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How to Do Nothing

Rose Blossom

How to Do Nothing

Sarah Elisa Kelly

This course takes its title from a book by Korean-American multidisciplinary artist Jenny Odell and is an invitation to dynamically engage with time, attention and (in)action. We will explore the significance and “somethingness” of “nothingness”, situating it in being-doing methodologies (J.K Gibson Graham) relevant to a mode of “Delicate Activism” (Kaplan and Davidoff) that might seek to subvert our conventional ideas about what it means to act in the world. We will examine the social and environmental implications of active-passive dualisms, and ask questions such as, must change always involve opposition, and might one stand for something, while perhaps also sitting, or even laying down?


Beginning with an introduction to the “urgent slow” (Akomolafe) and connecting to the wider slow movement (including that of “slow scholarship”) and field of eco-crip disability justice, we will seek to understand the social construction of time and problematise the commodification of speed, progress and productivity, re-commoning an empowered relationship to time in the process. 


We will-sit with the inevitable tensions that arise through the urgency of climate change and social justice endeavours, tentatively exploring alternative, potentially subversive orientations that move us in directions other than relentlessly “forwards”. Necessarily, failure will play a huge role in our explorations, and we will find resource through the work of trans theorist Jack Halberstam who reminds us that “under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world…”


Taking the stance that “movement is life”, we will explore how the category of “life” and what gets to count as life is entangled with what gets seen as “movement”. We will draw on inspiration from the work of theorists, movement artists and activists who implement durational processes such as melting, receiving, listening, resting, and collapsing as modes of creative resistance.


  1. how to do nothing

  2. urgent slow

  3. an attention economy

  4. forwards into futures

  5. movement is life

  6. rest. resistance  

Sample bibliography

Halberstam, J. (2011) The Queer Art of Failure. Durham and London: Duke UP.

Hersey, T. (2022) Rest is Resistance. Aster

Huebener, P. (2018) ‘Timely Ecocriticism: Reading Time Critically in the Environmental Humanities’, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 327–344.

Machado de Oliveira, V. (2021) Hospicing Modernity. S.L: North Atlantic Books

Mountz, A. et al. (2015) ‘For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance.’ ACME 14 (4).

Odell, J. (2019) How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, New York: Melville House

Morton, T. (2013) Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. Minneapolis: Minneapolise UP.

Ray, S.J and Sibara, J. (2017) Disability Studies and the Environmental Humanities: Toward an Eco-Crip Theory, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Rose, D.B., Dooren, T.V. and Chrulew, M. (eds.) (2017) Extinction Studies: Stories of Death, Time and Generations. New York: Columbia University Press

Tsing, A.L. (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Urry, J. (2011) ‘Speeding Up and Slowing Down’ in Hartmut, R. and Scheaveman, W.E. (ed.) High-speed Society: Social Acceleration, Power and Modernity. University Park: Penn State University.

Van Dorren, T., Kirksey, E., Münster, M. (2016) Multispecies studies: Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness, Environmental Humanities 8 (1) p. 1-23

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