The labour reports for the last days

Publication featuring literary reports


Although there are some exceptions, when it comes to portraying "normal" working conditions, the literary world, and, in particular, theatre, have been peculiarly quiet. Therefore, the Federal Cultural Foundation had initiated a project which examined the entire spectrum of what we regard as "work" today from a literary point of view.

In cooperation with the Suhrkamp Verlag, this project developed a publication featuring prominent writers reporting on the conditions of the working world. Although written long ago, Joseph Roth's German Life and Letters or Egon Erwin Kisch's legendary excursions through various spheres of private and professional life are two significant literary role models. In contrast to these historic models, this current project presented writers with a precisely defined narrative frame.

Participating writers received a fictitious letter from the year 2440 sent by an evaluation commission on human history. The letter urged them to draw up reports on today's working world. The writer was free to decide how to collect his/her information and choose the form best suited to present it. The letter did mention, however, that the commission would like to hear some "original recordings" from a variety of areas and especially welcomes portrayals which might seem mundane. The reporters were also encouraged to evaluate the issue they've investigated and report on tendencies they've identified. After all, this project represented the final evaluation of the history of the working world.

This kind of narrative setting enabled the writers to approach the subject closely while keeping a distance. We could expect that the words and terms which are so commonplace today [such as "employment agency"] wouldn't be self-explanatory in future; the writers had to think twice before using antiquated buzzwords and rigid patterns of labour discourse. The task of addressing an audience in the far future forced them to come up with their own original aesthetic solutions, using language their readers would understand. It's not only a matter of explaining what work is today. The writers had to describe what it's like to live in a changing working world and predict how the transformation will continue - and end - based on its current dynamics.

The competition was seeking writers who have already made their mark as seismographers of the working world - and even more importantly - as astute observers. Furthermore, it was important they were interested in social reality and were acquainted with the basic principles of investigation.

With contributions by the following writers: Bernd Cailloux, Dietmar Dath, Felix Ensslin, Wilhelm Genazino, Peter Glaser, Gabriele Goettle, Thomas Kapielski, Georg Klein, Harriet Köhler, André Kubiczek, Thomas Raab, Kathrin Röggla, Oliver Maria Schmitt, Jörg Schröder und Barbara Kalender, Feridun Zaimoglu und Juli Zeh.

The book was published in October 2007:
Schicht! Arbeitsreportagen für die Endzeit
edition suhrkamp 2508. 417 S. 12,- Euro. ISBN 978-3-518-12508-3

Audio recordings:

Bernd Cailloux reads an excerpt from his piece “Der Wendekreis des Käfers. Der Zukunftsforscher und die Gegenwart - oder: sich kratzen, bevor es juckt“ [The Tropic of the Beetle. The Futurologist and the Present – or Scratch before It Itches], published in the compilation. Dietmar Dath reads his personal opinion on the subject, which he wrote for a public reading. Recorded at the Long Reading Night, held at the Palais am Festungsgraben in Berlin on November 16, 2007.