The 19th century witnessed an explosion of writing about unproductivity, with the exploits of various idlers, loafers, and “gentlemen of refinement” capturing the imagination o fa country that was deeply ambivalent about its work ethic. Idle Threats documents this American obsession with unproductivity and its potentials, while offering an explanation of the profound significance of idle practices for literary and cultural production.
While this fascination with unproductivity memorably defined literary characters from Rip Van Winkle to Bartleby to George Hurstwood, it also reverberated deeply through the entire culture, both as a seductive ideal and as a potentially corrosive threat to upright, industrious American men. Drawing on an impressive array of archival material and multifaceted literary and cultural sources, Idle Threats connects the question of unproductivity to other discourses concerning manhood, the value of art, the allure of the frontier, the usefulness of knowledge,the meaning of individuality, and the experience of time, space, and history. Andrew Lyndon Knighton offers a new way of thinking about the largely unacknowledged “productivity of the unproductive,” revealing the incalculable and sometimes surprising ways in which American modernity transformed the relationship between subjects and that which is most intimate to them: their own activity.
About the Author
Andrew Lyndon Knighton is Associate Professor of English at California State University, Los Angeles.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Procrastination and Prolegomena 1
1 The Bartleby Industry and Bartleby's Idleness 25
2 Repose: The Expression and Experience of the Circulatory Sublime 51
3 The Line of Productiveness: Fear at the Frontiers 87
4 Vital Reserves Revisited: The Energies of the Social Body 124
5 Conclusion: Idle Thoughts and Useless Knowledge in the American Renaissance, and Beyond 152
About the Author 243
What People are Saying About This
“With wit and sophistication, Andrew Knighton engages familiar writing by Irving, Thoreau, Melville, and Gilman and others in a fresh critical and theoretical inquiry into the experiences of time and space that continue to define capitalist modernity.”-Thomas Augst,New York University