by Billie Walker
"Being overworked, exhausted and busy should not be worn as a badge of pride. Rest is integral to your own political and creative freedom"
Seasons of Spending
Capitalist society views humanity as a lump of coal; something that, if enough pressure is applied, will crystallise into a perfectly productive version of ourselves. This process of consumer-solidification - which advertising, social media and the other malicious arms of materialism present to us - is stoked in our everyday lives.
The new year kicks off, as per tradition, with an endless cycle of articles telling you to take up yoga, pledge your allegiance to Veganuary, or to go dry. It is the time of year when you look back on last year’s you, scorning them for having not been productive enough to post a catalogue of your monthly 2018 achievements on Instagram.
As the year rolls on to spring, the drive to sculpt a buff bod (and a house to match) intensifies, our internal organs gearing up for the annual pre-summer purge. Once the weather heats up, another pressure rears its ugly head: the fear of missing out. Someone in your feed is undoubtedly having nicer drinks and reading better must-reads than you are. You’re stuck at the desk, or sweating over someone else’s perfect summer drink as you serve them in your badly air-conditioned service job. Now, as we approach autumn and winter, the uniquely curated pressures of Christmas begin to rear their heads.
The pressure to be continuously productive is at the very core of capitalism. The hyper-connected nature of our world has created a never-ending call to productivity, with your smartphone preventing you from ever really being off the clock. Hardt & Negri argue that “the capture of value tends to extend to all the time of life. We produce and consume in a global system that never sleeps.”
The capture of value has even extended itself to self-care. Instagram feeds are filled not only with people presenting their productivity with pride, but also staged images of those ‘practicing’ self-care. @traitspourtraits presents a coffee pot which reassures its audience that: Your worth is not measured by your productivity. Next on the artist’s page is an image of the same illustration, transplanted in sticker form onto a notebook with a pencil resting on top, with a caption linking you to the merch site. An obtusely unironic call to produce, to consume.
A Woman's Work
Second-wave feminism has long been situated in women’s ability and desire to work. While women’s working rights are undoubtedly important, this focus on career has been co-opted by the corporate world, which now posits feminism as the glamorous working woman on discussion panels. They wear ‘sensible’ heels, striking the perfect balance of smart/casual in their suit jackets and culottes. The panel is promoted on pink backdrops and gold italicised headings. They go to the gym; they eat fresh salad boxes every day; their freelancing professions leave inordinate amounts of time for luxurious “self-care” rituals. They have broken through the glass ceiling and reinforced it with rose gold.
For those women who aren’t the successful twenty somethings they’re supposed to be now, these corporate ‘feminists’ send back waves of self-doubt. The feeling that you must simultaneously be productive, whilst taking time for self-care, is enforced in every glamour magazine, Hollywood drama and cosmetics commercial.
Big business may have monopolised women’s goals, prioritising a desire to be on equal playing fields in the public realm. But not all feminist thinking stems from a consistent need to inhabit social spaces. For example, bell hooks outlined the importance for African-American women to create safe home spaces. Enduring racial prejudice, and having often held positions of servitude in their public working lives, hooks sees homemaking as a significant necessity: ‘historically, black women have resisted white supremacist domination by working to establish homeplace’. These women fashion sites of resistance in which its occupants are ‘not the subject of dehumanizing scorning’.
Fannie Sosa and niv Acosta also recognise rest as resistance. Whilst many have noted the capitalist-driven epidemic of sleep deprivation, the pair highlighted a racial sleep gap also at play.
Black Power Naps was a two-month installation at Madrid Pride last year aimed at reclaiming rest. There manifesto reads:
A state of constant fatigue is still used to break our will. This “sleep gap” shows that there are front lines in our bedrooms as well as the streets: deficit of sleep and lack of free time for some is the building block of the “free world”. After learning who benefits most from restful sleep and down time, we are creating interactive surfaces for a playful approach to investigate and practice deliberate energetic repair.
As Afro Latinx artists, we believe that reparation must come from the institution under many shapes, one of them being the redistribution of rest, relaxation, and down times.
The Need to be Busy
Facemasks and indulgent bubble baths have been rebranded as self-care. As if these small acts are what we need to make up for the lack of affordable therapy. Self-care’s radical potential as an act of political warfare, highlighted by Audre Lorde, has been largely erased. But an exhausted radical is, typically, a defeated one.
Our exhaustion is created by the pressure to be constantly productive: the need to be busy. As Lafargue writes in his most powerful essays The Right to be Lazy, this furious drive for work is the ‘cause of all intellectual degeneracy’. Over-productivity feeds into the capitalist growth of consumption, creating an unsatisfying circle of over-production and over-consumption that is destroying the natural world.
In her debut book, Being Numerous: Essays on Non-Fascist Life, Natasha Lennard promotes a refusal to involve oneself in the micro-fascism of Capitalist society, such as the ‘authoritarian tendency of careerism’. Dismissing our status as beings of productivity, amongst other refusals, can be seen as a daily act of anti-fascist resistance.
This isn’t an attempt to argue that you should go full-Marie Kondo, lock yourself in your room and sleep all day as a resistance to capitalism. Being an inconsiderate dickhead isn’t going to win you any postmodern brownie points. But whilst self-care and homemaking have become tied to materialistic values, creating space and valuing rest over your productivity value is necessary. For yourself, especially as a marginalised member of society, to have a safe space to retreat when needed is essential.
Rest is integral to your own political and creative freedom. Most of us are too worn out to create in today’s 24/7 society, or involve ourselves in the politics and passions we hold dear. Being overworked, exhausted and busy should not be worn as a badge of pride. Post-luxury automated communism is not around the corner, so the next time you feel as if you’re lacking in motivation to produce, remember that you have the right to be lazy.
This is an updated version of an article that appeared in Goldsmith's University student magazine. The original piece can be found here: http://www.smithsmagazine.co.uk/2019/02/27/rest-as-resistance/