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Cutting Slack: paradoxes of slackerdom

Hello! I see that some slackers have been more than punctual in taking the initiative and getting this forum under way. Whereas some others, ahem, have waited for the sun to warm the earth before sallying forth. This is just as it should be, for it places us straightaway at the heart of the issues we are to address: the paradoxes of slackerdom.

Three questions are of supreme interest to me with respect to what I take to be our common concern in performing the everlasting Sunday:

- Why is authentic slacking different than mere laziness (if it is)? I choose that phrasing deliberately to underscore the ticklish distinction between the two: I feel it is somehow slacker-incompatible to identify an “authentic” as opposed to an inauthentic mode of slacking, just as it is absurd to suggest that describing laziness as “mere” does anything but upgrade it to some more interestingly corrosive status. Still, it strikes me as useful, even necessary to attempt to conceptualize slacking off as a specific way of being in the world – as opposed to indolence or idleness (and other agreeable states) on the one hand, and languor or what Christians call slothfulness on the other.

- This ontological speculation on slacking’s core definition begs the second question: slacking’s political ontology. By both slacking off from the imperative to work and, symmetrically, deliberately abstaining from leisure and other modes of consumerism, slackers embody a fascinating – and for the productivist majority, infuriating – performative double bind, akin to the famous “I am a liar” that had the Greeks stumped. Slackers don’t “just” slack off; they go at it full-tilt. Clearly, the studied and ostentatious practice of doing not much at all is all-consuming. But is it subversive? Does it have seditious potential within a regime of productivism? Can it obstruct the reifying logic of “creativity” and “artistic research projects” we hear so much about?

- To answer these questions in the affirmative is to imagine that slackers could come to constitute something of a political community, however slack. But, as Randall Szott has asked, are communities formed by slack not bound by slack, that is, entropic collapse under the weight of their own logic? Or can they, martial arts-style, lackadasically harness the surplus force of the productivist adversary? Are slackers, like hackers, more inclined to untie than to unite, as Ken Wark has argued? And if so, what is at the end of the slack line?

To examine these questions – and / or others – about the political potential and conceptual subtleties of slacking by using the prism of art, or at any event on a blog whose positioning within the attention economy is clearly art-related, raises another paradox that cannot be sidestepped. For art, at least in its own conventional self-understanding, is unrepentantly productivist. I recently spoke at a contemporary-art symposium about downsizing, degrowth and slacking as means of challenging the productivist paradigm, which led to some thoughtful exchange – and to a paradoxical outcome. The moderator concluded the session by saying that it would indeed be a good idea to get busy producing more artworks on the subject of degrowth and slacking off… As if denouncing overproduction by producing more denunciations of same was a coherent (or even artistically satisfying) critical position. However important the reflexive or even tautological imperative may still be in the artworld, mimetically (albeit subconsciously) reproducing the logic of dominant economy appears in most cases to hold sway. And somehow, precisely because of art’s reflexivity, overproduction in art is somehow infinitely more objectionable in the symbolic economy of art than in the real economy.

That being said, minority currents exist within art that run counter to productivism and they are eminently worth mentioning. But how can art foreground slacking without inadvertently doing just the opposite? How can art embody an ontology of degrowth – more of less? What strategies or tactics can be used that are more than mere gadgets of an artistic imagination colonized by the logic of production? I think these questions too are close to the spirit of our discussion.

I will be coming back to these issues in subsequent posts. Let me conclude here with some general thoughts on the question of slacking’s ontology.

*

Spinoza excellently and famously defined desire as “appetite together with awareness of the appetite,” by which he meant that desire is appetite’s self-conscious, reflexive moment. “Between appetite and desire there is no real difference,” he wrote, “except that desire is generally related to people insofar as they are conscious of their appetite.” That may seem like nit-picking, but it is of decisive importance to his constructivist theory of desire – that is, desire as something open to assemblage rather than something to be submitted to. Can a similar line of reasoning not be made for the distinction between laziness and slacking? The productivist majority and its scribes tend to dismiss slacking off as a new-fangled word for an age-old cardinal sin – sloth – without the unfashionable moral overtones. And it’s undeniable that the ostentatious practice of slacking off can look suspiciously lazy to the Man with the clock.

However, I would argue that slacking is an instance of what a friend in a forthcoming text calls “performing laziness.” Performative in both senses of the word: an ostentatious display of inactivity (as opposed to passivity), and in this case, of something not given to display. And in the philosophical-linguistic sense of the term: an instantiation in deed of what it says in so many words.

One could say a great deal about this double-bind. But it boils down to this: slackers are not lazy at all. They are in fact no more lazy than they are productivist. (Well, I exaggerate…) Productivists may, deep down, be lazy. Or fearful that we’re all inherently inclined to a little farniente. Slackers have to do two things at once: abstain from any voluntary servitude to productivism and foreground that abstinence so that it is at once visible for what it is and what it isn’t, thereby (hopefully) inspiring emulation. This is what gives slackerdom a double ontological status: both what it is, and a proposition of the same.

It is this paradoxical status that makes it constitutive of a certain way of life and inscription in the world, and links it to the political and aesthetic questions I hope will be addressed subsequently.

Stephen Wright

 

How many slackers does it take to slacken off a non-slacker?

Happy New Year slackers! I hope it wouldn't be inappropriately eager of me to post up a text I wrote pondering on proselytizing slacking as a way of introducing myself to the summit....

If you’ve come across this text then chances are you don’t need the virtues of slacking off explained to you in any great detail. Those that have a predisposition towards doing little, opting out, actively withdrawing, passively resisting and generally living the good life tend to congregate and converse naturally, by accident rather than design, drawn to one another as they are, it would appear, by some kind of lazy magnetism. Nevertheless, we should perhaps straighten out a few things first. When, in this text, I refer to slacking I’m not excluding all forms of activity, I wouldn’t even give preference to ways of spending time that expend less energy than others. My notion of slacking is best summed up by Henry Flynt’s criminally underused term ‘brend’ . Why this catch all for ‘everything done entirely because you just like it as you do it’ has failed to enter the common English language is baffling. Perhaps it’s because it’s such an ugly word? Other terms that might better point towards what I’m getting at, although now equally unsightly because of their proximity to that productivist construct ‘leisure’, are ‘recreation’ or ‘play’. Slacking, for me, denotes a way of spending time that, in its purest form, is done for no real reason, not as a means to an end. That is, then, something done just for fun.

The political significance and transformative potential of slacking is becoming increasingly apparent. From climate change to the credit crunch, the mainstream media - and in turn ‘public consciousness’ - is slowly cottoning-on to the fact that our all-out faster, faster, more, more logic has led us hurtling at great speed towards a nasty looking brick wall. We need something sticky to slow us down, a braking area, some tea and scones and a chat to plan some new routes or retrace our steps back to where we took the wrong exit. Of course activists, political philosophers, progressive writers and artists have been extolling the benefits of slowing down, stopping and even reversing, for decades if not centuries. Economist Jeremy Rifkin does so in his book ‘The End of Work’. Bob Black’s hilarious ‘The Abolition of Work’ also. Even radical political action has its slack moments; the Situationist’s derive wasn’t much more than a drunken stroll without a destination, and the festive atmosphere and playful nature of the demonstrations, occupations and riots that share this legacy – Seattle 1999, Reclaim The Streets and the subsequent summit demos – have posited ‘absurd’ or ‘pointless’ actions in a transformative light. Perhaps even the postmodern tendency towards micropolitics and the distaste for grand narratives, too, betrays a slacker tendency; ‘we should do it because we don’t know exactly why we do it’. Art also, when divorced of its market logic, has potential to enjoy, as Adorno put it, ‘the function to have no function’. Slacking, then, is all around us, even in ‘high’ culture and the most proactive of radical movements.

Slackers should, however, be wary about becoming complacent, even with the support of this body of pro-slacking theory and practice. It would be naïve to think that the current economic and ecological climate, that is forcing a public re-evaluation of the once solid foundations of productivism, signals definite change in the mechanisms of capitalist society. Those social ills we may think best addressed by slacking are still being provided with industrious solutions, despite their glaring stupidity; ‘Spend your way out of the recession’, ‘Buy more green products to stop climate change’, and so on. Additionally we should remember that even if it were to become a ‘validated’ tactic for social change, slacking, like any other transformative force, is always under real threat of recuperation and co-option once it announces itself or becomes fixed, that is, once it becomes too mainstream. Anyone remember the Pepsi-drinking ‘generation X’, or Stiltskin the manufactured grunge band formed to soundtrack a Levis ad? Slacking, sadly, once drained of it’s transformative potential and its political element becomes inertia, laziness, and ultimately docility, a far cry from the revolutionary activity of self-valorising play.

Isn’t it vital, then, that we be disseminating and discussing slacking to help preserve its potency and demonstrate its potential as both good for the soul and as having clear social, not to mention ecological, benefits? The burning question seems to me to be; how do we appropriately ‘spread’ slacking? This is more difficult than it might first appear. A Catch 22 situation arises from the a priori that a slacker can’t get a non-slacker to slacken off by force or coercion. To ‘preach’ slacking or to posit it as a hegemonic force that people should adhere to is an outright contradiction. Slacking may well be something you have to learn for yourself. How, then, are we to create an environment that gives space to and supports this learning without trying too hard? Is it possible to facilitate purposeless activity without betraying the underlying principles of slacking?

Slacking, along with anarchism and poststructuralism, has a justifiably problematic relationship with ground-rules. If something is being done for the fun of it then why should someone tell you how to do it or why it’s being done? Slacking, also, like the best activism and art, creates autonomous zones for new behaviour, but these are by necessity both temporary and fluid, and as such need handling with care. Even talking about the consequences of slacking can upset its fragile state, sending the slacker skidding into a pit of ‘productive leisure’ or even worse, ‘edutainment’. So then, it could be said that although there are no hard and fast rules to slacking, there might be some helpful guidelines to ensure a good slacking standard and prevent us from falling prey to the hegemony of productivism. We could perhaps describe this as a slacking ethics, in which case it can easily enough be plagiarised or détourned from the ethics of postanarchism outlined by Todd May, Saul Newman and Richard JF Day, my attempt at which follows.

Slacking – An Ethical Guide, in four easy parts.
Read at your leisure, ignore, rewrite or destroy.

a) The Indignity of Speaking for Others

Is there anything much worse than having your own situation explained to you by ‘experts’? As exciting as it is to discover that something ordinary and, on first glance, apolitical, actually has great ‘political significance’ or ‘transformative potential’, just stop and think for a second before you go wading in with your big words to explain how important and amazing it is to those people that are actually doing it.

A pertinent example of this dangerous scenario is found in the current artistic interest in amateur or folk activity that accompanies artistic interventions into communities , or indeed, this essay. Albeit tempting to highlight the alternatives to consumption and capitalist production that occur every day in small self-organised groups of DIY film makers, beekeepers, marquetry groups, arts and crafts hobbyists, women’s discussion groups and the like; enticing as it is to proclaim the fact that they are involved in that activity for no real monetary gain or upward social mobility; and indeed alluring to go as far as to say they’re slacking in a creative way, pushing and expanding the territories of a qualitatively richer existence, this pronouncement should be exercised with caution. If communicating the magic of an activity involves reframing it as ‘socially beneficial’, ‘radical’ and ‘politicised’ to those that are already happily engaged in it, then you run the risk of smothering or undoing its magic. When it comes to slacking ignorance is not only bliss, sometimes it’s the only option. At the very least, it is crucial to bear in mind that by wrapping up someone else’s activity in your own discourse you steal away ownership; you author it at the expense of the actor. The conscientious slacker speaks only when it is wholly appropriate and absolutely necessary.

b) Undoing the Place of Power

There is no contesting the fact that the networks of power that mediate and dictate our everyday actions leave something to be desired in the quality-of-life stakes. Are we still bored? If we haven’t yet given up waiting for the fulfilment of our desires and getting on with something more fun and immediate instead - preferably nothing - then boredom is inevitable. Doing nothing isn’t boring, waiting is boring, and the powers that make us wait are perpetrators of boredom. Why then, seek to replace the present power that promises to deliver something we’re not sure we want with another – our own - that might deliver what we think we know we want? It amounts to the same thing; waiting in line, a transitory period, a changing of the guard, the election of a new distributor of our desires with absolutely no guarantees or refunds.

Perhaps it’s much better to attempt to undo the entire logic, to highlight the absurdity of power altogether. When the macho-man’s favourite poet Charles Bukowski writes that voting in the US presidential elections is like choosing between warm shit and cold shit for breakfast, he isn’t suggesting there are any more tasty alternatives baking in the underground. Indeed it would be a disservice to interpret his consistent jettison of final meal tickets, rent cheques and undeserved women just to spite authority as adolescent rebellion. For all his misgivings Bukowski’s commitment to undoing and then refusing to replace power should be of great inspiration to the true slacker. There was a man who knew how to frustrate someone to their knees rather than knock them down, who knew how to refuse to attempt to beat people at their own game. We could say that the most effective slacker, then, is one who ignores rather than contests power.

c) Minor Inspiration

There will be no queen or king of slacking, nor should there be a pro-slacker elevated to a position as role model. In the unlikely scenario where a slacker were to acknowledge their place as an exemplary figure this very acceptance would nullify the reasoning for their admiration in slacking circles. Once you admit to being good enough at something to influence how others may do it, it’s time to stop. Not least because that activity that was once done for no reason has now had a purpose thrust upon it. Sometimes things become work without our knowing.

The American post-hardcore underground is full of stories of bands refusing to embrace the celebrity status that befits those who indulge in playing rock music as a hobby and are, unfortunately for them, good enough for a lot of other people to like it. The refusal to ‘sell-out’, however, is all too often substituted by an adoption of moral superiority. Arrogant stories by rock stars of drugs and women that can never hope to be experienced by the listeners are replaced by a preaching of strict DIY moral codes and punk ethics which no youth could bear to abide by. In these cases the sycophantic hero-worship by fans of rock dinosaurs like Jimmy Page and Guns and Roses for their fame, money and ‘talent’ is simply exchanged for a similarly uncritical appraisal of the ‘uncompromised’ ethics and commitment to experimentation of Steve Albini, Ian Mackaye, Thurston Moore or Mike Patton etc. It should be remembered in these cases that Deleuze’s notion of ‘becoming minor’ is equally applicable as a technique for avoiding turning into an intellectual and moral hegemon, not just an economic one. This is not to suggest that inspiration between slackers is outlawed. Slackers may take their inspiration from those individuals and groups that practice becoming minor in the most effective of ways; those that remain only semi-visible like a low-light emitting flame, dissolving when caught in a direct gaze. We can gather inspiration from infinite tiny, ever changing sources, rather than single, fixed idols. Slackers need neither heroes nor anti-heroes, they can take inspiration from a multitude of unidentified stars.

c) An affinity for affinity

If we are to avoid the trappings of a means-ends mentality, and the devolution of play into work that arises from it, then we should give our attention to those things that are either so small, so invisible, so complex and shape-shifting, or so temporal that there can be no chance of imagining them into a fixed future form. This does not exclude the ambition for larger social change, but we must be aware that this can only come about through the interplay and networking of smaller playful explorations and activities. These minor investigations will link to one another not by force or under the homogenising banner of a ‘movement’, but through an affinity made visible by the constant vocalisation and demonstration of our disparate and multifarious slackings.

That politics begins at home is perhaps too well worn a cliché to hope to recharge. Nevertheless, when Gaston Bachelard conducts his reading of the house as the perfect architecture for facilitating daydreams in ‘The Poetics of Space’ it is difficult not to be seduced by the idea that our connected domestic experiences do, in fact, amount to a utopia that we can live in the here and now. We need space in which to let our minds wander as much as we need social contact to create our identity. Bachelard’s writing helps us to examine and re-evaluate the significant role that humble details like stairwells, light patterns on the wall, the sound of high winds bracing windows and chimneys, and rain on a window pane might play in social transformation. Although we would be right to demonstrate the utmost caution around his more essentialist ideas, betrayed by a belief in universal experiences and collective memory, it’s hard to argue against the idea that our experiences and explorations in childhood homes blurs the intimate and the social. Who hasn’t spent some time hiding in the small nooks and crannies of ‘secret’ rooms, or laying face down on a carpet warmed by sunbeams pouring through a window? What transformation is set in motion when we begin to share these experiences, and the daydreaming that occurs within them, with one another? Are we not more likely to act on these dreams when we discover, through conversation, that they are shared, rather than if we were to have desires pushed upon us? Slackers, then, are equally, if not more, concerned with tending to their domestic environment and enriching their lives at the roots as they are looking for wider environmental solutions to the qualitative poverty of everyday life. After all it’s much more interesting to talk about dreams and anecdotes over dinner than political theory.

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So then, do these ethical ‘guidelines’ and examples bring us any closer to understanding what a socially transformative slacking might look like, or how it could operate? Are we any clearer as to how the benefits of a playful and anti-productivist existence might be communicated in a manner concomitant with the act of slacking itself? Perhaps, it might be best to round up by briefly measuring what we can unearth from the above against other contemporary methods of facilitating social change in order to highlight the particular facets that might form a socially transformative slacking?

For me, some of the more interesting methods for facilitating social change have emerged from that grey area between art and activism now commonly referred to as ‘socially engaged art practice’. Interventions and actions from groups like WochenKlausur, 01.org, Artway of Thinking, SUPERFLEX, and, further back, Critical Art Ensemble and Group Material, have demonstrated inventive ways to create spaces for new ways of acting, thinking and conversing. The problematics relating to these practices’ proximity to state agendas and their subsequent recuperation, as well as their intellectual and practical wrestling with what constitutes interactive art, audience participation and collaboration have been looked at in detail elsewhere. One element that I would like to highlight in this context though is the tendency for these transformative practices to lean towards the visible and quantitative.

It would appear in the majority of cases that in order for a practice to demonstrate its ‘social worth’ it must include two elements. The first is that the activity or the encounter with the work should be a collective one - in that it is a number of people that are brought together in a space to converse with one another, or a group of people who are identified for collaboration in some intervention. Another, and closely linked to and resulting from the first condition, is that the outcome should be both visible and, often, quantifiable. ‘The community were empowered to build their own skate ramp’, ‘The activity has resulted in a fascinating mapping of social capital’, ‘The comments and feedback from participants were encouraging and have been compiled into this book’ and so on. These are conditions that result from the manner in which these projects are evaluated - and consequently funded - but equally often appear as self-imposed or unspoken laws of socially engaged art practice. As every good slacker knows though, the most cunning trap laid by the purveyors of productivism is to get you speaking their language, and one of ‘visible outputs’ and ‘quantitative measures’ certainly belongs to that sphere which the slacker activist desires to transform most.

If slacking is to become a valid and effective form of resistance to what Richard J F Day describes as the ‘hegemony of hegemony’, or if, more simply, it is to serve as an entrance point towards adopting a more critical viewpoint of oppressive power, then can it begin to do so whilst adopting the language of that which it seeks to replace? An alternative might be an invisible socially engaged art practice that refuses to reify its ‘output’ or its ameliorative effect. Another possibility is a form of activism that occurs in zones of intimacy, through books, personal mp3 players, domestic spaces, and in one-to-one scenarios. This kind of social change, conducted through minor activity is one maybe best in line with my interpretation of ‘socially transformative slacking’.

Poetic space, then, becomes the territory in which the slacker as agent of social change plays. In this arena boredom, rather than stimulation, takes on a socio-political significance. The zones of autonomy for slacking are private worlds that can be shared at leisure by those who have experienced them, rather than artificially constructed zones of social activity where ‘participants’ become actors in a play not of their own design. The slacker artist-activist is concerned with creating space in which to do nothing rather than achieve set goals or gather and document information. Immersive spaces in which, as John Cage describes it, there is the possibility of ‘resetting to zero’, of seeing things and experiencing things ‘just as they are’, or, as we might better articulate it in this text, for identifying the slacking potential in everything we see and do. Slacking can be ‘spread’, then, not through proselytizing, or even by hegemonic inspiration, but through the playful creation, or infiltration, of small, fluid everyday spaces in which to lose oneself and re-evaluate the world. The slacker art-activist offers entrance points into immersive spaces that may, in turn, identify ‘lines of flight’ to new ways of slacking. The question remains though, is it possible to create these entrance points through slacking, that is, without intentionality, or does it take a non-slacker, or a lapse into work activity to achieve this?

It is possible that this recurring contradiction, or paradox, that dogs this discussion, should not be seen as flaw in the logic of transformative slacking. As we brushed upon earlier, inconsistency or fluidity, and the denial of a fixed identity, is a vital element in preventing the recuperation of slacking. By refusing to act in a manner that is wholly coherent, and, as such, identifiable and quantifiable by powers that want to co-opt or quash transformative activity, slackers elude their own enclosure as a ‘marginal’ sub-group or alternative ‘culture’. Those individuals and groups, then, that recognise the transformative potential of slacking and wish to engender it, would perhaps be wise not to identify themselves as ‘Slackers’ and instead to oscillate and flow between states of slacking, play and even work. Transformative slacking isn’t a case of trying to exist outside of productivism but rather of recognising it as a force that can be utilized - with extreme caution and criticality - in the organic, viral dissemination of slacking. The moment of work which may be necessary in creating a space in which to facilitate slacking, play, ‘brend’ or however you prefer to call it, is one in which we should be proud to be contradictory. After all, who ever heard of an uptight slacker?

 

Preliminary remarks

It's funny to me that I have been designated as a "special guest" for this summitt. I suppose what might make me special relative to all of the other participants is that I've accomplished esentially nothing in the world of ideas. I wrote some blogs for a time, have given a talk here and there, but have no credentials that would encourage the lay reader to tune in to what I have to say. So in some sense my role here might be to function as a kind of slacker mascot, a role I'm perfectly comfortable with.

Writing this has been delayed by a trip to the beach, watching dolphins play in the backyard of my parent's home, swinging my son around in the airplane game, eating roast chicken, drinking coffee at an outdoor cafe, and many, many other things. Having read Andy's piece before he posted it here also greatly diminished the chances of a timely post. He has said so much with such eloquence, that I've basically abandoned the idea that I can serve as much more than a mascot. It is with great dread that I anticipate Stephen's introductory remarks as, I'm sure they too will overshadow anything I might offer.

This of course doesn't mean I have nothing to say or that I'm some complacent dolt with poor self-esteem. It is common to view slackers in that light and slackers often do little to discourage such an interpretation. It comes with the territory. Slackers are comical, pathetic, or both depending on one's perspective. Tom Lutz notes "...the slacker has been a figure of fun, a character in a cultural farce. The anger [elicited by slackers] and the comedy are two sides of the same unearned coin..." He goes on to mention several comic duos that play to this polarity - Abbott and Costello, Hardy and Laurel, and Martin and Lewis. I've tended to identify with the fool in those pairings, the lazy one, the playful one. the one who can't stay serious, the fuck up. Beyond comedians per se, I've extended this identification - wanting to be Dalí not Breton, Vaneigem not Debord, McCartney not Lennon, Fluxus not Conceptualism, the Yippies not the Weathermen, Yogi Bear not Boo Boo, and on and on. It is in this context, when I return from the park, by which my future postings should be considered...

 

The Tao of Slacking

An initial post to get some of the "partly baked ideas" in my head out.

For me ideas of slacking have been very close to the core ideas of the Chinese philosophy Taoism. I was introduced to the philosophy through a book, "The Tao of Pooh," by Benjamin Hoff. The book attempts to interpret the stories and the character of Winee the Pooh through the lens of the Taoist texts in order to maybe understand the texts in a simpler and lighter fashion. So what does Taoism say that is so slackerly?

- "When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. The world is led by not interfering."

- "The uncarved block" - everything in its essential form, with no interfearance (like a pience of uncarved wooden block" has a beauty, and a "tuning" with the Tao ("the way"). that which is nothing has the potential of being everything and so is the most potent.

So, I do see slacking as fundamentally different from laziness or just inaction. Slacking would be for me a state of mind in which I have no desire for action, interfearance and manipulation, total surrender. If I have desire for action and the action just doesn't manifest for whatever reason then that is something else.

So the process of Buddhist meditation (which I used to practise but don't anymore) might be really a training programme for slacking. The world is kept in balance through a mix of opposing energies and one of those if this huge mass of people who choose to close their eyes and watch their breath instead of watching television or shopping.

 

Slacker - Buddhist Connection via Tom Lutz

I'll cite Tom Lutz again, partly because his book (Doing Nothing - A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and bums in America) is so fresh in my mind and also to potentially bait him into the conversation. He mentions that the Beats had claimed/interpreted Buddhism as a "do-nothing philosophy" but "...doing nothing is far from easy. It is a discipline, a practice." Or as he puts it in a more Taoist manner, "The Way of the Loafer is steep and hard."

 

Notes on Slack

Slack is extra - extra line in the rope. Slack is not keeping things tight. It means not pulling, or at least not pulling so much that you use up all the slack.

In animal training, slack is a reward. When a horse does what you want, you give it slack in the reins. You release the pressure, and that release is pleasure enough. This suggests that slack itself, having a bit of extra in your rope, is something to value.

If slack is extra, it is linked to waste. Bataille suggested that what we do with our waste, our "extra," is what defines us. And he reminds us of the (problematic) relationship between excess, waste, and sacrifice.

The kind of slack we're talking most about here is the slack that means wasted time. And wasted time means time not given to the future. Time not put to use. To waste time is to be present. To simply be present is to waste time. If enough time is wasted in this way, (as Prayas Abhinav suggested) you are a buddha.

At work, to slack is to strike. It is an act of refusal - the refusal to be used. Here I think you can find some of its political sting. Slacking is a kind of sabotage, like those dutch workers throwing their wooden shoes into the machines that enslaved them - wreckage as resistance. Slacking subtly wrecks the productive machine of work life, it slows it down, gums it up.

I met a poet in Prague once. He told me that before the revolution, writers and philosophers tried to get work tending the boilers in big buildings. They could sit in the basement, quietly reading and writing subversive tracts, shoveling coal from time to time as necessary. They sought out the work with the most slack, and with that slack they made their revolution.

This is another bit of the sting - people with some extra in their time might spend it thinking and talking. Slack time is free time. And any kind of freedom can be habit forming.

Time is the one kind of economic capital that everyone starts out with (though of course we never quite know how much we'll have). Industry (and industriousness) puts time to "good" use. You spend your time, trading it for a skimming of the monetary capital it turns into. The present is traded for a future (even if that future is only dinner).

To deliberately waste time is to critique the value of that exchange.

I keep thinking of that old Aesop fable about the ant and the grasshopper. The ant spent its summer hard at work, preparing for the winter. The grasshopper spent its summer slacking and singing. In the Aesop story, the grasshopper dies of hunger, filled with regret.

But I wonder. Even the Christian bible gives us a bit more slack.

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

Slacker manifestos go way back.

Personally I spent the first two days of this summit slacking ostentatiously. During one I went to bed in full daylight and slept til sunset, and the other I mostly spent playing games. These are traditionally the slackest days of my year, and they are precious to me, slacking holy days, you might say. Time is spent extravagantly, wasted easily, work is sacrificed, burned away.

This isn't slacking as resistance or revolution, it's slacking as pleasure, as intrinsic time, as simple freedom.

 

Aftermath: Dalí in Hollywood (1941)

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Surrealist Forest, 1941 (Corbis/Bettman-UPI)

While many avant garde projects of the past have threatened to destroy the museums, libraries and academies, new leisure initiatives would prefer to break into them. As a common approach to institutions and the practice of artist/curatorship, leisure is like a lazy run down a museum hallway, a blur of glittering objects with a dash of mischief.

Leisure Projects* found the LeisureArts Dilettante Ventures of Randall Szott (http://leisurearts.blogspot.com) while flitting about the internet. At the time it seemed that leisure related collectives were popping up around the world and we were curious and appalled to find so many of our peers spontaneously exploring the thesis we had so thoughtfully determined for ourselves. Getting in touch with these like minded cultural enthusiasts seemed to be the best way to turn rogue competition into collaboration and comradery. We have been engaged by our sporadic correspondence with Randall over the past year and were happy to receive his invitation to respond to this forum.

Taking a playful approach to art making, Leisure Projects is imbued with optimism and imaginative escapism. Our projects delve into opulent otherworldliness, charting the influence of fantasy and desire on our perceptions of the world. We are fascinated by the dual logic of glamour, its contrary ability to enhance or mask our understanding of experience- imaginary games that transform the every-day and familiar into an environment charged with potential. As such we are pleased to follow-up on Randall’s reference to that playful trickster Salvador Dalí.

When Salvador Dalí returned to the United States during World War II he was unwelcome in the New York circle of Surrealists in exile. He settled on the West Coast, and created theatrical, hybrid events that liberally borrowed from past surrealist installations. Dalí & Gala’s 1941 Surrealist Forest event at the Del Monte Lodge Hotel, Pebble Beach, California was a crazy indulgent event that really explored the spectacular aesthetic of salon social culture – pictured here is a forest of oversize animal-manikins, banquet table and guests Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Ginger Rogers. The décor for the event featured 5000 empty sugar bags (a sweeter version of Marcel Duchamp’s original installation of 1200 coal bags at the 1938 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme) a nude “Sleeping Beauty on a body of gardenias, an ivy garlanded nude model in a wrecked Chevrolet, 24 mannequins topped by animal props loaned by a local film studio. -Source- Displaying The Marvelous, Lewis Kachur, MIT Press, 2001

* Leisure Projects is an artist-curator collaborative practice begun in 2004, which explores popular imaginaries of leisure through site-specific social history and wilderness, and contextualises them through the mode of contemporary art, be it curated exhibitions, performed events or published texts. Leisure Projects is the delirious brainchild of artist/curators Meredith Carruthers and Susannah Wesley. www.leisureprojects.ca

 

A little more slack.

Deadlines extended! I can feel a collective sigh of release reverberating around the internet. Luxurious slack. Days and days of it.

 

The art prism

About a decade ago I read a book that would be a turning point for me - Allan Kaprow's Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. I'd never had much interest in Kaprow the artist, or to be more specific, Kaprow the figure of art history. Kaprow the philosopher-slacker, or slacker-philosopher is another matter altogether. His Manifesto (1966) laid the groundwork for my descent into exploring the "...conceptual subtleties of slacking by using the prism of art" as Stephen has put it. Kaprow starts the Manifesto with a statement I decided to take literally, to treat as more than hyperbole, to use as a guiding principle - "Once, the task of the artist was to make good art; now it is to avoid making art of any kind."

This instruction, is yet another paradox and contradiction in the manner of those mentioned by Andy Abbott and S. Wright. It is profoundly easy and maddeningly difficult. It is easy to not make art. Billions don't make art everyday. I have discovered that when you tend to situate yourself among people with varying degrees of loyalty to the artworld that it is much more difficult to not make art. Despite my emphatic denials, people call me an artist and label many things that I do - art. This is, as I have mentioned mostly a problem of context. Outside of the "unrepentantly productivist" professional denizens of the artworld, no one cares a whit about whether the dinner we're sharing is a project. They just want to have a nice meal and some reasonably engaging conversation. I'd have an amazing vitae if every dinner party I hosted made its way into it.

One consequence of going down this road, the road to slackerdom via the art prism, is the absence of a career. As Kaprow put it in one of his "unartist" series of essays (I hope to address these further at some point), "Artists of the world drop out! you have nothing to lose but your professions!" I decided to skip a step and therefore never had a career to drop out of. The stakes are higher for those who might actually have some prestige, income, or attention to sacrifice. Thankfully with slacking in my DNA I am spared any of this.

 

Recycling

I am posting some material I previously published at one of my aforementioned blogs with a few minor revisions as I think it might resonate nicely with Andy's piece and it picks up on the notion of resistance that Sal closes her notes with. Plus, it takes so little effort on my part:

****
Over a decade has passed since the publication of Patrick Durkee's essay "Slackspace: The Politics of Waste" which appeared in Prosthetic Territories: Politics and Hypertechnologies Gabriel Brahm Jr. & Mark Driscoll eds. I've never seen the essay cited in print and an internet search finds scant mention of it as well. I think it's partially due to the essay being a poor fit for the volume it was published in. It is a shame to have so little discussion of a pretty remarkable work.

Durkee provides a theoretical framework for discussing slackers and the social networks they inhabit which he refers to as slackspace. He provides a political subtext (a dubious notion of "political" however) for their activities. He calls this "a politics of waste." In a passage that has served as the outline of my own activities he writes:

"By slacking off from the obligation to produce and consume, slackers interrupt the infiltration of social space by commodity culture. Piecing together styles of living, forms of community and personal identities, out of both the material and ideological waste of the postwar United States, the slacker's practice of ostentatiously doing very little illustrates the possibilities of resistance left to a culture in which the logic of the commodity relentlessly colonizes social space."

Compare this with the notion of the bricoleur as elaborated by
Bernard Herman in his essay "The Bricoleur Revisited" from American Material Culture: The Shape of the Field - Ann Smart Martin and J. Ritchie Garrison eds. :

"Thus we can imagine the bricoleur standing in the scrapyard of experience and through a process of sorting and low-tech assemblage creating compelling, meaningful narratives out of seemingly unrelated objects and events. The bricoleur, working with the detritus of myth and history, of artifact and experience, defines the project by the means and materials at hand. The bricoleur's discovery of meaning is always imaginative and personal: the sense and communication of meaning is inescapably contextual and always about the relationships established between people and their environments in all of their many intimacies."

To further the comparison of slacker as bricoleur, we find Durkee discussing the function of conspiracy theories and pop culture mythologies in slackspace:

"...slackers represent the larger society around them through a bricolage of narratives and characters that bear at best only a peripheral significance to actual events...the instrumental function of knowledge is not valued particularly highly, but their fantatsic attempts to make meaning of waste represent something more significant than simple fantasy: the attempt to produce from within slackspace a cognitive map of the world using only the waste materials at hand."

Slackers and slacking are obviously tied to notions of leisure. Durkee briefly outlines Thorstein Veblen's discussion of leisure and then moves on to the Frankfurt School and situationist critique of leisure. Essentially, leisure has been subsumed in the logic of work it no longer stands "over and above" work, but is a mirror of it. I'd like to add that the same is true of art, it is inextricably bound to the logic of production and labor. LeisureArts was founded to try to find a way to escape from that logic, to shift from artwork to artleisure. Gilbert and George offer a slightly different version of this escape in the notion of art-relaxing, "...with art-relaxing art comes to you with a greater simplicity clearness beauty reality feelingness and life."

Durkee's essay complicates my dream of escape by citing de Certeau to claim escape is not possible, "...resistance in this atmosphere in which escape is not possible...[involves] a style of inhabiting social space that deforms and obstructs the commodifying tendency of its structure. Such styles are the tactics of slack." He provides this gem of a quote from the movie Slacker:

"I may live badly, but at least I don't have to work to do it."

Durkee claims that slacking moves beyond merely avoiding work, but avoiding leisure as well. I should note that he is talking about the spectacular form of leisure described by Debord and others. This "abstention from leisure" requires a "practice of studied laziness" (which might be the quickest summary of my pursuits). Durkee offers a warning about the transient nature of this resistance and its impact on slacker social relations. The communities formed by slack are bound by slack, which is to say, "bound for rapid dissolution." All victories are temporary. The proliferation of slacker subcultures and affinity networks is nearly boundless, but Durkee warns, "although slacking off may produce endless local instances of noncommodified social relations, it cannot envision modes of association that truly challenge the economic structures that produce slackspace as their waste." Thus we see that the politics of waste are not politics in any real sense, a kind of slacker activism that doesn't really see the task through. My slacking is an attempt to explore the generative possibilities of "studied laziness" and to test whether "ostentatiously doing very little" can lead to new modes of resistance.

 

Mladen Stilinovic’s Praise of Laziness

Hi all,
Off to a great start!
I will begin by simply posting a text I wrote, "Mladen Stilinovic’s Slogans and Cakes: Ideology, Contemplation and the Perfection of Laziness."

The Praise of Laziness was written by artist Mladen Stilinovic in 1993. Based in Zagreb, Croatia, Stilinovic has been active since early 1970s in what was then the country of Yugoslavia. His performance took place in Ghent, invited by the artist collective Neue Slowenische Kunst. To begin with his text:
“As an artist, I learned from both East (socialism) and West (capitalism). Of course, now when the borders and political systems have changed, such an experience will be no longer possible. But what I have learned from that dialogue, stays with me. My observation and knowledge of Western art has lately led me to a conclusion that art cannot exist any more in the West. This is not to say that there isn’t any [art in the West]. Why cannot art exist any more in the West? The answer is simple: Artists in the West are not lazy. Artists from the East are lazy; whether they will stay lazy now when they are no longer Eastern artists, remains to be seen.”1
Stilinovic created a series of self-portraits entitled “Artist at Work,” showing him in bed, sleeping and staring into space. To continue with the text… “Laziness is the absence of movement and thought, dumb-time—total amnesia. It is also indifference, staring at nothing, non-activity, impotence. It is mere stupidity, a time of pain, futile concentration. Those virtues of laziness are important factors in art. Knowing about laziness is not enough; it must be practiced and perfected.”2
Stilinovic claims in the text that only two major 20th-century artists addressed laziness: they were Duchamp and Malevich. Malevich wrote a text in 1921 Laziness: The Real Truth of Mankind. In it he criticizes capitalism for enabling a small number of capitalists to be lazy, and also criticizes socialism for being based on work instead of laziness.
Bringing this sentiment into the contemporary moment, a recent book review by Tony Judt addresses the nearly-global embrace of capitalism and the transition in some of the world from socialism to capitalism. For two centuries after French Revolution politics were cast in terms of the social. Today the master narrative is economic. He asks, “In our newfound worship of productivity and the market have we not simply inverted the faith of an earlier generation?” “Together with the promise of revolution and its dream of social transformation, this worship of economic necessity was also the core premise of Marxism. In transiting from the 20th c. to the 21st, have we not just abandoned one 19th c. belief system and substituted another in its place?” 3
This is a view understood well by artists in Eastern Europe. Although at different speeds in the different countries, they have been positioned at this crossroads of substitution since the mid-90s. Now many countries are fairly far down the path of worship of productivity, however artists are always creating analysis and alternatives.
In this work of Stilinovic’s from 1983 titled I Have No Time, the artist writes over and over the phrase “Nemam Vremena” / “I have no time.” Mladen Stilinovic maintains that it is artists who break the cycle of the mindless repetition of everyday life. So he plays a game with repetition using up his time, which he has none of, to write the phrase into absurdity.4 This is a good example of one of Stilinovic’s many books, handmade from basic paper and simply tied or stapled together.
Malevich writes in his essay “Suprematism” of the supremacy of non-utilitarian art. In Stilinovic’s installation from 1993-4, Geometry of Cakes, he re-uses everyday plates organized in a suprematist formation with pieces of cake against a pink light fabric background is a vanitas of sorts. This is highlighted by the notation of “death” in relation to his comments about the positive aspects of wealth or suspicion of nothingness.
Malevich wrote, “Things created without any sensation of art do not contain this absolute, unchanging element. Such things are not preserved in museums…such a thing is an object. It shows instability, transience whereas artistic things are non-objective, i.e. stable, unchangeable. It seems to society that the painter creates unnecessary things and yet it appears that this unnecessary thing exists for centuries while the necessary things last but for a day.” “The unnecessary has appeared to be more important than the necessary.”5 Malevich’s non-objective or non-utilitarian art is not only art for art’s sake, but is actually a call to freedom and humanity, saying that the timeless and invisible should be valued above an object or a product.
Erasmus wrote in 1509 what was probably the first predecessor of Stilinovic’s text, titled The Praise of Folly. Here, Erasmus privileged his own brand of non-objectivity and non-utilitarianism as he honored the invisible above all. He took particular interest in St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians (II) that things which are seen are temporal; things which are not seen are eternal.6
Now to continue from Stilinovic’s text: “Artists in the West are not lazy and therefore not artists but rather producers of something…Their involvement with matters of no importance, such as production, promotion, gallery systems, museum systems, competition systems (who is first), their preoccupation with objects. All that drives them away from laziness, from art.”7
Another touchstone for Stilinovic’s text is Bertrand Russell’s 1932 In Praise of Idleness and the 1935 Useless Knowledge. He says the most important advantage of useless knowledge is that it promotes a contemplative mind, as opposed to too much readiness for action without reflection.8 Useless knowledge enables one to see her/himself in proper perspective and gives “some understanding of the strangely accidental and ephemeral position of man in the cosmos.”9
Russell stated in In Praise of Idleness that “I think there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous.”10
The image is Stilinovic’s work that reads Work is a Disease, a quote the artist attributes fictitiously to Karl Marx. Stilinovic was poking fun at the way that anything attributed to Marx was taken as truth, particularly at this precarious time in 1981 right after the death of the socialist dictator of Yugoslavia. He uses the colors red and black to point to this ideology that is unthinkingly taken accepted, but he writes in his own hand inserting his own artistic comment and individual personality to undermine this universal statement.
Back to Russell’s work written in 1932, it was mainly a critique of capitalism because leisure of the few was made possible by the labor of many,11 and he held out hope for Russia to provide an alternative.12 He lamented that in modernity things are done for the sake of something else, not for their own sake. Russell strangely attributes good use of leisure to education (a paradox with his populism). I want to juxtapose this thought with a pungent quote from a recent essay by Charles Simic: “The belief in the independence of intellectuals, as so much of the twentieth-century proves, is nothing but a fairy tale. The most repellent crimes in the former Yugoslavia had the enthusiastic support of people whose education and past accomplishments would lead one to believe that they would know better. Even poets of large talent and reputation found something to praise in the destruction of cities. If they wept, it was only for their own kind. Not once did they bother to stop and imagine the cost of these wars, which their leaders had instigated, for everybody else.”13
Another claim of Russell that is up for contestation was that we think too much of production and that we value consumption too little.!14 This certainly has changed from Russell’s time, and raises questions we could take up in the general discussion afterwards about whether reclaiming leisure from the leisure/upper class really can be liberating? What would be the conditions for it to be liberating? Leisure is not necessarily tied to consumption, but rather to engagement, contemplation, vacant time, and useless knowledge.
In this work from 1979, Stilinovic again employs his own handwriting in this work to state acridly, “The conditions of my work are not in my hands, but happily not in yours either.” More from his text: “Artists in the East were lazy and poor because the entire system of insignificant factors did not exist. Therefore they had time enough to concentrate on art and laziness. Even when they did produce art, they knew it was in vain, it was nothing. Artists from the West could have learnt about laziness, but they didn’t.”15
Tony Judt brings up the ‘welfare to work’ program instigated in 1996 by Clinton, which Judt points out “introduces a conditionality to social citizenship” and creates distinctions in citizenship: those who are ‘deserving’ i.e. those who have a job and are economically productive, and those who are not.16 This condition bears resemblance to the plight of artists and cultural creators, who don’t necessarily reside outside of the economic system, yet pose a challenge to its valuation of productivity. Most importantly, Judt strongly asserts that capitalism is not a substitute for democracy (this statement interests me in relation not only to the US, but in the growing European Union and especially Eastern part of Europe). He underlines that for-profit individual interest can undermine democratic values of trust, cohesion, restraint, obligation, morality. There are certain areas of public services that simply cannot be fulfilled by private companies because of this conflict of values.17
Stilinovic’s use of color reveals the ambiguity of ideology; it is not possible to lock down meaning, and he shows the impossibility of completely ridding color of certain ideological meanings. For example, red: Death, Love, Communism, Blood. He is very conscious that making art is part of the network of social exchange, and is not self-sufficient.18 His work comments on the fact that art is produced to be consumed and produced to be sold. However he protests this through his own games, absurd humor and manipulation of symbols.
One of his most famous slogans is “An artist who cannot speak English is no artist.” Slogans are the way power organizes social relations through language and maintains, reproduces, represents itself.19 Stilinovic twists meanings of socialist slogans. He saw how the manipulation of language by totalitarian systems raised problems of credibility of language, and so he wanted to manipulate language as well to question blindly accepted ideologies.20 From his Praise of Laziness: “Just as money is paper, so too is a gallery a room.”21 These images are from spontaneous and ever-rotating exhibitions in his apartment, he treats as a gallery.
Furthermore, in “The Praise of Laziness” Stilinovic brings up Duchamp’s own evasion of work, particularly his opinion that “working for a living was slightly imbecilic from an economic point of view.”22 However, I would say that even though Stilinovic quotes Duchamp, his oeuvre diverges from Duchamp’s significantly in that Stilinovic directly engages ideologies constructed about laziness and work instead of playing a game of ironic evasion.
The following are some examples of Stilinovic’s interaction with the symbolic system in public space—which was pervaded by state socialist ideology. Stilinovic has several specific topics that he returns to over and over again in his art---ideology of work, time, money, pain, color, language and slogans. In the mid-1970s, he took many photographs of advertisements in shop store windows---the commercial version of slogans. Most interesting are his photographs captured on state holidays, like the Day of Workers, the 1st of May, when the shop windows positioned official state slogans next to their commercial visual and textual imagery. This is a shoe store celebrating May 1st, as everyone was mandated to do. This store sells roasted meat specialties and hails the long life of May 1st.
As part of the 1st of May, 1975 series, Stilinovic installed a handmade banner on a residential street in Zagreb that read “Mladen Loves Branka.” (his wife and intellectual partner) Stilinovic found ways to insert himself into political history and into ideology through imaginative manipulation of symbols of state power, opening a private space outside the state for commentary. These artworks reveal and inscribe the meanings of the socialist state, which prohibited free use of these symbols.
Working with the notion that an iconic sign is given meaning arbitrarily and then collective belief is established, his work provokes the extent to which the individual respects the written and linguistic conventions of society. Will the individual adhere to these conventions even if obedience jeopardizes reality, common sense and individuality?
These two views of Stilinovic’s handmade sign on a tree respond to the companion banner strung across the street with “Branka Loves Mladen.”
This folly brings us back to Erasmus and his 1509 text (“The Praise of Folly”) in which he not only praised the atemporality of the invisible as eternal, above mere utilitarian objects, but equated this with enrapture, ravishment, a kind of mystical religious ecstasy.
Plato wrote that “the madness of lovers is the most blessed of all”23 and Erasmus in his “Praise of Folly” states, “Whoever loves to distraction, no longer lives in himself but in him whom he loves; the farther he can go away from himself and migrate into the other, the more and more he is delighted; and when the soul practices sojourning away from the body, not using its organs properly (sounds like Deleuze and Guattari), that, without doubt, you would rightly call madness…”24
The extreme of utter distraction and mad meandering are aspects of laziness. “joyful wandering of the mind frees the soul from anxious cares and sends it back with pleasure manifold.”25 These words of love lead us now to conclude with a quick look at meandering language and babbling absurdity in Stilinovic’s work.
Stilinovic, with the twist of humanitarian humor in the vein of Erasmus and Malevich, maintains that in a social sense is useless and absurd; art is spiritual and should be treated seriously. In a recent interview he said, “Art is absurd for me too, but I like the absurd. It provokes me to act. It is not ideological, it opens various spheres and it does not burden you. This may sound strange. I am an absurd nihilist of sorts, but not a pessimist.”26
The last words of Stilinovic’s manifesto are: “Finally to be lazy and conclude: there is no art without laziness.”27

Endnotes
1 Mladen Stilinovic, “The Praise of Laziness” in Jadranka Vinterhalter, ed., Mladen Stilinovic (Zagreb: Soros Center for Contemporary Art), 29.
2 Ibid.
3 Tony Judt, “The Wrecking Ball of Innovation” in The New York Review of Books, (December 12, 2007), 24.
4 Branka Stipancic interviews Mladen Stilinovic, “Living Means Never Having to Attend Court” in Artist at Work, Alenka Gregoric and Branka Stipancic eds. (Ljubljana, Slovenia: Skuc Gallery, 2005), 29.
5 Kasimir Malevich, “Suprematism” in Malevich on Suprematism (University of Iowa Museum of Art, 1999), 105.
6 M.A. Screech, Ecstasy and The Praise of Folly (London: Duckworth Publishers, 1980), 91.
7 Stilinovic, 29.
8 Bertrand Russell, “Useless Knowledge” in In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays (New York: Unwin Books, 1935), 28.
9 Russell, 31.
10 Russell, “In Praise of Idleness” in In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays (New York: Unwin Books, 1935), 9
11 Russell, “In Praise of Idleness,” 12.
12 Russell, “In Praise of Idleness,” 16-17.
13 Charles Simic, “The Renegade” in The New York Review of Books (December 20, 2007), 72.
14 Russell, “In Praise of Idleness,” 18.
15 Stilinovic, 29.
16 Judt, 24.
17 Judt, 26.
18 Igor Zabel, “A Short Walk Through Mladen Stilinovic’s Four Rooms” in Artist at Work Alenka Gregoric and Branka Stipancic eds. (Ljubljana, Slovenia: Skuc Gallery, 2005), 19.
19 Zabel, 23.
20 Zabel, 15.
21 Stilinovic, 29.
22 Stilinovic, 29.
23 Screech, 130.
24 Erasmus, Praise of Folly (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1958), 149-150.
25 Screech, 131
26 Stipancic, 37.
27 Stilinovic, 29.

 

slack

We can't, we must.

I came to this slacker summit a couple of days ago and saw that I had to create an account to get started. That, for some reason, was enough to stop me, a slight speed bump on the user-friendly road that instead of just slowing me down, popped me off the page altogether. Today, a couple days later, cleaning up my email, which I was doing as a form of procrastination since I had a few work-related tasks I really couldn’t face, I came across Randall Szott’s note asking me to participate, and this time, since it seemed less like work than the work I was supposed to be doing, I went ahead and signed in.

These two moments strike me as typical of my relation to slacking. I slack all the time, and not for any Buddhist or revolutionary reasons, not mindfulness, just mindlessness, not resistance, just everyday inertia. And yet here I am ‘working’: I’m doing what I do for a living (writing) and why? I’m not getting paid for it, at least not directly, although it will count, in some tiny and obscure way as my ‘productivity’ as a professor, and I will dutifully note it on my CV, if I remember to and I can figure out what category of ‘work’ it represents. I know, I know, that’s pathetic. The “paradoxes of slackerdom” are endless, and especially for those of us who end up, for whatever reason, with a professional relation to it.

That professional relation is related to the issue that Stephen Wright brings up through Spinoza—the crucial difference between activity or emotion and consciousness. The difference between laziness and slacking is, I agree, akin to the difference between appetite and desire, which is to say that ‘doing nothing’ takes its various forms based on consciousness. Before I wrote a book about doing nothing I wrote one about crying, and as I studied tears, my relation to them changed—taking out a notebook when one wells up watching a film modifies the experience profoundly, especially since tears are, in my culture, usually taken as natural, spontaneous, unthinking, and thus largely unconscious. Slacking is similar, in that in some versions, say the Buddhist one, consciousness destroys the purity of the experience. But as most people here have noted in one way or another, slacking is doing nothing plus a certain ideation. Without the idea of slacking, slacking cannot exist.

One of the ideas here is that slacking is anti-productivist, and in some ways, yes, absolutely, undeniably. But I just took a break from this post to play facebook poker for a couple hours, and that wasn’t anti-productivist, it was just obsessive-compulsiveness. Likewise, what counts as ‘productivist’ and what doesn’t is also, pace Spinoza, a bit murky. I am, I know, extraordinarily lucky to be a tenured professor of something called ‘creative writing,’ which means that anything I do in the way of writing ‘counts’ as ‘production.’ But I can do anything I want and call it production. I am writing within a system that is productivist, yes, but do I give a crap? Well, sure, in a way. Would I write anything, ever, if I wasn’t already completely ideologically overdetermined as a productivist? Maybe, maybe not. I have come to believe (of course, a belief I have no way of separating from said ideological overdetermination) that I am part of the species homo faber, that, as Marx said, it is part of our species being to make things, and thus I make things for the pleasure of making them (with the same caveat, pleasure itself ideologically overdetermined. I enjoy making things—paintings, photographs, bookshelves, blogposts—and thus I am fulfilling the commandments of slack by doing not what is required by the productivist regime but whatever I feel like doing at the moment. (I am writing this on my laptop, P.S., still in bed at 11:55 am—up before noon! whoops, missed it.)

I was very happy to learn about some writing on the subject I wasn’t aware of—Mladen Stilinovic and Patrick Durkee, for instance—and that makes me wonder, why? I have managed to avoid many of the accumulativist snares in our culture, but not the intellectual and literary ones. I want as many references as I can have! I want to read all the books ever written! Sublimation is everywhere, and here I am, on Sunday morning, pretending to myself I am doing whatever I want, writing about slacking outside the regime, with my new slacker e-friends, talking without ulterior motives about a subject which I am an ‘expert’ on, which expertise has helped me get a job or two, and then a raise or two over the years, and this piece will be a line on my CV, and some of you will do the same, I suspect, mention your contributions like the ones here as a means toward some economic end sometime, and there is no way out, finally, is there? We shouldn’t go on, we must go on.

Interesting, too, that I signed in four hours ago and I’m still “pending admin approval.” There is no way out! Time is not just the Man’s clock. Thanks for the posts, and the work that went into them, and for the refusal to forsake idealism.

Tom Lutz

 

On having better things to do than work...

but does that make me a slacker? It took me three days to realize that the Slacker Summit had been underway and I hadn't even popped in for a look! Why? Well, I was doing several (unpaid) projects at once, I was enjoying the holidaze, and my daughter is in town. Today we took a fantastic 4-hour bike ride, to the top of Twin Peaks, and down the west side in the golden light of near sunset to the beach, before riding back through Golden Gate Park, stopping for a leisurely dinner and then coming home. I spent the morning in bed with my lover, and the past two days I've been working on a big on-line history project (www.shapingsf.org) that has been my labor of love for the past 14 years and is about to come out in its 5th edition, finally resuming something of the fun and panache it had on its 2nd release before disappearing into a "legacy software cul-de-sac"...

I'm not much of a slacker, obviously. But then I couldn't bring myself to read carefully all the lengthy and thoughtful posts that preceded mine. I skimmed through them, found many good points and interesting insights, but also recoiled at the incredible length and multiply overlapping theoretical references which just made me dizzy. I like to think that I'm engaged daily with the Art of Living, but I hardly qualify as an artist, or a theoretician on art-related topics. But here I am...

I have written extensively about work and wage-labor (for years in the magazine www.processedworld.com) and my latest effort (www.nowtopia.org) is an effort to rethink the politics of work, especially looking at how HARD people work when they're not at work! The Nowtopians aren't slackers really. Unless slacking is to work as Slow Food is to fast food, or as one of the earlier writers put it, slacking is doing something for the sheer pleasure of it. That doesn't imply inactivity or laziness or any of those terms that are often associated with "slacking"... I liked Sal's notion of getting slack as a loosening of control. Perhaps slackerdom at its best is visible in the exodus from the control of the Economy and its attendant stupidities.

Let's face it: most of the work going on in the world is a complete waste of time and no one should do it. Human society would be richer tomorrow if we abolished banking, real estate, insurance, advertising, military production (and war-making), shoddy production of goods that last 6 months instead of 75 years, and so on. With the economic collapse far from complete, we can look forward to a great quantity of these jobs disappearing, and the dumb work they carry out vanishing with them. Slacking from participation in this collective madhouse just seems like common sense (if only we can find our sustenance without having to sell our souls!)

But slacking in this sense is to be subjectively motivated, to feel and act on one's historic agency, to actually be responsible for your own activity--i.e. precisely what wage-labor precludes. Slacking as transformational behavior is interesting to me, but I guess I find the word carries too much uninteresting baggage with it to want to use it much. Andy brought up the idea of time that has been rendered purposeless, de-instrumentalized if you will, and this is important to delve into. He referred to the Seattle WTO protest, Reclaim the Streets, and I'd add Critical Mass bike rides to that list. I've done 'em all. They are seen as pointless by people looking in from the outside, by people who think commerce and accumulation and the bolstering of the status quo are the only meaningful activities. But for those of us inside such de-instrumentalized gatherings, it is precisely the vitality of the moment, the sheer ecstasy of shared experience, the affirmation of human community in public, which is light years from a notion of laziness or languor or meaningless inactivity...

In a collected volume of essays on Critical Mass I wrote a piece titled "Assertive Desertion" and maybe that's a useful moniker for the kinds of activities that are the best human responses to the stupidity of life. Maybe that's slacking... maybe not! My two cents....

--Chris

 

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Procrastination and Productivity and More

I wasn’t planning on writing anything but I’ve decided to give it a go anyway. I was at first a bit excited about the idea of participating in a summit about slacking but the more I have thought about it the less I am interested in the action (or even the lifestyle) of slacking. I think I was confusing it with laziness, boredom, or leisure. These activities have varying degrees of productivity because they are intrinsically tied to labor. I work and therefore I need sleep. I work and would like time to not work, I need time to relax or to spend time with my friends. I spend 9-5 laboring and I would like to spend 5-9 not laboring so I will get bored, I will watch tv, I will read a book, I will play some games, I will eat some food or even cook dinner, or I will spend my time laboring with something that actually of interest to me (as described in the Nowtopia book mentioned above).

Slacking seems to be more of a distraction from “getting work done.” I slack off by checking the hundreds of blogs that I’ve subscribed to when, in my mind, I should be writing papers, organizing some event, or cleaning the house. These are things that I feel I need to do in order to get paid, make my life easier or more enjoyable, etc. That’s my version of slacking. There is no productivity involved, most people would be annoyed at you if they had some tie to something that was supposed to get done and knew you were slacking. You could say slacking is a form of procrastination.

This is not all completely true though. I have friends who work design jobs and one of the most important things they can do is to slack during work hours. Why? A couple reasons come to mind. The first is that by spending time watching youtube videos, reading blogs, or looking at websites while they should be “designing” they are actually mining the internet for all sorts of material that will affect they way they design (whether they realize this or not). The second is that by procrastinating, their timelines become more pressing and for certain types of people the only way they get great work done is by feeling the anxiety and pressure to create something immediately. Could the design firm just make the deadlines shorter thereby decreasing the chances of office slacking? Sure, but I think it’s good for the designer to believe they’ve gotten away with something. Additionally I have seen workplaces that always have looming deadlines and the designers burn out quickly. So, in this case I believe slacking to be beneficial and maybe even potentially productive in a backwards kind of way.

Personally, if I was one of these slacking designers and I read this entry, I would not want to adopt this behavior pattern or embrace it as a way work/live/be. I’m all for boredom, leisure, inactivity, and that line of productivity because it keeps me going. To slack means that I’m not doing what I know I should be doing and I’m only okay with that to a degree.

My friend Avalon just walked in and said, “The slacker does less than they could. He could be doing the dishes but he’d rather sit there and drink a slurpee and watch tv.” Maybe we all have different versions of what a slacker is. Avalon associates the slacker negatively with consumption, whereas others are more positive and have noted that slacking is actually doing nothing and is a common practice in many circles, and it seems this summit is playing with the idea that a slacker could be a political agent, even in slacker groups. Not sure where I stand.

-eric steen
beerandscifi.com

 

Slack-back.

Hi all, I’ve really enjoyed reading the contributions to this summit so far, and the various takes on slacking that have been put forward. Some have set me off thinking on other subjects and others have really opened my mind to the many, often contradictory, takes on slacking. My first few responses to which follow.

I was particularly interested in Sal’s notion of slack being defined as an excess, and that perhaps an alternative take on slacking – rather than it being a simple opposition to activity as slacking-off suggests – is as the activity of creating slack. This would, I suppose, be another way of rephrasing the creation of the Temporary Autonomous Zone or the Situationist’s Situation, or maybe even Deleuze’s fold. Artists or slacker-activists/facilitators, then, might create zones of slack that soften up once rigid concepts and modes of behaviour, opening them up for renegotiation and shape-shifting; a kind of spongy, soft, slack environment where things can melt into one another and change easily. Perhaps this interpretation is also linked to my more recent interests in psychedelia which, although more conventionally the preserve of the stoner than the slacker-activist, seems like an appropriate slack aesthetic – at once beautifully immersive and pointless, and at times shamelessly indulgent.

The discussions that have brought up Buddhism and Taoism put me in mind of a quote from Nam June Paik where he seems to struggle with the emancipating but risky business of practicing acceptance whilst denying resistance ‘We should learn how to be satisfied with 75%, how to be satisfied with 50%, how to be satisfied with 38%…Zen is responsible of Asian poverty. How can I justify ZEN without justifying Asian poverty?’ Can slacking in this way be concomitant with, rather than a contestation of, oppressive power? I suppose it’s in this way that postmodernism has been vilified by people like John Zerzan despite the obvious parallels between anarcho-primitivist, back-to-the-land tactics, and Zen/Slacking conscious non-production?

Similarly, having had a few days to chew it over, the paradox that I feel far from alone in having identified - it being impossible to consciously slack, or create the conditions for slacking (it simply happens, or doesn’t happen, you can’t force it) – is perhaps not as problematic for me as I first thought. It seems to me that at the core of slacking there is a void; an unsolvable, messy nothingness. Is slacking finding yourself doing nothing, or the intention to do nothing? Slacking may always be in that state of being redefined, reshaped and resisting its own identification and enclosure, creating a slack space at the heart of what slacking might be.

Anyway, great to read so many interesting opinions and thoughts, it's doing a great job of keeping me from doing anything that I ought to be! My gratitude to all.

 

slack attitude

At first I thought I needed to understand which things would fall under the category of slacking because this became foggy to me. Could motherhood, degrowth, slowfood, meditation all be modes of slacking with valorising titles?
Then it dawned on me. In slacking there is a fear of the unknown. There are lots of unknown things that don’t scare us at all. So, what is it, specifically, that is frightening about slacking? Of course, on the surface, it may be the fear of inactivity in a society that defines itself by what it does, what it accomplishes, what it develops. To stop doing is to stop existing. Why should this be frightening? I’m hardly certain, yet it seems the very possibility of slacking raises the spectre of hostility towards us if we are able to influence others with our “slack attitude”. However, it may be that the prospect of slacking is simply not as intimidating as another possibility: namely, that our united slack would be more beneficial to the human community than its opposite. Yeah, just doing nothing to very little.
Still, why should this be frightening? What is so scary about doing nothing to very little? The crucial point, I think, is this: if we can slack and be responsible for things being better, then, in principle, we could also be responsible for a range of negative, malevolent events through our inaction, our slack attitude.
More generally, what may be unnerving about slack is that we associate it with so-called primitive societies that more often than not were exterminated by the non-slackers.
We come full circle. If you are inactive, you slack, you don’t exist, therefore you will be wiped out and wiped off our human records. You slack therefore you are not.

Katzen Weib

 

Three photos taken in Voghchaberd on January 26, 2009

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i shouldn't avoid the obvious joke

When "Cutting Slack" was extended to January 31st I joked to myself that I wouldn't get it together to contribute until the very last minute and sure enough, my calendar says it's the last day of the month. I wish I could say that this delinquency somehow is in the spirit of the summit, but on the contrary it's more because I am so busy with work, fatherhood, art, and running a non-profit that I simply haven't had a spare moment.

Anyway, over the month I have appreciated many of the ideas put forward and I am inspired by the possibilities in general of these temporary, focused online gatherings. There is very little of any substance that I could add to what's already been written - but there have been little cracks here and there where I've thought "oh this reminds me of..." or "I think ... might be talking about something like that." I suppose that what follows is just looking into a few of those cracks. Not really pointing them out and certainly not filling them in, but hopefully digging something out.

* I remember how frustrated people became after Usain Bolt eased up at the end of his 100m world record run at the Olympics. "How fast could he have gone?" But why did he have to reach his limit? To fill his potential at that moment?

* "In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom." - Barack Obama, 20 Jan 2009

* I've always wondered about the Deleuze comment to Negri where he says the "key thing may be to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control." What is this 'noncommunication'? In my wishful thinking, this is something a little less macho than hacking.

* "Makers" versus slackers

* I remember in either 2000 or 2001, I made one New Years Resolution: to break all of my habits. This was obviously ridiculous from the start, but I was determined to give it my best shot and I can honestly say that the experiment lasted for a couple, maybe 3 weeks. In brief, it started and I did things like not smoke cigarettes. Eventually I said, "wait, now following this rule not to smoke has become habitual, so what I need to do is smoke when I really want to!" This carried over to almost everything else from the path I walked to work, to the very act of going to work in the first place. It became more tiring than I had imagined, asking myself at every step "do I really want to do this?" and I called it off.

* "Between a man and a younger woman, the marriage institution makes it easier: she accepts it and makes it work. But two men of noticeably different ages-what code would allow them to communicate? They face each other without terms or convenient words, with nothing to assure them about the meaning of the movement that carries them toward each other. They have to invent, from A to Z, a relationship that is still formless, which is friendship: that is to say, the sum of everything through which they can give each other pleasure." -Friendship as a way of life

* The newspapers in the 1960's (I've spent a lot of time in microfiche dungeons!) would often describe "idle youth" on street corners. Not exactly Bertrand Russell, but the conversation around idleness is interesting - in the same way Sal mentions the slack in a length of rope, we also have the picture of a stationary vehicle with its engine running.

* I know I'm totally warping the meaning of the song (or maybe not?) but the lyric of Slack Motherfucker might capture some part of the summit: "I'm working but I'm not working for you!"

 

GO SLACK YOURSELF

Thanks to all who have made this forum a rich and expansive resource. Our interest in this conversation comes from a desire to further understand ways of framing our own (art) activities and revising them to better carry out stated goals (and of course to leverage social and intellectual capital to further these activities).

Hideous Beast is a collaborative effort between two artists, Josh Ippel and Charlie Roderick (hideousbeast.com). One of our projects, "Leisure Library" is a collection of manuals for hosting a variety of social events. Through conversations with Randall and reading the posts in this forum, we realized our concept of leisure is not yet fully formed or informed. The "Library" addresses surplus or "free" time and the ways it is used -- specifically through entertainment. The ideal for each of these events is to encourage an active and engaged audience that takes ownership over the sources and production of their own entertainment. This is in opposition to the culture industry (as described by Adorno) that merely produces escapist fantasies to provide rest, fuel and ultimately imprisonment of the laboring class.

It seems like the ideals of slacking may conflict with these sort of mindful, goal-oriented activities (I'm thinking of Randall's criticism of the hypothetical “relational art party" that deflates any possibility of partying through its self-conscious framework) that may be criticized for their productivist tendencies. On the other hand this ideological framework (of consciously engaging) is not foregrounded in the activity itself but in the instruction set (in our case printed guide books). So our hope is that the activities maintain some “purity” in that they are not directly recouped into the art or academic system via art-like commodities. For example, with Mini Movie Festival (one of the projects included in the Leisure Library), participants are invited to create short, low-fi movies to be screened for an audience. Everyone’s movie is shown.

And while the printed manuals may eventually be betrayed by their objecthood, the content may be freely copied and distributed. Seth Price’s account of distributed media in his essay Dispersion is intriguing (www.distributedhistory.com/Dispersion2008.pdf). He sees an emancipatory possibility in synthesizing strategies of appropriation and unchecked distribution. Furthermore, most of the ideas for these events come from other people and are merely put into action by Hideous Beast and the event participants. In that way we are merely guinea pigs or base laborers – though self-enforced. So production is wrapped in a conceptual slacker cloak!

Joseph Pieper in Leisure the Basis of Culture, defends knowledge gained through slack (he describes this as an open, meditative state of mind) against the dominant ideal of knowledge gained through difficult struggle (active intellectual effort). For Pieper, knowledge is ultimately the gift of a creator. Whether you believe in a divine being or not, there is a beautiful parallel to Pieper’s idea in N55’s text About ownership of knowledge (http://www.n55.dk/MANUALS/DISCUSSIONS/N55_TEXTS/AB_KNOWLEDGE.html), where they argue that “logical relations” (undeniable facts about the world) demand that no person be able to own knowledge.

In the spirit of N55’s publications (among others) and to continue our efforts through the Leisure Library, we would love to think of this summit as a potential informal publication. To clarify, this document would exist as a PDF and printed manual and would include a slacker “how-to” guide, all the summit posts, references and maybe some definitions. There are so many great questions posed here that would be wonderful to continue both online and off.

We thought it might be helpful to extract the questions (?) from the conversation, as we’re left with more questions than answers. This method excludes the implied questions (working too hard at slackin’ to dig that deep). In any case, here they are:

Stephen Wright’s Questions:
Why is authentic slacking different than mere laziness (if it is)?
But is it [slacking] subversive?
Does it have seditious potential within a regime of productivism?
Can it obstruct the reifying logic of “creativity” and “artistic research projects” we hear so much about?
But, as Randall Szott has asked, are communities formed by slack not bound by slack, that is, entropic collapse under the weight of their own logic?
Or can they, martial arts-style, lackadasically harness the surplus force of the productivist adversary?
Are slackers, like hackers, more inclined to untie than to unite, as Ken Wark has argued? And if so, what is at the end of the slack line?
But how can art foreground slacking without inadvertently doing just the opposite?
How can art embody an ontology of degrowth – more of less?
What strategies or tactics can be used that are more than mere gadgets of an artistic imagination colonized by the logic of production?
Can a similar line of reasoning not be made for the distinction between laziness and slacking?

Andy Abbots’ Questions:
How many slackers does it take to slacken off a non-slacker?
Perhaps it’s because it’s [brend] such an ugly word?
Isn’t it vital, then, that we be disseminating and discussing slacking to help preserve its potency and demonstrate its potential as both good for the soul and as having clear social, not to mention ecological, benefits?
The burning question seems to me to be; how do we appropriately ‘spread’ slacking?
How, then, are we to create an environment that gives space to and supports this learning without trying too hard?
Is it possible to facilitate purposeless activity without betraying the underlying principles of slacking?
If something is being done for the fun of it then why should someone tell you how to do it or why it’s being done?
Is there anything much worse than having your own situation explained to you by ‘experts’?
Are we still bored?
Why then, seek to replace the present power that promises to deliver something we’re not sure we want with another – our own - that might deliver what we think we know we want?
Who hasn’t spent some time hiding in the small nooks and crannies of ‘secret’ rooms, or laying face down on a carpet warmed by sunbeams pouring through a window?
What transformation is set in motion when we begin to share these experiences, and the daydreaming that occurs within them, with one another?
Are we not more likely to act on these dreams when we discover, through conversation, that they are shared, rather than if we were to have desires pushed upon us?
So then, do these ethical ‘guidelines’ and examples bring us any closer to understanding what a socially transformative slacking might look like, or how it could operate?
Are we any clearer as to how the benefits of a playful and anti-productivist existence might be communicated in a manner concomitant with the act of slacking itself?
Perhaps, it might be best to round up by briefly measuring what we can unearth from the above against other contemporary methods of facilitating social change in order to highlight the particular facets that might form a socially transformative slacking?
If slacking is to become a valid and effective form of resistance to what Richard J F Day describes as the ‘hegemony of hegemony’, or if, more simply, it is to serve as an entrance point towards adopting a more critical viewpoint of oppressive power, then can it begin to do so whilst adopting the language of that which it seeks to replace?
The question remains though, is it possible to create these entrance points through slacking, that is, without intentionality, or does it take a non-slacker, or a lapse into work activity to achieve this?
The moment of work which may be necessary in creating a space in which to facilitate slacking, play, ‘brend’ or however you prefer to call it, is one in which we should be proud to be contradictory. After all, who ever heard of an uptight slacker?
Can slacking in this way [Nam June Paik statement “How can I justify ZEN without justifying Asian poverty?] be concomitant with, rather than a contestation of, oppressive power? I suppose it’s in this way that postmodernism has been vilified by people like John Zerzan despite the obvious parallels between anarcho-primitivist, back-to-the-land tactics, and Zen/Slacking conscious non-production?
Is slacking finding yourself doing nothing, or the intention to do nothing?

Prayas Abhinav’s Question:
So what does Taoism say that is so slackerly?

Katherine Carl’s Questions:
Why cannot art exist any more in the West?
He [Tony Judz] asks, “In our newfound worship of productivity and the market have we not simply inverted the faith of an earlier generation?” “Together with the promise of revolution and its dream of social transformation, this worship of economic necessity was also the core premise of Marxism. In transiting from the 20th c. to the 21st, have we not just abandoned one 19th c. belief system and substituted another in its place?”
Another claim of Russell that is up for contestation was that we think too much of production and that we value consumption too little.!14 This certainly has changed from Russell’s time, and raises questions we could take up in the general discussion afterwards about whether reclaiming leisure from the leisure/upper class really can be liberating? What would be the conditions for it to be liberating?
Working with the notion that an iconic sign is given meaning arbitrarily and then collective belief is established, his [Stilinovic’s] work provokes the extent to which the individual respects the written and linguistic conventions of society. Will the individual adhere to these conventions even if obedience jeopardizes reality, common sense and individuality?

Tom Lutz’s Questions:
Would I write anything, ever, if I wasn’t already completely ideologically overdetermined as a productivist?
I was very happy to learn about some writing on the subject I wasn’t aware of—Mladen Stilinovic and Patrick Durkee, for instance—and that makes me wonder, why?
Sublimation is everywhere, and here I am, on Sunday morning, pretending to myself I am doing whatever I want, writing about slacking outside the regime, with my new slacker e-friends, talking without ulterior motives about a subject which I am an ‘expert’ on, which expertise has helped me get a job or two, and then a raise or two over the years, and this piece will be a line on my CV, and some of you will do the same, I suspect, mention your contributions like the ones here as a means toward some economic end sometime, and there is no way out, finally, is there?

Chris Carlsson’s Questions:
On having better things to do than work...but does that make me a slacker?
The second is that by procrastinating, their timelines become more pressing and for certain types of people the only way they get great work done is by feeling the anxiety and pressure to create something immediately. Could the design firm just make the deadlines shorter thereby decreasing the chances of office slacking?

Cathy Lenihan’s Questions:
Could motherhood, degrowth, slowfood, meditation all be modes of slacking with valorising titles?
So, what is it, specifically, that is frightening about slacking?
Why should this be frightening?
Still, why should this be frightening?
What is so scary about doing nothing to very little?

The ultimate form and structure of this publication is open to modifications so please make suggestions.

 

Sweet Fuck All

Nice expression, when you think about it. And such nice wording. Sweet. Fuck. All. How convenient of language to have lined those three words up; and how appropriate. A verbal readymade of sorts, it names the very effortlessness of its own use, its performative tautology as active as the idleness it celebrates. In the perspective of this forum, can we not draw a number of conclusions from this little idiomatic gem about the condition of art today, which, rather than valuing creativeness, expressiveness or indeed doing anything that wouldn't be done anyway, is increasingly expressively and creatively idle? By that I mean that the most forward-looking practitioners today do literally sweet fuck all - but they do it with a historical self-understanding that changes everything. While the twentieth century busied itself celebrating "artwork," or, still more leadingly, "art production," contemporary artists are increasingly opting for redundancy, and some critics are docking points for "originality." Yet productivism still prevails, doesn’t it? In the symbolic economy of the mainstream artworld as in the general economy of the real: there is more and more art, more and more artists, more and more exhibitions, more and more... However, upon closer examination, it turns out there's... sweet fuck all. On the margins of our artworlds, one sees a genuine move toward negative growth, which we don't yet have the conceptual vocabulary to describe with any accuracy. Since retiring recently, this is what I have been whiling away my time fleshing out: redundancy, repose, repurposing, retranslating – not much of anything, really, just indolently pursing the language for information, listening for echoes of conceptual migration and the rumor of cross-pollination.

Slacking can be seen in a variety of ways. We spontaneously see it as behavioral, a “slack attitude” as Cathy Lenihan puts it, consisting of “doing nothing to very little.” At the same time, reading the contributions to this forum, content notwithstanding, the overall feeling is of a slacker style – an offhanded, user-friendly – indeed usership-enhancing – way of talking, exemplified by Andy Abbott’s wonderful “Ethical Guide” to slacking. There would be a lot to say about these and other uses of the notion of slacking, but what I want to put forward here is that slacking is also (and perhaps above all) a logic. One can be very busy and still be a slacker in the symbolic realm (art), provided one does not add to what is already there or does nothing that would not have had to be done anyway. The logic of slacking is inherent to the notion of redundancy. Indeed with respect to art, the words are almost interchangeable.

Translating for instance is a lot of work: it can be challenging, tiresome, good or bad, but it is logically slack because rather than adding something new to the world it self-consciously merely re-turns the already existent and allows it to be appreciated in different terms. It is a form of redundancy. The student who translates all the posts on this forum (including this sentence of course) and submits the translation as a readymade dissertation is the true slacker, not on behavioral but on logical grounds.

Art has become redundant, in every sense of the term. This may prove to be not its doom but its salvation. A few months back, n.e.w.s. won a competition to rethink the socio-economic condition of art today. The challenge for this century’s art production is to free itself from its economic and social dependency on the institutional market structure. To do that, it must, from an art-historical perspective, free itself from the conceptual and physical architecture bequeathed upon us by the twentieth-century art economy. Art must find a self-sustaining existence. And indeed it has, and that is what I call redundancy.

To rethink art’s social and economic condition is more fundamentally to rethink its ontological condition – its mode of being in the world. Art has often shed its mode of appearing for another. A new status for art means that art not appear as such. Art is, but not as a distinct and autonomous category.

One thing that twentieth-century art could never whole-heartedly commit itself to was being something other than art – subordinating itself, ontologically, to whatever activity or entity it also was. This is a singularly uncourageous posture given that art often appeared to be something else, at least for a while. But art’s privileged ontological status enabled it to subordinate all other modes of objecthood and activity to itself. Redundancy means putting an end to art’s twentieth-century ontological exception.

So, what is “redundant” art? It is not possible to define it by what it looks like – it doesn’t look, or not look, like art. It looks like what it is: the redundant thing or action. Redundancy ends the charade of artistic autonomy. It is neither more nor less creative or expressive than whatever it also happens to be. Redundant art covers all those activities and passivities, enterprises, initiatives and pursuits, which, though informed by art and an art-historical self-understanding, are in fact just what they are and what they appear to be. They are redundant only as art.

A redundant system is one which duplicates the same system. Art is not redundant the way in anatomy a kidney is said to be a redundant organ (the body being able to function with the other one alone). Art is redundant as an artistic initiative: its artistic ontology is utterly redundant with respect to its primary ontology. Of course twentieth-century art did make regular forays into life systems, life worlds, beyond the porous confines of its autonomous sphere. But it invariably did so as art – at best as a replication – not as a redundant instance of what it also happens to be.

Redundancy is invariably seen as depreciative, a term used to discredit something – be it an activity, phenomenon, object, or utterance – whose function is already fulfilled by something else. As I see it, however, the notion of redundancy is a highly useful focusing tool in understanding the logic of forward-looking art in the early years of our century. By forward-looking I mean art that is dissatisfied with the twentieth-century norms of production and the holy trinity of objects-by-authors-for-consumers (objecthood, authorship, spectatorship) upon which most art is still based. The type of practices I am thinking of, however, though they refuse to embrace existent conventions, do not – as so many vanguard practices of the past century did – engage in a frontally antagonistic relationship with mainstream institutions and practices. On the contrary, and this is where redundancy comes into the equation in an invisible but powerfully tangible way, they do indistinguishably what is already being perfectly well done in other realms of human activity, yet they do it with an entirely different self-understanding. They are thus indeed redundant, yet by no means superfluous. Today, we see art apparently withdrawing from the world (at least from the artworld); yet upon closer scrutiny, that withdrawal appears actually as a merging with the world, a quest for redundancy. That’s a tad obscure, I know, but before clearing things up, let us make it still more so, with an example from Buddhism, which, as it has been pointed out by Prayas Abhinav in this forum, has strong slacker undercurrents.

Buddhism is a godless religion; in many respects it’s not a religion at all, but a sort of mystical philosophy of life. I’m not much for mysticism, but I find some very telling comparisons between Buddhist thinking and the notion of redundancy as it pertains to art today. One thing that Buddhism, like all religions, has had to contend with is reconciling difficult mythical theology with the needs of popular religion. I’m not a Buddhist, but in teaching the philosophy of art, I often run up against the same problem: there are people who just cannot get their heads around the readymade: how can it at once be, and not be, art? It’s all very well to philosophize about art’s “double ontological status” (the condition of possibility of redundancy), by which something both “is what it is,” as Minimalists used to say, and a mere proposition of what it is. Any painting can be described facetiously as so many grams of pigment spread out on so many square meters of canvas. And in the post-Duchampian spirit, any art-inspired enterprise at all – such as Bernard Brunon’s Houston-based house painting outfit, That’s Painting! – can be fairly compared to its competitors whose self-understanding has nothing to do with conceptual art while also being seen as a viable solution to mainstream art’s dead end. Still, seeing something as art and not art at the same time will always appear to some people as tantamount to squaring the circle. It is in this spirit that one day a Zen monk, reprimanded for having spit on a statue of the Buddha, replied that since Buddha was everywhere, it is impossible to spit, or indeed not spit, on Buddha. He was arguing, very convincingly it seems to me, that Buddha is essentially self-redundant. An artist whose practice consists of running a house-painting business as a conceptual art practice is also laying claim to similar self-redundancy. Theoretically, the issue is about evacuating any lingering trace of romantic transcendence by embracing an intense and extreme form of utter immanence.

This means, does it not, that an artistic act is not of a class apart, but an act performed in full awareness of its redundancy – in a spirit, an attitude and even perspective of redundancy?

Buddhist redundancy implies, then, that we not change our practices in any way, merely that we refocus the lens through which we pursue them. Now this is very similar to the distinction that became blurred some ninety years ago now between artworks and what analytical philosophers rather insolently refer to as the “mere real thing.” Ordinary objects and activities can be conceived, perceived and thus received as art without undergoing any physical or perceptual modification. Artworks are redundant cases of ordinary activities and objects, though grouped in different ways and appreciated in a different spirit. The slacker spirit of redundancy.

Redundancy is the concept I propose to best describe non-mimetic, or post-mimetic – art that is deliberately and perfectly redundant with respect to what it also is. One could always say that a Rembrandt was both a picture and an ironing board (to quote an example chosen by Duchamp to instantiate what he brilliantly called the “reciprocal readymade,” no doubt because ironing is so ironic). However, the type of work I refer to as redundant inverses the primary-secondary logic: it is first of all a painting business, or a street, or a library, or anything at all, and only in an accessory way a proposition of a painting business, street, library or whatever the case may be.

It is perhaps worth thinking of this in connection with the Nietzschean idea of amor fati, which Nietzsche developed as a way of giving ethical teeth to his original take on the notion of the eternal return. Amor fati (love of fate) is paradoxically a way of releasing oneself from the tedium, the nausea, the bondage of one’s destiny, for by affirming what one does, by endorsing it, one makes it one’s own. The content of the action does not change, but in another respect, everything changes. Nothing can ever be as it was, though it hasn’t budged. This is the infra-thin difference between something and its redundant counterpart. Sometimes that is tantamount to the difference between bondage and freedom.

A couple of days ago, Karen Andreassian posted three pictures taken in the village of Voghchaberd, situated in the hills overlooking the city of Yerevan, Armenia, where he lives. Andreassian is certainly one of the slackest artists in the world. He does literally nothing, he doesn’t even tell us what these pictures are supposed to mean in this context. But if he does nothing, he does so in a very singular and self-reflective fashion. I think it is worth considering his brand of redundancy and creative indolence.

During Soviet times, Voghchaberd was much appreciated by well-to-do members of the Soviet Nomenklatura, who would retreat there on weekends and holidays to the often palatial dachas which they had built in the village, well known for its clean air and green orchards. The local peasant population was largely comprised of families that had formerly lived in Western Armenia (that is, Turkey), before being chased from their native villages in 1915 by the Turkish militias. At any rate, in 1989, the political landscape of the Soviet Union fissured and buckled; and no sooner had the political landscape caved in than a major earthquake triggered the utter collapse of the geological landscape of Voghchaberd: the earth fissured open, everything solid suddenly yielded, undermining foundations, and the dachas – those symbols of a suddenly dispossessed ruling class – collapsed asunder. The former Soviet big wigs cut their losses and abandoned their properties, realizing that the village, and the hill on which it was perched, were doomed to disappear in the short term. The villagers, however, having already been forcibly relocated a generation or two previously, refused the government’s evacuation order and turned down the measly offer of compensation, and stayed on their land – which everyday continues its irrevocable collapse. Torn from other landscapes in Western Armenia, they had been placed on this landscape. Their memory-blocks, like the village itself, in an entropic state of slow erosion; their ontological stress (because the very least that one could say about the genocide and the deportation was that it produced devastating ontological stress) commensurate with the geological stress ever present in their surroundings. Their determination to remain is reinforced by the fact that the topsoil released by the landslides has proven particularly fertile for organic farming… Anyway, that’s the context. Karen Andreassian, seeing the formidable symbolic potential in these superimposed and simultaneously foundering political and geological landscapes, which had made life virtually unrecognizable from one day to the next, began devoting his artistic energies to accompanying with his presence the collapse and the human drama it entails. He documents the process with the odd picture, but that is not the point, merely the by-product. Andreassian’s practice as an artist is simply to frame that extraordinary superimposition of circumstances of political-ontological landscapes and geological landscapes. He has produced a website (http://voghchaberd.am/), a number of documentary films, but the images add little or nothing to the experience of walking along the clay roads, and seeing the fissure lines that split them, arbitrarily cleaving one part of previously seamless territory from another. What Andreassian has produced is not artwork but rather perception. And the village of Voghchaberd – because of the focus Andreassian has put on it, compelling us to seek out the singular in the particular – is full of what might be called inadvertent monuments. The kind that require no artistic intervention. Andreassian’s practice is redundant in the sense that it adds literally nothing: a state of perfect expressive idleness. Sweet fuck all.

Stephen Wright

 

A Declaration of Uselessness

Last day of the summit. An end to slack? But slack has a way of moving the deadlines it seems, of gaining extensions of time. Maybe more slack is still on its way.

Slacking as performative, this is what keeps sticking (thanks, Stephen). If slacking is performative, is it like street theater? Agitprop? A (lazy) protest march? Sit-in? Bed-in? Die-in?

If slackers are performing, who are they performing for? It seems they must be performing their slack for workers, for people who take work seriously (too seriously?). They (we) are performing against the work ethic, against the exaltation and valorization of work for work's own sake. Against the use of that work ethic to justify what is often a kind of enslavement.

Tom Lutz (in his terrific book, thanks, Randall) notices that slackers make people angry. And it seems to me that (much of the time) it's fully intended. Slacking gives the finger to working. It's a rude gesture. Slacking mocks. It makes the worker look and feel a bit ridiculous. (Of course slacking is mocked too. Workers often go all out in trying to shame a slacker.)

Performing slack is performing protest, refusal, demonstration, ridicule. It is performing critique.

So it seems to me we have two slacks going at once. Performative, critical slack on the one hand, and on the other something more like free time, emphasis on the free - slack as leisure, playfulness, ease, autonomy, desire. This is slack in the sense of Harry Flynt's "brend" which Andy invoked above: "everything done entirely because you just like it as you do it" If slack is a play, in the sense of theater, slack is also play.

It seems to me that these two slacks need each other, that they are intimately bound up together like sides of a piece of paper. If I go out and play while you work, even if I do it out of simple desire, it functions as an implicit critique. My play looks better, at least to me, than your work. If I act out an ostentatiously empty slack, doing nothing to the point of boredom, depression, self-destruction, still there is an element of pleasure locked inside it - a communication that even emptiness or nothingness is better than the self-negation of work-slavery. In critique and mockery there is also a kernel of play and intrinsic motivation.

This strikes me as exactly the same paradox that art inhabits. There is the pull on the one hand of intrinsic factors of art, its free play, its autonomy, its pleasure and desire (often quite perverse pleasure and desire). On the other is the push of protest. Refusal, demonstration, critique. Art's declaration of autonomy is a kind of freedom, and at the same time it's a kind of art strike, a rejection of obeisance.

Or maybe paradox is the wrong word. The two aspects of art, like the aspects of slack, can't exist without each other. The intrinsic and the critical each implicate the other. My artistic "brend" implies a critique, my artistic critique implies a vision of "brend." Art has this quality because, like play, or sex, or slack, it's something we might actually do for its own sake, quite apart from its status in the "institutional market structure" (as Stephen calls it).

Lets invoke Alan Kaprow and his rather prescient call for artists to withdraw from "art." He wanted artists to let go of art's autonomy and gain some of their own. And tried it out himself. His own art strike was a somewhat gentle one: He melted away from the art world for a decade or two or three, carrying out small activities alone or with a few friends or students -- some almost imperceptibly ordinary, like brushing his teeth. (Of course the art world has reclaimed him, most recently in a series of retrospectives, reenactments, and critical volumes. Art loves to eat its own critique. But the very subtle and private work has come closest to being ignored.)

Here's Kaprow in "The Education of the Un-Artist, Part II" from 1972:

"Only when active artists willingly cease to be artists can they convert their abilities, like dollars into yen, into something the world can spend: play. Play as currency. We can best learn to play by example, and un-artists can provide it. In their new job as educators, they need simply play as they once did under the banner of art, but among those who do not care about that. Gradually, the pedigree "art" will recede into irrelevance."

He goes on: "Replacing artist with player, as if adopting an alias, is a way of altering a fixed identity. And a changed identity is a principle of mobility, of going from one place to another. Art work, a sort of moral paradigm for an exhausted work ethic, is converting into play. As a four-letter word in a society given to games, play does what all dirty words do: it strips bare the myth of culture by its artists, even."

But Alan, I keep wanting to say to him, you're just trying to make art useful again. And when art becomes completely, unambiguously socially useful, it's just another kind of work. Educational work. Therapeutic work. Political work.

Kaprow wanted artists (un-artists) to slip into life with just a memory of the idea of art to keep an element of criticality or autonomy or playfulness alive in what they do.

"Of course, starting from the arts means that the idea of art cannot be easily gotten rid of (even if one wisely never utters the word). But it is possible to slyly shift the whole un-artistic operation away from where the arts customarily congregate, to become, for instance, an account executive, an ecologist, a stunt rider, a politician, a beach bum. In these different capacities, the several kinds of art discussed would operate indirectly as a stored code that, instead of programming a specific course of behavior, would facilitate an attitude of deliberate playfulness toward all professionalizing activities well beyond art." ("Education of the Un-Artist, Part I")

This isn't so different from Stephen's strategy of redundancy. Artists leave behind the word "art" and slip into the world, not just in the disguise of some other activity, but with a kind of dual citizenship -- they act genuinely in the world but keep an infra-thin double identity.

Here's Stephan, a few days ago: "So, what is “redundant” art? It is not possible to define it by what it looks like – it doesn’t look, or not look, like art. It looks like what it is: the redundant thing or action. Redundancy ends the charade of artistic autonomy. It is neither more nor less creative or expressive than whatever it also happens to be. Redundant art covers all those activities and passivities, enterprises, initiatives and pursuits, which, though informed by art and an art-historical self-understanding, are in fact just what they are and what they appear to be. They are redundant only as art."

or

"A new status for art means that art not appear as such. Art is, but not as a distinct and autonomous category."

As Kaprow might put it, "Where art is only one of several possible functions a situation may have, it loses its privileged status and becomes, so to speak, a lowercase attribute."

I'm a fan of these strategies (and a practitioner of them, frequently enough) but I find myself still interested in the word "art" and its thorny problems. Honestly I welcome that thorn in my side. It's like a hair shirt - a reminder. "Don't get too comfortable," it says.

Maybe it's the slacker in me that wants to keep art from being too wholeheartedly useful. Art's autonomy isn't just a strategy we can abandon as historically exhausted, though people keep trying to do that. It's a declaration of uselessness. It's art performing slack. Sure, we might want art to get up off the couch and actually do something for a change, but it may well be one of those cases where we should be careful what we wish for.

- Sal Randolph

 

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