By Sam Kirwan
Two characters, more than any others, have stuck with me in recent years. The first is ‘Ifan Locke’, in the film of the same (sur)name, played (with an absurd, Hopkins-defying, Welsh brogue) by Tom Hardy. The second is ‘Paul Gould’, played by Anatol Yusef, in the Channel 4 drama Southcliffe. My memory of both is focused upon an act of driving (in one case this is hardly surprising). In different ways, neither reaches their destination, yet the drive encapsulates something important about anxiety, life and work.
In the lonely transitions between the calm states – as husband, site manager and doula – there is chaotic shouting and an embittered conversation with a dead father. That – spoiler alert – it ends okay on one-and-a-half of these fronts, feels like a trick. The level of distance between the characters built up over the hour and a half has been so great that it takes significant investment of optimism to believe he can sew everything together again.
Paul Gould owns and runs a pub, and on the way from domestic and working life defined by his own emotional abuse of his wife and brother, to the abandon of his teenage lover, hesings. The song is ‘Got to Get Back’ by Otis Redding, and I hope that you have not already come to this through The Voice or some other televised devaluation, as this scene, to me, is everything. It is the way he comes in and out of the song that suggests an intimate knowledge of it; an ability to moderate and improvise, to work with the dynamics of the music, to sing it as something new, that I do not recall ever seeing elsewhere (as a contrast, see this attempt in ‘The Son’s Room). It shows a life through an embodied connection to something aesthetic. And it suggests that that life is happiest when driving, alone, fleeing. A capacity to be somewhere else, with someone else. Spoiler alert - the life collapses, through a tragedy entirely external to the dynamics of the family, and the scene is mirrored as he drives, unknown to us, towards a delirious, unthinking suicide. Here it is Otis Redding again, in this case That's How Strong My Love is.
Both moments sit in a tension between life and work; detailing different borders of the idealised figure of the new working age. In one the heroic worker balances the impossible pressures of separating life from work. In the other the drive is the moment of fleeing from a work that has become fully intertwined with a life the subject refuses to commit to. What they both bring up is the extent to which we can separate life and work, and form a politics based on particular responses to this question.
Valerie Walkerdine’s work asks, in the context of de-industrialisation, how those who had previously become themselves in the secure context of a job for life, in which work and place were intimately tied, adapt to work in which you have to be everyone, everywhere. Prepared to present yourself as enthusiastic, but then ignore this enthusiasm if you are let go, unfairly dismissed, ready to start again. I’m also drawn to Levitas’s call to be ‘Against work’; meaning against the absolute moral value attached to being in work and the de-coupling therein of being in work from the conditions of that work.