Issue 29 Sloth Spring 2008

Fast, Trusted, Proven?

To spend too much time in studies is sloth.
—Francis Bacon, Sr.

The Young and the Restless
by Daniel Rosenberg

Summary
This article discusses the ways in which nineteenth-century children’s books written by members of the prolific Taylor family took up aspects of the classical notion of sloth, which was developed within a monastic tradition, and translated them into morality tales for the new middle-class. Far from connoting inactivity, this notion of sloth encompassed phenomena that today seem antithetical to laziness, such as restlessness, impatience, and “busy idleness.”

Quiz
1. What did the fourth-century monk Evagrius identify as the most burdensome of all demons?
A. The water demon of Gräfenberg
B. The demon rum
C. The demon of acedia
D. Matt Demon

2. Which famous children’s song is taken from a poem written by Jane and Ann Taylor?
A. “Stairway to Heaven”
B. “I See London, I See France”
C. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”
D. “You’ve Got a Friend”

3. When Harry decided to hand-copy Joseph Priestley’s New Chart of History, his father tried to dissuade him by arguing that
A. Harry should hand-copy the more coveted Old Chart of History
B. History is not appropriate for forward-thinking boys
C. Harry needed to clear copyright on the chart first
D. Copying an existing chart was a worthless activity

Practice project
Try copying this issue of Cabinet word for word. Describe the thoughts that come to you as you slowly lose your will to finish the project.

Vasectomania, and Other Cures for Sloth
by Christopher Turner

Summary
This article reviews attempts made by scientists in the early twentieth century to cure fatigue in men through the use of unusual treatments, including injecting patients with the secretions of animal glands, grafting transplanted monkey testicles onto their existing testes, and performing vasectomies on them.

Quiz
1. In order to test the rejuvenating powers of certain substances, French doctor Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard injected himself with
A. Waters from the Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth
B. The juice of pulped guinea pig and dog testicles
C. The pulp of juiced guinea pigs and dog ventricles
D. The blood of John “Goat Gland” Brinkley

2. In an attempt to inoculate students against slothful tendencies, Berlin school officials in the early twentieth century pumped schoolrooms full of
A. Highly oxygenated air
B. Antikenotoxin vapors
C. Pheromones
D. The smell of roasting currywurst

3. The celebrated rejuvenation of W. B. Yeats’s sexual drive following his vasectomy prompted the Irish press to refer to him as
A. Ben Bulbous
B. Mr. Second Coming
C. The Gland Old Man
D. The Naughty Nobelist

Practice project
Um, no.

Fatigued
by Marina van Zuylen

Summary
This article discusses the recent resurgence of philosophical interest around the concept of fatigue, in its physical, aesthetic, and political dimensions. While typically thought to indicate a failure of body and/or character, fatigue has not always been considered in negative terms; in fact, thinkers from Baudelaire to Lévinas have defended fatigue as promoting a heightened state of awareness that can lead to new insights.

Quiz
1. Nineteenth-century physiologist Angelo Mosso described the fatigued citizen as exhibiting symptoms of
A. Scratching, sniffing, and staring
B. Drooping, yawning, and spasming
C. Faith, hope, and charity
D. Drooling, lolling, and zoning

2. What, according to Baudelaire, “adorn[s] the whole of nature with a supernatural interest, one that endows each object with a more profound, more willful, and more despotic meaning”?
A. Love
B. Margaritas
C. Pink Floyd
D. Hashish

3. Mussolini subsidized cultural events for the masses, hoping that Italians would come to prefer
A. Verdi over vino
B. Paganini over penne
C. Canaletto over cannellini
D. Marinetti over marinara

Practice project
Close the door to your office, lower the lights, and lean back in your chair. When your boss notices, say that you are engaged in a philosophical thought experiment around fatigue in the tradition of Baudelaire, Proust, and Lévinas and are not to be disturbed. Do the same thing again the next day, after you get back from the unemployment office.

Far Niente: An Interview with Pierre Saint-Amand
by Sina Najafi

Summary
This interview discusses the rise of a sensibility in the eighteenth century that ran counter to the dominant Enlightenment ideology of productivity and work. In figures as diverse as Diderot, Rousseau, Chardin, and Marivaux, Saint-Amand charts the emergence of a marginal discourse that champions distraction, ephemerality, and laziness.

Quiz
1. Marivaux’s Le spectateur français focused on
A. The love lives of the Countesses Spéars and Lohân
B. Ephemeral phenomena of modern urban life
C. The emergence of the optical industry
D. How to get rush tickets for new plays and operas

2. The shortest chapter of Rousseau’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker is the last one because
A. His publisher asked him to “punch up” the ending
B. He died while writing the book
C. He stopped walking after he bought a unicycle
D. He had to get back to his day job as a douanier

3. Entries in Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie describe which three categories of sloth?
A. The couch potato, the slacker, and the stoned
B. The do-nothing, the idler, and the lazy
C. The two-toed, the three-toed, and the giant
D. The benchwarmer, the balker, and the boondoggler

Practice project
In 1751, Rousseau threw away his watch in an act of defiance against the regulated scheduling of life. Throw away your watch and take a long walk in a park dressed as Rousseau. Write down your thoughts and publish them. Use the money from the advance to buy a new, better watch.

Cabinet is a non-profit organization supported by the Lambent Foundation, the Orphiflamme Foundation, the New York Council on the Arts, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Katchadourian Family Foundation, Goldman Sachs Gives, the Danielson Foundation, and many generous individuals. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation by visiting here.