As I wrote about the histories of working-class smoking, tobacco control, and nicotine addiction in my book, Clearing the Air: The Rise and Fall of Smoking in the Workplace, I was often reminded of my own difficult past as a heavily addicted cigarette smoker. In fact, the project stemmed from two important sources: first, my discovery of unique documents that detailed the history of working-class smoking practices at Hammermill Paper Company in Erie, Pennsylvania, during 1915; and the insights gained from my own hellish experiences with nicotine addiction. For eleven years, throughout what was my twenties, I was a regular smoker who came to know very well the power of addiction and how tobacco use facilitated challenges to managers’ authority at work.
I began smoking as a new student in college in order to socialize with other individuals who happened to be smokers: in other words, I started using tobacco to fit in with a new peer group. My addiction to nicotine unfolded very quickly, occurring over a period of no more than a month in the fall semester of 1992. Sadly, I took to smoking very, very easily. By December 1992, toward the end of my first semester in college, I needed nearly a pack of cigarettes every day in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Continue reading “The Labor of Addiction: A Personal History of Smoking in the Workplace”→
Sage House: When you first talked to us about the economic perspective of your book, you mentioned your children, who are young adults making their way in the world, as an inspiration. Can you talk more about that?
William Kennedy: Going back to my adult offspring, our son was trying to mount a career as a musician [in the late 2000s]. Concurrently, our daughter had finished her law degree and was working in the not-for-profit sector [when the Great Recession of 2008–2009 hit]. It was an education for both of them to try to get themselves on their feet. So the experience of our adult children, and certainly the wider experience of economic crisis, got me thinking about these economic questions.
Just wage and inequality, distributive justice, commutative justice: these are all key tenets of moral philosophy in the late middle ages and early modern period.
SH: So you kind of experienced the recession most vividly through your children’s hardship, and these issues came to the fore of your mind at that time. Was this book inspired directly by that?
William J. Kennedy is Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities in the Department of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. His most recent book, Petrarchism at Work: Contextual Economies in the Age of Shakespeare, is newly published by Cornell University Press. In part one of the interview, we discuss the role of revision in the work of Petrarch and Ronsard and its contrality to Kennedy’s study of “contextual economies.”
Sage House: You argue that print technology was a game-changing innovation in the European Renaissance. If print was the disruptive technology of the time, how did poets such as Shakespeare and Ronsard deploy it to disrupt the system?
William Kennedy: People didn’t know what to do with print—the emerging technology of the time—just as I don’t know what to do with Twitter! It wasn’t at all intuitive for a sixteenth-century poet to want to get his poems into print. Poetry was regarded as live entertainment; poets would read their work aloud, sometimes people would copy it down, and sometimes poets would distribute their manuscripts to others to copy and pass on, but without any thought of print publication. Print as a technology was seen as having technical usages in disseminating information. Early printed books tended to favor self-help topics: “how-to” agricultural handbooks, merchant handbooks. Continue reading “Petrarchism at Work: A Two-part Interview with William J. Kennedy”→