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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Rest as Resistance

27 February 2019
"The exhaustion of society is created by the pressure to be constantly productive: the need to be busy." Billie Walker explores how the self-care trend, over-consumption and marginalised members of society fit into our current capitalist climate...

To kick off the new year, as per tradition, January was bombarded with an endless cycle of articles telling you to take up yoga, pledge your allegiance to Veganuary, or go dry – which has followed on with pissed, carnivorous consumption throughout February. It is the time of year when you will 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. Society’s capitalist obsession with productivity is presented through advertising, social media and many materialist evils in our day to day lives. It views humanity as a lump of coal and that if it applies enough pressure, we will crystallize into a perfectly productive version of ourselves.

The pressure to be continuously productive is one which stems from a capitalist system. Productivity is an economic concept which is at the very core of capitalism. Because productivity produces capital of course. The hyper-connected nature of our world has created a never-ending call to productivity. Your smartphone prevents you from ever really being off the clock. Hardt & Negri’sargue: “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 been extended to self-care. Instagram feeds are now filled not only with people presenting their productivity with pride, but also the staged images of those ‘practicing’ self-care. A quick scroll through and you will find many of these self-care proclamations and curated narratives. @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, transformed 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.

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Second-wave feminism has long been situated in women’s ability and desire to work. Whilst women’s working rights are important, the specific focus on careers is why it has been so easily co-opted by the corporate world which now posits feminism as the glamourous working woman shown often on discussion panels. They wear ‘sensible’ heels and strike 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 salads every day and whilst freelancing have inordinate amounts of time for luxurious “self-care” rituals. They demonstrate how they broke through the glass ceiling, reinforced it with rose gold and now send waves of self-doubt to you for not being the successful twenty something you’re supposed to be now. It is this corporate “feminism” which puts pressure on many into feeling as if you must simultaneously be productive, whilst still taking time for self-care.

Big business’ co-opting of feminist desires to be on equal playing fields in the public realm may have monopolised women’s goals. But not all feminist thinking stems from a need to consistently inhabit the public realm. Whilst white second-wave feminism scoffs at home-making as an un-feminist stereotype, bell hooks outlined the need for African-American women to create safe home spaces. As African-American women have to endure racial prejudice and have often held places 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’. Seeing this creation of the homeplace as a site of resistance in which its occupants are ‘not the subject of dehumanizing scorning’. This can be applied to any marginalised community as it is so often the judgement, harassment and gaze of the outside world which drains those under its scrutiny.

Fannie Sosa and niv Acosta, also recognise the need for rest as resistance and whilst many have noted the capitalist-driven epidemic of sleep deprivation, the pair wished to highlight the racial sleep gap also at play. Black Power Napswas 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.

Face masks and indulgent bubble baths have been rebranded as self-care. As if these small acts are what we need to makesup for the lack of affordable therapy, with the radical nature of self-care highlighted by Audre Lorde, having been largely erased. Although the self-preservation that she refers to is one which has a less materialistic grounding as she sees her care taking of herself as an act of political warfare. An exhausted radical is defeated one.

The exhaustion of society 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, sees this furious drive for work to be the ‘cause of all intellectual degeneracy’. Stating that the over-productivity feeds into the capitalist growth of consumption. The more one is productive the more one is expected to produce, creating an unsatisfying cycle of over-production and over consumption.

Whilst Natasha Lennard’s soon to be published debut, Being Numerous: Essays on Non-Fascist Life, points to the necessary everyday practice of anti-fascist existence, via the refusal to involve oneself in the micro-fascism of Capitalist society such as the ‘authoritarian tendency of careerism’. Therefore, the sheer dismissal of productivity, amongst other refusals is an act of resisting fascism in everyday life.

This isn’t an attempt to argue that you should go Marie Kondo your room and sleep all day and so on. But rather a reminder that whilst self-care and homemaking has become tied to materialistic values, it can and should be untied. Creating space and valuing rest over productivity is necessary. For yourself, especially as a marginalised member of society, to have a safe space to retreat when needed. As well as in order to insure your own political and creative freedom. Being overworked, exhausted and busy should not be worn as a badge of pride. Profit driven society has forced this pressure onto this and we play along measuring out schedules against one another. When most of us are too worn out to create, or involve ourselves in the politics and passions we hold dear. So next time you feel as if you’re lacking in motivation to produce, remember that rest is resistance and you have the right to be lazy.

Words, Billie Walker – @queen.feta

Image, Nejat Aski