Sunday, July 08, 2012
Secret Influences 9: General Motors
With the recent news of more closures at the Oshawa General Motors plant I'm reminded of the significance GM has had in developing some of my aesthetic.
In the early 1990s I was fortunate enough to be employed as a temporary line worker for three summers. Over that time I worked the chassis assembly, the brake line, and the engine line and learned much about union culture and work floor politics. Coming from a middle class family in a working class city I've always respected the importance of the auto industry in sustaining my hometown and in the 1990s this was consolidated with first-hand experience of what it means to labour on assembly lines, to do double shifts, to work overnights, and to learn about solidarity and the interaction between bodies and machines.
This shows up most explicitly (and formally) in poems like "Hydra" and in American Standard/ Canada Dry as a whole, as well as in the ideology behind much of I Can Say Interpellation.
Over those three summers I also tackled three long novels I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to read otherwise: Don Quixote, Moby Dick, and The Making of Americans. Before shifts, during breaks and lunch, as well as the times when the assembly line broke down I'd be able to finish a chapter or so, but I'd also read between tasks--for example, I'd finish one engine or brake and then read a couple of sentences before the next part came down the line. I'd prop the novel up in my work station and hold the page down with a bolt, moving it slowly down the page as the shift continued. I'm sure this affected how I consumed those novels--sometimes slowly, sometimes in bursts, and all connected with the smell of the car factory and the wear and tear the air gun was taking on my wrist and upper body. I particularly associate Stein with that experience and the copy I was reading was one I checked out from the York University library. That copy is still in circulation at Scott and still bears the grease marks on its pages from my bookmark bolt.