In Defense of Sloth: An Eclectic and Entertaining Series of Presentations about That Most Philosophical of Vices

Cabinet magazine and Slought Foundation (Slought.org) are pleased to invite you to In Defense of Sloth: An Eclectic and Entertaining Series of Presentations About that Most Philosophical of Vices, on Friday, December 7 and Saturday, December 8, 2007 in New York City.

This event, funded in part by a generous grant from the New York Council for the Humanities, is co-sponsored by The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union and by Zone, two centers of cultural activity in a city renowned for its economic productivity. The project will explore histories and metaphors of sloth through the following public programs:

  • A Primer on Friday, December 7 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at ZONE:Chelsea Center for the Arts (601 West 26th St #302, NYC)
  • A Symposium on Saturday, December 8 from 11 am to 5:30 pm in The Great Hall at The Cooper Union (7th St, btw 3rd and 4th Ave.)


Theories and polemics about sloth have figured widely in Western thought in the work of artists, philosophers, and cultural critics as diverse as Aquinas, Nietzsche, and Malevich, as well as Marx, Kierkegaard, and Wilde. In Dante’s Purgatorio, for example, sloth is described as being the "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind, and all one's soul." A more secular viewpoint on sloth is provided by Paul LaFargue, Karl Marx’s son-in-law, who authored the influential The Right to be Lazy (1883) and tirelessly campaigned for a three-hour workday. Likewise, in his manifesto in praise of laziness (1993), Zagreb-based artist Mladen Stilinovic suggests that Western artists are too preoccupied with promotion and production, and are thus less artists than producers.

Audio recordings of the event are available below, split up by presentation.



In Defense of Sloth: Program

Friday, December 7th, 2007; 6:30 to 8:30pm
at ZONE:Chelsea Center for the Arts


Featuring songs about laziness, performed by the ingenious Brian Dewan and his auto-harp and accordion, a filmed introduction to two two-toed sloths, Rachel (Mommy) and Sid (Baby), by Jungle Joe - Pet Detective, as well as pop-cultural flow charts tracing the contemporary lineage of sloth.

Listen to an audio recording of Brian Dewan performing "Songs about Sloth," or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."


Saturday, December 8th; 11:00am to 5:30pm
The Great Hall at The Cooper Union

11:00-11:15 | Introduction by Aaron Levy and Sina Najafi
Followed by Q and A

Listen to an audio recording of the introduction, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

11:15 - 12:15 | Presentations by Marina van Zuylen and Pierre Saint-Amand
Followed by Q and A

Marina van Zuylen's presentation, "I work, Therefore I'm Not: Paul Lafargue's Philosophy of Laziness," will address Lafargue's influential nineteenth-century treatise "The Right to be Lazy." Pierre Saint-Amand's presentation, "Rousseau's Extreme Idleness," will examine the figure of idleness as it appears in Rousseau's autobiographical writings, especially in the Reveries, as the condition for obtaining freedom. "To do nothing" becomes the positive formula of liberty, dis-engagement, and disinteredness.

Listen to an audio recording of Marina van Zuylen's presentation, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

Listen to an audio recording of Pierre Saint-Amand's presentation, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

12:15- 1:15 | Presentations by Daniel Rosenberg and Christopher Turner
Followed by Q and A

Daniel Rosenberg's presentation, "The Doings of One Who Had Nothing to Do," will address the way in which nineteenth-century children's books attempt to indoctrinate youth with a spirit of industriousness and productivity. Christopher Turner's presentation, "Vasectomania, and Other Medical Cures for Sloth," addresses Eugen Steinach, the Viennese physician who thought that a vasectomy could reactivate men who were unable to work because of exhaustion or old age by flooding the blood stream with hormones, along with monkey or goat gland transplants. The Steinach Operation was one of the more curious and popular medical cures for sloth in the 1920s and early 30s. Tens of thousands of these procedures were performed in America; Yeats and Freud were also among those who went under the knife.

Listen to an audio recording of Daniel Rosenberg's presentation, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

Listen to an audio recording of Christopher Turner's presentation, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

1:15-2:00 | Lunch Recess

2:00-2:15 | Films from the Prelinger Archive
Ant City, 9 min, and The Dodder, 4 min

2:15-3:15 | Presentations by Brian Dillon and Jean-Michel Rabaté
Followed by Q and A

Brian Dillon's presentation, "The English Malady," will examine the historical relationship between hypochandria, sloth, and general lassitude, showing that, paradoxically, sloth can also serve as a form of time-management: a way of clearing one's schedule for real work, as the cases of James Boswell, Charles Darwin, and Florence Nightingale, attest. Jean-Michel Rabaté's presentation, "In Praise of Indolence: Beckett and Belacqua," examines Beckett's early identification with Belacqua, a character in Dante's Purgatorio. His famous indolence leads him to question the very machinery of purgatory, hence salvation. His name echoes in Beckett's texts as a reminder that, at times, illumination comes to those who know how to "sit and remain quiet."

Listen to an audio recording of Brian Dillon's presentation, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

Listen to an audio recording of Jean-Michel Rabate's presentation, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

3:15-4:15 | Presentation by Felicity Scott and Katherine Carl
Followed by Q and A

Felicity Scott's presentation, "Episodes in the Refusal of Work" will address three brief episodes in the “refusal of work” by the American counterculture: Drop City, Pacific High School, and Ant Farm. It will ask whether we can recognize within these practices a historically specific form of sloth, a form of apathy or ennui emerging as a mode of resistance to the post-war military-industrial-educational complex. Katherine Carl's presentation, "Mladen Stilinovic’s Slogans and Cakes: Ideology, Contemplation and the Perfection of Laziness," will examine Zagreb-based artist Mladen Stilinovic's 1993 manifesto in praise of laziness, as well as his ongoing critique of Western cultural productivity.

Listen to an audio recording of Felicity Scott's presentation, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

Listen to an audio recording of Katherine Carl's presentation, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

4:30–5:00 | Panel Discussion moderated by Emily Apter

Listen to an audio recording of the panel discussion, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

Postscript | Presentation by Thomas Zummer

Listen to an audio recording of Thomas Zummer's presentation, or download the file by right-clicking here and selecting "Save link as..."

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Emily Apter is a Professor of Comparative Literature and French at New York University.

Katherine Carl specializes in conceptual artists of the 1960s and 1970s of the former Yugoslavia. She was most recently Curator of Contemporary Art at The Drawing Center; she has also worked at Dia Art Foundation, taught at New York University, and was a museum specialist at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Brian Dillon is at present working on Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives. His literary essays and reviews have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books, Irish Times, Independent, Daily Telegraph, The Dublin Review and New Statesman. He is a widely published art critic and writes regularly for Frieze, Art Review, Modern Painters, Tate etc., and Sight & Sound, in addition to being the UK editor of Cabinet.

Jean-Michel Rabaté is a Senior Curator at Slought Foundation and Vartan Gregorian Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania

Daniel Rosenberg is Associate Professor of History at the University of Oregon. His current project on the history of the timeline is entitled The Graphic Invention of Modern Time. He has translated work by Michel de Certeau and co-edited Histories of the Future (Duke University Press, 2005). He is also an editor-at-large of Cabinet.

Pierre Saint-Amand holds joint appointments with French Studies and Comparative Literature at Brown University. He is the author among other books of The Laws of Hostility (1996). He recently edited Thérèse philosophe and Confessions d’une jeune fille in Romanciers libertins du XVIIIe siècle (Gallimard: 2000, 2005). He is preparing a book tentatively titled The Pursuit of Laziness: Idleness and the Philosophes.

Felicity Scott is assistant professor of architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University, and a founding co-editor of Grey Room, a quarterly journal of architecture, art, media, and politics published by MIT Press since Fall 2000. Her book, entitled Architecture or Techno-Utopia: Politics After Modernism, is forthcoming on MIT Press in November, and another book, entitled Allegorical Time Warp: The Media Fallout of July 21, 1969, will be published by ACTAR in association with Ant Farm Timeline as Living Archive 7: Ant Farm.

Christopher Turner completed a Ph.D. on the cultural history of disgust at the University of London. He was the Director and Founder of the Central Cities Institute and on the faculty at the London Consortium, and has written articles on psychoanalysis and art for the London Review of Books, The Sunday Telegraph, The Guardian, and Tate Magazine. His Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He is an editor of Cabinet.

Marina van Zuylen is Professor of French and Comparative Literature and Chair of the French Program at Bard College. She recently contributed to the Museum of Modern Art’s Odilon Redon exhibition. Author of Difficulty as an Aesthetic Principle, she is currently writing a book titled All Work and No Play: The Uses and Misuses of Leisure in the Franco-American Imagination about the relationship between conversation, idleness, and the work ethic in Franco-American culture wars.

"In Defense of Sloth" is collaboratively organized by Aaron Levy, Slought Foundation, and Sina Najafi, Cabinet magazine, In association with undergraduate students in the 2007-2008 RBSL Bergman Foundation Curatorial Seminar in the University of Pennsylvania Departments of English and Art History. This event is co-sponsored by The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, The Cooper Union, New York.

This project is in part funded by a generous grant from the New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the New York Council for the Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities

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