[Kathy Wu|The Office for Language Under Capitalism]

This interactive, audio-based web poem plays out through a fictional bureaucratic phone call: “Press 4 to hear about Language Under Capitalism.” In this simulated phone call, a computer-synthesized female voice speaks out different phrases depending on the path you choose.

In this project, I’m interested in what happens to language under specific sociopolitical constraints. Language under capitalism compresses itself—it minifies into lean, neat boxes fit for work and production. It does not rebel, it does not deviate; it eclipses possibility of what could be in our relationships. For instance, we are all writing and producing language all of the time. During the work week, our writing is texts, emails, letters, these linguistic expressions are focused on labor and logistics: “Thank you, have a nice day,” or “Best regards.”

This project was originally made during the first year of COVID-19, as a meditation on invisible work which we are disconnected from; or ways that we are connected to each other across borders and economic class if only for a moment through moments of transaction and servitude. It’s intended to mirror transactional interactions we are familiar with: being on hold, checking out at the automated kiosk, while breaking the fourth wall and inviting you to consider the human aspect on the other side. The language is a collage from various real-life phone calls, my own writing, and a subset of 3,000 search results scraped from Google search filling in the phrase “Thank you.” 

(For best results, access on a mobile phone.)