Rest and the rest: Aesthetics of Idleness
12th Visual and Cultural Studies Graduate Conference
University of Rochester
April 12-13, 2019

Idleness suggests slack and stasis. It evokes empty, wasted time, and thus the dangers of being useless. It even recalls the religious notion that there is something satanic about not being occupied with work. But what are the aesthetics of idleness? In what ways does being idle function as a cultural or artistic practice? How can we theorize idleness, and perhaps do so idly? Or does treating idleness as a site of cultural analysis and critical theory undo the danger of it?

Idleness covers a wide range of activities in the past few centuries: to name a few, resting and sleeping, leisurely activities outside of capitalist production, and even spiritual and mental sloth that is counter to societal good. Yet many of these idle activities are reparative and restorative too. As primordial functions, sleep and rest not only let us regenerate, but they also, through dreaming, give us a palpable experience of the unconscious that challenges our understanding of self-possession and embodiment. And when sleeping is shared with another, it may connote intimacy, sex, relationality, and vulnerability. Beyond the rest we take in private and personal spheres, resting in public often becomes a source of anxiety and a matter to control. In the medical field, for example, fatigue is a pathology. Someone who gets “too much sleep” may receive a diagnosis of lethargy, narcolepsy, or a variety of mental health issues. People who are homeless often find themselves subject to punitive measures for using public resources to rest. The politics of race, class, and gender turn the legitimized leisure of some into the illegal loitering of others. This unequal distribution of idleness points to the political economy of this activity, especially the exclusive nature of certain modes of respite, such as vacation time, the indulgence of “treating yourself,” and #selfcare. The ability to display one’s access to the luxury of idleness–particularly through social media–becomes an act of conspicuous consumption.

This conference invites emerging scholars and practitioners in the humanities, arts, and social sciences to consider the ways in which idleness works across cultures. How might the concept of idleness be seen as a space of inquiry and contestation, and how might it become generative and productive? Hosted by the University of Rochester’s Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies, this conference aims to foster an environment for interdisciplinary communication, knowledge exchange, and collaboration. Possible topics may include and are by no means limited to:

• Rest as a break or a point of departure
• Pauses (visual, literary, musical)
• Isolation, fatigue and exhaustion
• Craft studies
• Liminality/in-betweenness
• Leisure and labor/Wasted or unproductive time
• Intimacy and vulnerability
• Health, illness, and convalescence (mental and physical)
• Slow cinema
• Idleness in digital and new media
• Imagery of/around the sleeping body
• Boredom, lethargy, apathy
• Posthuman/non-human notions of idleness or rest
• Dreaming and the unconscious
• Morality, sinfulness, sloth

We invite individual submissions as well as pre-constituted panels (of 3-4 presenters) in the form of 300 word abstracts (for 20-minute paper presentations) and 100 word bios for each presenter. All materials are to be submitted via an online submission form by January 31, 2019. Select presenters may be invited to revise presentations for publication at InVisible Culture: An Electronic Journal of Visual Culture as part of an issue devoted to the aesthetics of idleness. Successful applicants will be notified of acceptance by February 15, 2019.

This conference is organized by PhD students in the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester. Please email the conference co-chairs, Amanda Ju and Madeline Ullrich, at vcsconference [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions.