Not Working | Granta

  • Published: 02/01/2020
  • ISBN: 9781783782062
  • 129x20mm
  • 304 pages

Not Working

Josh Cohen

‘To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world.’ Oscar Wilde

More than ever before, we live in a culture that excoriates inactivity and demonizes idleness. Work, connectivity and a constant flow of information are the cultural norms, and a permanent busyness pervades even our quietest moments. Little wonder so many of us are burning out.

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.

[Writing] clearly and beguilingly, his sentences mostly unclogged with jargon... Cohen is good at revealing all the ways in which, event as the 21st century induces exhaustion, it banishes the expression of it; and everyone will recognise what he has to say about how life can feel like a facsimile, one in which we merely go through the motions, when we should be living it to the full... A light thought alongside all my dark ones

Rachel Cooke, Observer

A probing exploration of the creative and imaginative possibilities of inactivity and a decided pushback against the "sacralisation of work" that pervades the west... Cohen usefully grounds the more theoretical wrangling of each chapter with a composite case history gleaned from his consulting room... Not Working not only instructs us in the pursuit of aimlessness, it also teaches us about the psychoanalytic process... Less doing and more being is exactly what Not Working is advocating

Lucy Scholes, Financial Times

A compassionate and thought-provoking way of thinking about what work is and might be... a convincing case that human contentment is only possible if we value equally work and non-work and make space for simply being

David Hayden, Irish Times

The Author

Josh Cohen is a psychoanalyst in private practice, and Professor of Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles on modern literature, psychoanalysis and cultural theory. His books include Not Working (Granta 2019) How to Read Freud (Granta, 2005) and The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark (Granta 2013). He is a regular contributor to Guardian, New Statesman and TLS.

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