Miércoles 14 de Septiembre de 2005, Ip nº 126

Whistle while you unwork
Por Joshua Glenn

EARLIER THIS SUMMER, John A. Byrne, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, posted an alarmed note to the business magazine's blog concerning ''How to be Idle," a recent book by British writer Tom Hodgkinson. Noting that Hodgkinson insists that all jobs involve tedium, humiliation, and stress, Byrne protested, ''Now that's a counter-intuitive idea for us at Fast Company. We think work gives meaning to life and is a reflection of one's true self.... Can anyone be truly happy as an idler?"

According to Scott Cutler Shershow, author of the new book ''The Work and the Gift" (Chicago), the answer is yes. True, both free-market boosters and Marxist theorists assume we not only ''work to live" but ''live to work"--working, whether at a job or on our own self-development, that is, has come to seem a kind of existential necessity. But Shershow, an English professor at UC-Davis, writes that we'll only achieve true freedom and happiness when we've ''released ourselves from our self-imposed lives at hard labor, and when work no longer appears without question as the only possible human vocation." Instead of thinking of work as something that gives meaning to life, he counsels, we ought to aim for a society characterized by what French literary theorist Maurice Blanchot called desoeuvrement, or ''unworking."

Because Shershow's book touts the views of Karl Marx's son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, author of ''The Right to Be Lazy," I asked him if unworking is just a fancy term for idleness. ''Unworking is hard to define, because it's not a positive concept," he replied via e-mail. ''My argument is a negative one: It involves getting rid of certain beliefs, attitudes, and material constraints that would limit our freedom. But it can't be specified in advance what people would do with freedom. Yes, freedom might well mean freedom to be idle, but it can just as much mean freedom to work."

Fair enough, but when I quoted the anti-idler screed of Fast Company's Byrne to him, Shershow was less noncommittal. ''This is a perfect expression of the attitude or argument I most want to criticize," he e-mailed. ''Individuals today ... not only have to work to survive, but we always have to be improving ourselves in some way. What if I just want to sit and watch that river flow?"

  04/09/2005. Boston.com.


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