of Work (1998).

    Like any successful cult, sacrifice and penance and the idea that the deity is perfect and his priests are better than you works at Microsoft. Each level, from Gates on down, screams at the next, goading and humiliating them. And while you can work any eighty hours per week that you want, dress any way that you like, you can't talk back in a meeting when your boss says you are shit in front of all your co-workers. It just isn't done. When Bill Gates says that he could do in a weekend what you've failed to do in a week or a month, he's lying, but you don't know better and just go back to try harder.
   This all works to the advantage of Gates, who gets away with murder until the kids eventually realize that this is not the way the rest of the world works. But by then it is three or four years later, they've made their contributions to Microsoft, and are ready to be replaced by another group of kids straight out of school. -- Robert X. Cringeley, Accidental Empires

   Corey Thomas, senior at Vanderbilt was told he was being self-centered in his job hunt. "But the way I see it is that while I want a company that's good for me, I truly believe that if I don't perform they'll get rid of me in a heartbeat. My dad worked for Sears for 19 years as a security guard, and then he was laid off. I have to position myself so I can constantly watch out for myself. I have to be self-serving." -- "The New Organization Man," Fortune (March 1998).

Readings Due: Charles FERGUSON, High Stakes, No Prisoners, cont
Bill LESSARD and Steve BALDWIN, Net Slaves: True Tales of Working the Web, levels 1,4, 6

Tue, 5/28
Free Agent Nation?

Free agents quickly realized that in the traditional world, they were silently accepting an architecture of work customs and social mores that should have crumbled long ago under the weight of its own absurdity. From infighting and office politics to bosses pitting employees against one another to colleagues who don't pull their weight, most workplaces are a study in dysfunction. Most people do want to work; they don't want to put up with brain-dead distractions. Much of what happens inside companies turns out to be about . . . nothing. The American workplace has become a coast-to-coast "Seinfeld" episode. It's about nothing.-- Daniel Pink

Collectively, the employees own the means of production. Individually, few of them are wealthy. . . . Collectively, however, whether through their pension funds, through mutual funds, through their retirement accounts, and so on, they own the means of production. . . . These pension fund managers are the only true 'capitalists' in the United States. The "capitalists" have thus themselves become employees in the post-capitalist knowledge society. They are paid as employees; they think as employees; they see themselves as employees. But they act as capitalists. One implication is that capital now serves the employee, where under Capitalism the employee served capital. -- Peter Drucker, The Post-Capitalist Society

Readings Due: Po BRONSON, The First Twenty Million is Always the Hardest (if there’s time)

Thu, 5/30
Creativity and Emancipation

The function of the Negro college, then, is clear: it must maintain the standards of popular education, it must seek the social regeneration of the Negro, and it must help in the solution of problems of race contact and cooperation. And finally, beyond all this, it must develop men. Above our modern socialism, and out of the worship of the mass, must persist and evolve that higher individualism which the centres of culture protect; there must come a loftier respect for the sovereign human soul that seeks to know itself and the world about it; that seeks a freedom for expansion and self-development; that will love and hate and labor in its own way, untrammeled alike by old and new. Such souls aforetime have inspired and guided worlds, and if we be not wholly bewitched by our Rhinegold, they shall again. Herein the longing of black men must have respect: the rich and bitter depth of their experience, the unknown treasures of their inner life, the strange rendings of nature they have seen, may give the world new points of view and make their loving, living, and doing precious to all human hearts. And to themselves in these the days that try their souls, the chance to soar in the dim blue air above the smoke is to their finer spirits boon and guerdon for what they lose on earth by being black. -- W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903).

The discoveries of recent decades in particle physics have led us to place great emphasis on the concept of broken symmetry. The development of the universe from its earliest beginnings is regarded as a succession of symmetry-breakings. As it emerges from the moment of creation in the Big Bang, the universe is completely symmetrical and featureless. As it cools to lower and lower temperatures, it breaks one symmetry after another, allowing more and more diversity of structure to come into existence. The phenomenon of life also fits naturally into this picture. Life too is symmetry-breaking. . . . Every time a symmetry is broken, new levels of diversity and creativity become possible. It may be that the nature of our universe and the nature of life are such that this process of diversification will have no end. -- Freeman Dyson, Infinite in All Directions (1988).

Tue, 6/4

The Debates

Thu, 6/6

The Debates

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