J is for Jack of All Trades
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: Read-outs

A series of 26 posts featuring excerpts from Joshua Glenn’s The Idler’s Glossary (Biblioasis, 2008) and The Wage Slave’s Glossary (Biblioasis, 2011). Both books were coauthored by Mark Kingwell, who contributed entertaining philosophical-critical essays on the subjects of idling and wage slavery; and both were wittily illustrated and designed by the cartoonist Seth.

JACK OF ALL TRADES

Well before Fordism, workers resistant to specialization were subjected to concerted propaganda efforts. For example: from the early 17th century until the heyday of industrialization, a jack (informal British term for “trade laborer”) capable of doing many tasks well was highly esteemed. But then, to the jaunty phrase “jack of all trades” was appended the unflattering postscript “and master of none.” Don’t believe the hype. In Terry Gilliam’s dystopian 1985 movie, Brazil, Robert De Niro plays a heroic jack of all trades in a convoluted and inefficient social order overseen by over-specialized bureaucrats: he’s a masterless man.

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ALSO: Alienation | Big Rock Candy Mountains | Corporation | Dawdle | Employee of the Month | Flazy | Greybearding | Hobo | Inemuri | Knock Off Work | Lazy | Micawberish | Nobbing It | Onboarding | Pink Slip | Quitter | Robot | Stakhanovite | Time and Motion Study | Unemployment | Volupté | Wage Slavery | Xerox Subsidy | Yakuza | Zero Drag

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Joshua Glenn is an author, publisher, and semiotic analyst. He is co-author (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) of THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and co-author (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) of the family activities guide UNBORED and three forthcoming spinoffs, including UNBORED Games. He is editor of HILOBROW and publisher of the Radium Age science fiction imprint HiLoBooks. Also: Glenn manages a secretive online community known as the Hermenautic Circle; he is founding editor of the e-book club Save the Adventure; and he's a frequent co-host of Boing Boing's podcast GWEEK. In the ’00s, Glenn was an editor, columnist, and blogger for the Boston Globe's IDEAS section, he co-founded the international semiotics website SEMIONAUT, and contributed to CABINET, SLATE, and elsewhere. In the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT, worked as a dotcom and magazine editor, and contributed to THE BAFFLER, FEED, and elsewhere. His publishing company is King Mixer, LLC; and his semiotic analysis consultancy is Semiovox LLC. He lives in Boston with his wife and children.