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.