Reading & Composition

Reading & Composition

Idleness & Insubordination: The Literature of Play & Protest
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Kathryn Crim and Haley Stewart
9-10 am

Under the regime of idleness, to kill the time, which

kills us second by second, there will be shows and

theatrical performances always and always.

—Paul Lafargue, “The Right to Be Lazy”


Was ever idleness like this?

—Emily Dickinson


What right do we have to stay in bed? To laze about in the heat of the day? What is the relationship between loafing and literary production? Departing from the ancient paradigm of otium (idleness, leisure, retirement) and negotium (work, service, activity), this course tracks the diversions and detours by which artists and writers have insisted on not keeping busy. Beginning with the Latin poet Virgil’s world-weary shepherd-poets, we’ll consider the motif of the garden as a place of retreat and subversion, in seventeenth-century poetry and twentieth-century fiction. We’ll next consider “refusal artists” of various stripes: those who literally wander the city and the country and those who stay in place and say, “I prefer not to.” Alongside literary texts and a few films, we’ll dip into a selection of theoretical essays that think about how repeated refusals to work can cultivate new subjectivities under capitalism. What forms of creativity and community are developed when we withhold our labors? How do such forms resist and remake the world? And how do these questions change in light of our very recent experiences of pandemic, when so many people are working and not working “in place”?

Goals and Objectives:

The course’s emphasis is on reading and rereading, writing and re-writing. Assignments will be aimed at developing students’ powers of description, analysis, and argumentation by introducing them to a variety of literary forms and discourses and asking them to write papers of increasing complexity. R1B also introduces students to research skills and practices; thus considerable time will be spent working with library resources and practicing writing with prior research. Assignments will include a critical essay, a research paper, and a number of shorter writing exercises.

Please note that we’ll be using a labor-based assessment method. This method rewards all the labor you put into your writing—that is to say, the process, and not just the final product. Each assignment (reading and writing) will include labor instructions, where I indicate how much time you should spend doing the work. You’ll keep track of this time, as well as your engagement, in a “labor log.” While you’ll receive ample feedback from both me and your peers, the only grade you’ll ever see is the final course grade—and that grade will be determined by the amount of labor you put into the course.

Possible Course Texts :

Poetry by Andrew Marvell, Arthur Rimbaud, Ed Roberson, Virgil

Essays by Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Angela Davis, Silvia Federici, C.L.R. James, Paul Lafargue, Karl Marx, Jenny Odell, Kristin Ross;


Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of this World

Clarice Lispector, “Love”

Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener”

Anne Richter, “The Sleep of Plants”

Mary Ruefle, “Take Frank”


Madeline Anderson, “I Am Somebody”

Ousmane Sembène, Black Girl

Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You

Agnès Varda, Vagabond