It Isn’t


21 September 2021

‘…Losing yourself in a boxset vs a text message’, Rebecca Coleman said.

When listening to an album front to back rather than a playlist of assembled yet disparate songs, does it feel different?

‘How do we tell stories of nothing happening?’ someone asks. ‘How could we problematise doing and pay attention to forms of being that don’t appear to be doing anything?’ Tung-Hui contemplated aloud, in company.

Huda Awan suggested engendering the use of technology with a tone of ambivalence. It is a liked modus. Later we came back to it, questioning if ambivalence is the inverse of care(?) ‘…Idk if this is really a great basis for a response to the current situation’—Noted in the chat.

‘Exploring anxieties in an aestheticized rather than critical/theoretical way’. 👍🏽

A thrown-in aside becomes central to the conversation: Over the past two weeks I’ve recognised my own complicity in creating the conditions of self-exhaustion (thank you Emma Cocker) and accidently found relief in reading novels. A lot of novels. Shock, horror, how radical to read non-fiction again. Sam Byers wisely warns against over-valorising the reading of novels and ascribing fiction books with the capability of making us more empathetic, more relaxed – he has even heard it being said that reading works of fiction makes one a better person! I cannot deny that devouring dreamy stories over this summer break has been soothing. After realising that approximately the last two years have been spent reading solely theory, philosophy, academic papers, online articles on everything from cultural criticism to pop science, life hacks, blogs from people whose work I like, etc, etc… (in a phrase: non-fiction), coming back to stuff that is made-up is a relief. Why? Thanks to our discussion today, I figured it out. Because I am reading without the orientation of this needs to be instrumentalised. For the first time in years I am reading for pure enjoyment. Pleasure. Leisure. Not for any research purposes or intention for application towards work.

It’s childlike this engrossment in paperbacks. Truly assuming my school holiday mode, when I would visit the public library in my grandparents’ rural New Zealand town and take out the maximum amount of books I could carry. And read all of them.

What took me away from the pleasure of fiction? Guilt. I was unable to read without the haunting sense that I should be working. The to-do list was ever present. It was difficult to allow myself a break to ‘do nothing’. Of course, reading is not doing nothing, but it felt like reading non-fiction was doing something. It was never not work-related and thus, incessantly triggering of ideas, thought, the highlighter and sticky flags coming to hand.

Don’t be misled, I am not reading complex works or even classics. I’ve been in a hostel reading whatever was on the shelf. The Party by Robyn Harding (so-called ‘chick lit’. Light. Easy. Effectively suspenseful), Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham (a memoir by Lorelai of Gilmore Girls. Something I wouldn’t have thought I’d find myself reading but entertaining enough to finish), The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (yet undecided on this one). Books I’ve never heard of before.

The removal of options – what an unexpected delight! When I can choose however, it has been works of magic realism. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. These are the books that have been most unbelievable in setting me free (from myself).

When I mention this, Scott Wark asks how the genre of magic realism is informing my work (perhaps more known for its lo-fi, punk aesthetic). How is all this fiction I’ve been reading being instrumentalised? Later I delight in the clarity of the answer.

It isn’t.


21 September 2021

Contributed by

Jess Henderson is a writer, researcher, author and artist from New Zealand. She is the author of Offline Matters (Amsterdam: BIS Publishers, 2020) and founder of the No Fun site and newsletter. She is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Network Cultures and is currently running a transdisciplinary research lab on burnout with the School of Commons titled Band of Burnouts.

Contributed as part of Workshop 2