The Ghosts of Capitalism in Kathrin Röggla’s wir schlafen nicht (2004) and Isaac Rosa’s La habitación oscura (2013)


  • Daniel López Fernández


The deregulation and flexibilization of the labor market at the center of the neoliberal employment policies and the post-Fordist dissolution of previous management strategies based on direct control mechanisms and on stable labor-capital relationships have often been deemed as liberating measures for workers. However, the psychological toll on workers of unregulated labor markets and job conditions, ineffective measures on unemployment, the constant fear of job loss and the increased accountability for their performance has manifested itself in the form of anxiety, sleeplessness, self-exploitation or a profound pessimism and a retreat from communal forms of resistance.

In Kathrin Röggla’s novel wir schlafen nicht (2004), the demands of flexible capitalism have reached uncanny repercussions. The coercive mechanisms that arise through the subjection to neoliberal working rules have turned the workers into ghosts alienated from themselves, who in search of better and secure job positions have exploited themselves to the verge of mental collapse, barely staying awake through caffeine abuse and other stimulant substances. On a formal level, forms of unrealistic linguistic patterns like the exclusive use of indirect speech or the absence of the interviewer’s questions evoke the impression of a ‘ghost novel’. Thus, the desire to achieve professional excellence and stability in a post-Fordist neoliberal job market seems to come at the cost of mental health, physical well-being, and one’s one identity.

In Isaac Rosa’s La habitación oscura (2013), the crisis of capitalism has created a different type of ghosts. Following the financial crisis in 2008 and the detrimental effects it had on the Spanish economy, the protagonists of Rosa’s novel have decided to temporarily isolate themselves from the outside world in a dark room. They gradually become spectres of a reality they are trying to escape. The four walls of the dark room are not enough to protect them from the harsh economic conditions, and their desire to create a closed community prevents them from actually engaging with larger communities outside, capable of articulating an enduring and organised resistance.