By Simon Cocking, review of Not Working, Why We Have To Stop, Josh Cohen, available from Granta here.
In a culture that tacitly coerces us into blind activity, the art of doing nothing is disappearing. Inactivity can induce lethargy and indifference, but is also a condition of imaginative freedom and creativity. Psychoanalyst Josh Cohen explores the paradoxical pleasures of inactivity, and considers four faces of inertia – the burnout, the slob, the daydreamer and the slacker.
Drawing on his personal experiences and on stories from his consulting room, while punctuating his discussions with portraits of figures associated with the different forms of inactivity – Andy Warhol, Orson Welles, Emily Dickinson and David Foster Wallace – Cohen gets to the heart of the apathy so many of us feel when faced with the demands of contemporary life, and asks how we might live a different and more fulfilled existence.
Not Working, Why We Have To Stop, reviewed
This is an interesting concept for a book. Then the preamble becomes more of a ramble and we found ourselves checking back to the title of the book to see what this book was supposed to be about. The book begins with a rather confusing non-introduction to the book, or rather a slightly long and unclear prelude that runs for XXXVII pages and leaves you none the wiser about what you will be reading about.
This is rather unfortunate because working backwards from the last chapter, about David Foster Wallace, this chapter is really interesting and quite insightful. All of the chapter titles, The Burnout, The Slob, The Slacker etc, are interesting and provocative, and you might imagine they are prototypes of different ways we might live and work. In this way Cohen is interesting and provocative, and these are the gems, perhaps slightly buried in other flights of slightly confused musings.
In these current, existential covid19 times, a re-evaluation of work, what it is, and what it may come to be, could be a really interesting topic. And, at times. Cohen did help to take you there to interesting thoughts and considerations of what the future could be like for us. At other times it felt like the book wasn’t really sure what it was trying to be, or wanting to talk about. Which is a shame, because it is timely, even if it is also slightly jumbled and confused too.
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