There are days where we have the strong urge to laze around and do nothing. Doing nothing might consist of you lying around until the late afternoon, or just browsing on the Internet. But is that really doing nothing? By browsing or lying on your bed, that is actually doing something. How can one really do nothing? In a keynote talk at EYEO 2017 in Minneapolis, Jenny Odell shares her thoughts on doing nothing:
1. making nothing
I want to backtrack a little here just to say that I’ve long had an appreciation of doing nothing — or more properly, making nothing. I’m not lazy, but the most I have ever made or constructed is a new context for, or perspective on, something that already existed.
2. the architecture of nothing
The artist creates a structure — whether that’s a map or a cordoned-off area — that holds open a contemplative space against the pressures of habit and familiarity that constantly threaten to close it.
3. the precarity of nothing
There’s an obvious critique of all of this, and that’s that it comes from a place of privilege. It’s possible to understand the practice of doing nothing solely as a self-indulgent luxury, the equivalent of taking a mental health day if you’re lucky enough to work at a place that has those.
4. nothing for something
That’s a strategic function of nothing, and in that sense, you simply could file my talk simply under the heading of self care. But if you do, make it “self care” in the activist sense that Audre Lorde meant it in the 1980s — self preservation as an act of political warfare – and not what it means when it’s been appropriated for commercial ends. As Gabrielle Moss, author of Glop (a Goop parody book) put it, self care “is poised to be wrenched away from activists and turned into an excuse to buy an expensive bath oil.”
image credit: Rembrandt via wikimedia commons