How the brutalities of working life are transformed into exhaustion, shame, and self-doubt: a writer's account of her experience working in an Amazon fulfillment center.
No longer able to live on the proceeds of her freelance writing and translating income, German novelist Heike Geissler takes a seasonal job at Amazon Order Fulfillment in Leipzig. But the job, intended as a stopgap measure, quickly becomes a descent into humiliation, and Geissler soon begins to internalize the dynamics and nature of the post-capitalist labor market and precarious work. Driven to work at Amazon by financial necessity rather than journalistic ambition, Heike Geissler has nonetheless written the first and only literary account of corporate flex-time employment that offers “freedom” to workers who have become an expendable resource. Shifting between the first and the second person, Seasonal Associate is a nuanced expose of the psychic damage that is an essential working condition with mega-corporations. Geissler has written a twenty-first-century account of how the brutalities of working life are transformed into exhaustion, shame, and self-doubt.
The recent wave of uprisings at Amazon fulfillment centers across Europe make this book even more timely than when it first appeared. But the reasons to read it will last well beyond this news cycle. Heike Geissler has sharp eyes and ears for the absurd indignities that contemporary capitalism inflicts on most people—and how it afflicts women, in particular. Her dispatch is also a rescue mission to take back language from the corporations that have colonized it. Turning the managerial address against itself, she turns it into an instrument of discovery of I and You, a self who is always also other, which is one kind of solidarity. I'd say she's a latter day feminist Robert Walser, but the narrator would cringe at the sales pitch. Buy it—just not You Know Where.
Moira Weigel, author of Labor of Love
In Seasonal Associate, Heike Geissler proves to us, with playful and elegant certainty, that a job is never just a job. Her daily experiences during the Christmas rush in an all-too-real German Amazon warehouse serve as a launchpad for beautifully layered reflections on politics, money, workplace crushes, anxiety, the possibility of choice, and how thinking might navigate a world that almost totally refuses it. As Amazon, and corporations like it, continue to eat the world, this book pulls back the curtain and gives life to all our accursed questions and reflections about how things work (and don't work) behind the scenes. Truly a book for our age.
Jacob Wren, author of Authenticity Is a Feeling and Polyamorous Love Song
...chillingly effective, not least for its accumulation of details, which seem both aggressively banal and freighted with an excess of symbolic meaning....The ubiquitous linguistic debasement and corporate doublespeak is made strange and new again, the small humiliations and injustices pile up along with their psychological and social consequences.
Geissler's account of her time at Amazon is more than a workplace exposé. Hovering somewhere between memoir, cultural criticism, and fiction, it's a compelling meditation on the psychological and physical harm of working for a large corporation in a society driven by neoliberal economic goals.
...Geissler is exploring questions of labor and identity in the twenty-first century and the ways in which work does and does not define us. If this book was simply a chronicle of her time working at Amazon, it would be compelling enough—but the narrative risks she takes pay off, making it so much more.
Words Without Borders
...a bleak meditation on 21st-century drudgery.
In its broadest sense, it is a meditation on the psychological impact of precarious modern work, of how it can settle inside your bones and hollow out the things that make you human.
I haven't ever read anything quite like it. The story follows a freelance writer low on cash who takes on a short-term contract at Amazon's Leipzig warehouse through the winter season. If you're interested in precarious work, the gig economy and how to find a language that accurately describes the emotional landscape of modern work, then this is for you!
An affecting account of precarious labor and demoralizing drudgery, Seasonal Associate exemplifies the minimum wage memoir we need right now. With a keen sense of plain-spoken perspective, Geissler never sensationalizes, instead opting to recount the tedium in terms of unflinching honesty. An exemplary piece of work.