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The Labour of Laziness in Twentieth-Century American Literature$
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Zuzanna Ladyga

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474442923

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474442923.001.0001

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Laziness in American Literature: The Inaugural Moment

Laziness in American Literature: The Inaugural Moment

(p.72) Chapter 2 Laziness in American Literature: The Inaugural Moment
The Labour of Laziness in Twentieth-Century American Literature

Zuzanna Ladyga

Edinburgh University Press

The chapter serves as a historical prelude to chapters on modernism and postmodernism, by providing a historical context for how the trope of laziness evolved in American literature prior to the 20th century. First, it looks at how the motif of laziness functioned in early Puritan literature, how this function was broadened in 18th-century secular and religious didactic literature, and how it eventually developed into an aesthetic device in the Early Republic, when the new trope of laziness combined high Romantic aesthetics of the pastoral with unrefined motifs of vagabondage and delinquency, and in this way addresses the culture’s desire for freedom from the norm of collective labour and from patterns of inclusion and exclusion within the consensual networks of social participation. Second, the chapter explores the difference between the familiar Romantic topos of idleness, which has no subversive potential with respect to ethical normativity and the topos of laziness, which does. Walt Whitman’s trope of loafing is reread here via the Cynical tradition of performative indomitability as parrhēsia, or speaking truth to power. Herman Melville’s experiments with haptic poetics of laziness in Typee are interpreted as a critique of Romantic moralism and the emerging ethico-aesthetic norm of productivity.

Keywords:   Loafing, Idleness, Haptics, Pastoralism, Raymond Williams, Diogenes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville

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