The simple wisdom of doing nothing

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KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian talks with author, Josh Cohen about his book “Not Working” and the cultivation of aimlessness. Photo by Shutterstock.

For those of us who love and need work, doing nothing seems like anathema. Though appealing in principle, vegging out on the couch or daydreaming out the window isn’t as easy as it should be. Our culture demonizes idleness, and not being (what we perceive to be) productive prompts feelings of laziness and guilt. 

For many of us, life over the last year of the pandemic has also become a lot busier. In addition to getting back into work, we’re doing more, traveling, and visiting friends — back to the familiar rituals of being on the go. We’re happy to be out and about, but do we lose something when busyness seeps back into our lives? 

In his new book, “Not Working: Why We Have to Stop,” psychoanalyst and professor of modern literary theory at Goldsmiths Josh Cohen explores the question of how we live without work. He describes the feelings of patients with burnout and other work-related conditions, and says “the desire for non-desire” is part of human nature.

Jonathan Bastian talks with Cohen about his book and the cultivation of aimlessness. The author discusses how writers like Emily Dickenson, David Foster Wallace, and Graham Green spoke to the importance of seeking solitude and letting our minds wander without purpose or productivity. He also delves into why our own self value is so deeply tied to our work. 

“Not Working: Why We Have to Stop” by psychoanalyst and author Josh Cohen. Photo by Charlotte Speechley. 



Andrea Brody