Really Doing Nothing

Eric Santner’s Tanner Lectures begin with the observation that, in contemporary society, human bodies at work produce not only products or services but a surplus over them, “work in excess of any apparent teleological order, work that [keeps] one busy beyond reason” (Santner, The Weight of All Flesh, 23). What is this extra busywork for and why is it so exorbitant, unreasonable? Why does it spill over the limits of normal work hours, such that all participation in social life feels like work? What is this surplus production? The short answer is glory, that intangible excess related to reputation, fame, and status. Glory lies behind our obsession with media and its images, celebrities and politicians, with any shiny new commodity. But it also has to do with the People themselves, with incarnating the social bond under capitalism. In this essay, we will examine the relation between glory and labor in some detail, before discussing some potential responses: Santner’s idle worship and our “really doing nothing” with the help of the imaginary number.

The Sovereignty of Ca$hMoney

For centuries, the production of glory was fixed on producing the King’s symbolic body, his so-called ‘second body’ or ‘glorious body’, which divides and redoubles his real, physical body. After all, without the robes and pageantry, the splendor of gilded palaces and ornament, the King would be a mere piece of flesh like any other. The concentration of glory in his person transfers him onto a new plane of significance, inserts him into the symbolic network that maintains and sustains him as King and legitimizes him as an authority capable of mediating relations amongst the people. It bestows upon him a body in excess of his flesh, yet not different from it exactly; it is rather that spectral ‘something’ that gives the King an aura of untouchability. This concept is essential to understanding how one person could come to stand and speak for an entire region or nation: they assume, effectively, the proportions of God, these relations between glory, sovereignty and power of course being originally theological. In a similar vein, Agamben remarks that without praise and adoration, God himself would cease to exist. In other words, without the on-going labor of acclamation, the ruler (or celebrity, politician, performer, etc.) loses the crowd and so loses its power. With no one to feed into the production of a given type of glory, or to believe in its spectacle, it is de-potentialized and the King stands naked. It is only appropriate then, as Santner does, to return to the moment when the People overthrew the Monarchy and popular sovereignty began to replace royal sovereignty. Revolution destroyed the King’s legitimacy, but this puts the legitimacy of the entire social body at risk, since now the functions once concentrated in the King must now be taken over by the labor of the people themselves.

As we know, the people’s labor was submitted to the profit-motive of capitalism more and more, which inherits the divine right of kings. Gradually, the social ceases to be mediated through the sovereign or sovereign entities and is given over to mediation by money. According to Santner, glory “descends” from royal transcendence into the realm of commodities, which is why they exert a sort of magical power over us: they are vessels for glory, for social value and status, for the people’s ‘second body’. This is also why Marx called the commodity, “a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties”: with it political theology becomes political economy, just as sovereignty is replaced by the wealth of nations (30). The King is deposed and replaced by monetary value. Accordingly, the People no longer recognize themselves as under his care. What emerges instead is the, “perverse vitality of money qua symbolic medium of exchange” (50). Money is God: this is no cliché, but a clear-sighted recognition in popular consciousness of who runs the ‘show’ now that there is no King to run it. The fetishism once aimed at royal persons is displaced onto new sites of ecstatic union between political subjects and commodities (and spectacles) in a generalized movement of the fetishization of things. But what is fetishized through them is, in fact, the ‘second body’ of the People, who produce them to produce their own consistency. We will return to this, but first we must untangle the link between the glory left over from the collapse of gods and kings, and labor itself.

Generally speaking, what produces glory is the performance of a liturgy, which literally means “work of the people” (litos ergos). Although we normally think of liturgy in connection with the religious context (the Mass, rituals, prayers, etc.), it is imperative to see it from a broader perspective. In the royal context, it took the form of constant vigilance over the King’s second body, his virtually real ‘double’, in a way that maintained his symbolic authority at all times and everywhere, and thus sustained the legitimacy of the social world (36). It is easy to compare in this way the constant bustling about of the King’s representatives and the constant bowing of worshipers at the altar. Both are obsessed to produce and sustain the glory which sweeps them up and sweeps them away. Just think of monks rising at 4 a.m. every morning to chant Psalms, who spend all their waking hours praying to God. Or think of those in the King’s office who must always represent his infallibility, who must stay in the know lest they miss an opportunity to get closer to him. Following Agamben, who has amply shown that without these glorification procedures there simply would be no God or King, Santner interprets capitalist society from this perspective: the production of glory (liturgies) that first manifested in these contexts has not been eliminated but only transformed in secular times. When capitalism itself is the religion, the process is “immanentized” into universal busy-body-ness, where literally every body becomes the locus of upkeep of the People’s second body. And just as the Jesuits called for the unlimited increase of the glory of God (“the continual increase of the glory of God that can in no way be increased” (100)), the call under capital is for the unlimited valorization of Value–for the unlimited increase in the splendor of the social body that supports it, and for unlimited capital accumulation, undergirded by this work of glory.

This emptying of the throne and of the legitimacy of the positions once held by gods and royalty — and thus progressively of all social institutions themselves, as all heads of state lose their head — is part of a process often called disenchantment. But otherworldly spirits do not just vanish in this secularization, nor are modern subjects any less enchanted. In this transition, “from the glorification/valorization of sovereigns… to the self-valorization of capital,” there is simply a corresponding, “shift to new forms of the production of glory, splendor, and valor” (73). We are under the spell of reason if we think we have somehow overcome the mechanism of glory. The center of the machine of glory has only lost its compact transcendence. A sort of inversion has taken place, such that this disenchanted world, “vibrates with a surplus of immanence.” Vibration is an image Santner returns to often to characterize modern labor culture. It indicates that the task of dealing with the “royal remains,” what is left over from the King’s second body, has become immanent. Maintaining the people’s second body is what is at stake in all our buzzing around. The royal remains assail us and suspend us in a state of “petrified unrest,” such that even when our labor is meaningless, useless, or redundant, we are still producing the vibration of the social (82). Mass and social media obviously play a large part in this buzziness, but they are only the more visible manifestations of a pervasive program that should grab our attention. Santner observes that the non-stop, 24/7, no-sleep pace of the modern capitalist world is a “democratization” or “popularization” of the ideal of the rex exsomnis, the King that never sleeps (36). In this constantly vibrating world, we are the busy-bodies who must, “discharge an excess of demand… that keeps us driven even when we are ostensibly ‘idling,’ keeps us negotiating even in the midst of otium” (80-81). In sum, the “liturgical hum” that once sustained theological sovereignty is now fully discharged into commodity-producing labor, whose real product is not only goods and services but this spectral materiality of the People’s second body, the modern equivalent of divine splendor (239). It is this spectral materiality [gespenstische Gegenständlichkeit] that characterizes the metaphysics of the commodity.

The production of glory thus suffuses the very fabric of everyday life. Every social space becomes a site for it. Because no royal second body is there to uphold the social order, the People themselves must take it over. Lacking a royal person to fetishize, the need to produce glory infects the entire expanse of valuable things as fetishes. Value-form itself becomes sovereign, the creation of surplus value (and surplus enjoyment…) the imperative. The result is, “a ubiquitous pressure for productive wakefulness.” It is so extreme that, per Santner, it is only during sleep that we, “inhabit a truly human world, one not fully adapted to, (de)created for, the inhuman rhythms of 24/7 routines of work, consumption, connectivity, and vigilance” (34). The symptoms are well known: “constant production, consumption, communication, interconnectedness, interindebtedness, and profit-oriented self-management” (34). In this modern scenario, the flesh is invested with a debt drive, for it is everywhere indebted to produce the People’s virtual flesh. Thus the business of busy-body who must labor incessantly so that the social body doesn’t vanish into thin air and lose all consistency. No one can get away from the ‘office’ because the flesh itself houses it. The wireless devices we care with us are but an outward manifestation of this constant, nagging, haunting imperative to produce sociality. That we work increasingly from a ‘home office’ only confirms the coincidence of these two orders, where the flesh embodies the excess weight of social relationality at the intersection of household and global. Even in our downtime, and probably often unconsciously, we entertain and are entertained by the radiant God of capital, through all the channels of the culture industry, from buzzwords to viral videos to news flashes. But whether we worship money directly or by some mediating commodity, what we love is actually the abstract labor underneath it, which money occludes and the commodity signifies. Both laborious and liturgical, this worship reaches so far that society looks like one non-stop cultic celebration of the spectral body of the social, to whatever degree it surfaces explicitly or is concealed underneath the products it produces.

Weighing the People’s Flesh

What we are fascinated with in the commodity or the spectacle is nothing less than this flesh of the people in its ‘spectral materiality’. Debord’s designation of the spectacle as a worldview materialized, as a unification obtained in the language of universal separation, is confirmed here. As Santner writes, underlying this feverish 24/7 restlessness of the capitalist world is, “a new form of business—of quasi-official busy-ness and busy-body-ness—[that] comes itself to function as the work of incarnation, as the production site of the flesh of the People” (26). To understand this, we have to return to the beginning and ask: what purpose did the King actually serve? Nothing less than the justification of social space as such, its laws and normative rules. Once he is no longer there to serve as this guarantee, this justification will have to be found through other modes of social upkeep. The world of “business” is only sustained by the busy bodies that buzz to uphold it. But if so many suffer under this busy-ness, why is it too not abandoned like the old royalties? Quite simply because then the lack of ultimate foundations of human forms of life would be exposed. In other words, the originary and anomic violence upon which the juridico-social order and its laws are built would be revealed. It is this dimension of juridico-political normativity, the violence of law itself, which the King’s “symbolic body” once served to conceal. Note: by “law” we understand here not just the laws upheld by the police and the procedures followed in courtrooms, but the entire field of political-social normativity, including the etiquette and politeness we practice even when we don’t believe in them (Zizek would say this is ideology at its purest) (83). All these social laws and norms in fact do not function unless there is some “little piece of the real” to conceal the void at the heart of the law’s vicious circle (its legality is founded on something extra-legal, for example, on the sovereign who is an exception to the law). Once this “little piece of the real” is gone, the social world is opened up over an abyss, for then the violence at its origin is no longer concealed. It follows that its violence would no longer have any excuse for its existence, no alibi to vouch for it. Glory is an apparatus that captures this void, this originary lack at the heart of the social body, and conceals it; in doing so, it makes the whole apparatus shine with splendor, i.e., it makes it work.

In effect, following Santner, human life is distinguished by a gap that opens up in it between the somatic and the normative, between bare life and the “worldly” life into which it is inserted. This insertion begins before the human child is even born. Even by dint of its name, it is inserted into what Lacan called the Symbolic. It is only because of this inaugural incidence of language (or more broadly, of human-social meaning, of ‘spectral realities’) on the living being that the human being “is” in the sense we understand it, namely, as a speaking being (what Lacan called parlêtre, a speakbeing), one whose social being determines its consciousness (Marx). Its entire “life” will play out at the intersection, at the jointure or break, between the natural and the worldly. The latter is not a biological but a social given, acquired insofar as we are exposed as a being in language, exposed to shared meanings. Not only are we “thrown” into the world, but we are endowed with a kind of ghost, our own capacity to haunt and ‘go viral’, our reality in the symbolic order. It is different from our physical body, yet all our physical acts contribute to it, as we enter narratives, collectives, traditions, etc. Even more, this insertion is never complete, nor is our being ever fully acquired, because something always misfires. The gap is never fully closed. A hiatus persists between our physical and our spectral body, though both dwell in and divide our one flesh. For Santner, it is through this amplification or “potentiation” of our vulnerable biological life, through our exposure to historical forms of life, that the “flesh of creaturely life” unfolds, including all the labor it must undergo to “make sense” of this gap (84). Put otherwise, biological life is “inflamed” by this insertion, and we work to give meaning to this inflammation, which for the most part we did not choose (239).

Human flesh always entails this surplus or supplement which makes it unequal to itself and thrusts it into the sphere of memories, hauntings, afterlives, as well as rumor and gossip and all the other ‘mediations’ of the human body made possible by its labor upon prostheses, supplements, texts and other vibratory mediums. Flesh is not just brains and muscles, but these plus the weight of social relations. Thus the uncanny pressure that encroaches upon us when we stand before a review board or in the immigration office. We feel the pressure of a “self-amplifying dynamic,” where, “the ego is, in some sense, under constant pressure to live for the greater glory of the super-ego, to ‘fatten’ its status as Über-ich, which might indeed be better translated as surplus-ego” (99). Whether or not we consciously perceive the core unfoundedness of these spaces and of the norms they enforce upon our body, we know they put us to work in a way that is not just physical or cognitive. The politeness that a waitress must show to her rude customers, night after night, condenses well the burden of this ‘weight’, the cost she must pay to ‘vibrate’ with the busy-body rhythm of Capital. Any materialism which ignores this ‘materiality’ of human subjectivity will be inadequate to the task of interpreting modern life.

Because these forms of life into which we are inserted are historical, they are subject to breaking down at any moment. As creatures made of this ‘flesh’, we do not only feel the pressure to uphold the norms of social life that correspond to our placement in it, though this too is attenuated in an age when norms are more slippery and shifting than ever. We also feel the pressure of the void around which all these norms orbit, “the lack of any ultimate grounding or authorization of those normative statuses” (84). Santner calls formations of the flesh all the manners in which this “ontological vulnerability” is covered up, where formerly it was the King who absorbed the pressure of the radical contingency of social forms of life. He emphasizes that the King covered this void in two ways: by veiling it (this is the immediate effect of the glorious body: to captivate and distract) but also by vouching for it, that is, by backing whatever debt in justifications remained. It is this function that, with the deposition of royal sovereignty, comes to spread itself across the whole fabric of the social. The “subject-matter” of the modern citizen-subject directly involves these formations of the flesh which labor to veil the void and vouch for the legitimacy of those forms. This is the People’s second body, which must now function, “as glorious guarantor covering the missing link at the ‘anthropogenetic’ knotting of the somatic and the normative” (86). And, going by appearances, the more illegitimate the world appears to be, the greater the debt to the commodity-form of sovereignty and the stronger the debt drive, the harder human flesh must work to legitimize it and knot together some sort of logic to make sense of socio-historical life.

Political economy thus pertains to the maintenance of the People’s Two Bodies, not just its material life (the management of biological life and death), but also its spectral life (the glory and splendor of its symbolic body). It inherits the duty to vouch for the normative order and its suture to the somatic, and thus to “redeem or indemnify” a lack at its origin. Biopolitics doesn’t just address man as species and population, but also as this dimension of the flesh as the bearer of royal remains, for, “the threshold of modernity is marked by the ‘massification’ of the physical-juridical flesh of the king, its dispersion into populations that for that very reason must be placed in the care of biopolitical administration” (89). Biopolitics, in this sense, is the regime of the justification of veils and their securitization. What appears to be the mere “policing of empirical bodies and forces” conceals its liturgical dimension, for this administration is responsible for covering the void upon which social existence is built. We might expect that the more these voids threaten to be exposed, the greater will be the contrary force to prevent it. Foucault even showed in his genealogical analyses that policing was originally conceived as, “the art of the state’s splendor as visible order and manifest force”: not just the maintenance of rule but the maintenance of glory. Still, it is not just the police but every political subject who inherits responsibility for the People’s second body. This is what underlies modern busy-body-ness, what weighs uncannily upon us: the production and shaping of the glorious flesh of the social bond (99), the imperative to care for this “spectral flesh of the sovereign People” (86).

For a Paradoxological Idle Worship

Santner sums all this up under the heading of the ‘doxological’ dimension of labor itself. Here, work is conceived as the performance of a liturgical practice, a “public service” in the sense that it is increasingly concerned with the production and maintenance of this “spectral flesh” or materiality of glory, the glory of the social bond itself. In short, work is one form of the doxology of everyday life (100). This logic of glory far exceeds rational self-pursuit, even if capitalism justifies its worship through this ideology or knotting procedure. According to this doxology, what matters above all is to “vibrate” with the social body, in unison with this strange order of busy-body angels who no longer produce glory to God but the self-valorization of Value. Santner summarizes: “the labor theory of value is fundamentally a theory of the production of glory, of the liturgical dimension of labor performed in the service of the greater valor, glory, splendor, of Value” (115). Thus, any critique of political economy must be para-doxological, because it must work through the doxological dimension of Work, albeit by looking at it from the side.

Worshiping money is not limited to its monetary or commodity forms, but is present wherever this social liturgy is invested, wherever the fundamental void at the heart of social normativity is captured to a certain end, made to work and operate, to produce surplus value. What’s more, capitalism is indifferent to the specifics of this labor or of the place where this liturgy is practiced. All that matters to it is the quantity of value-producing labor, the “simple average labor” to which even the most complex labor is reduced (103, 106). What disappears in the commodity, what its fetishism denies or willfully overlooks, is this massive reduction of all the specifics of labor into a, “gelatinous mass in and through which our sociality is constituted as a kind of quasi-religious, quasi-secular mass in the liturgical service of the self-valorization of Value” (106)– of value which in itself is a weightless, quasi-spiritual thing. This is why the “weightless” commodity, in its gespenstische Gegenständlichkeit, exerts such an “enormous gravitational force on everyone and everything” (276). Santner calls the alchemy of capitalism this process whereby our bodily expenditure is reduced or abstracted to become a substance of valor, glory, radiance, and splendor. It is here that flesh and gold become interchangeable: both sparkle with the promise of an unlimited increase in glory. Both are the “instrumental cause” of Value’s self-valorization (113), which is why both are fetishized for their “shine,” their glory-potency. In the end, of course, all are forced to operate to produce the People’s body, and are operated upon by capital for it, whether or not our bodies can bear what it demands.

This operativity, which weighs upon the flesh and which the flesh weighs, is at stake wherever the subject sustains-entertains the Agency of Value, “feeding it with the splendor of surplus value,” so as to effectively enjoy the entitlements that it enjoys from this work, nothing less than “its being in the Other.” The cliché that those who serve the machine are the only ones who benefit from it is confirmed here. Only those who help capital valorize itself are worthy of reaping the benefits of the value produced (“pay the cost to be the boss”), just as only those who glorified God were worthy of reaping the benefits of his grace, or those who served the King faithfully could benefit from his privilege. Obviously, there are many for whom this liturgical service is not optional, given that without reaping some ‘benefits’ of Capital one will be excluded from the social body and starve. Santner does not address how, for most, this liturgical service is compulsory. Nonetheless, any critique of capital today demands an interruption of its unending Wertesdienst and the transferential dimension it sustains, where, “each day commands the utter fealty of each worshiper” (Agamben, Kingdom and the Glory, 88).

Of course, our conscious condemnation of nation-states, our dis-identification with the People, even our interventions into extant social organizations, do little to remove this demand, for it is ‘unconscious’ in the strong sense. It is our bodies that are busied and act out these symptoms in spite of us, since the question of meaning itself and of our consciousness plays out in this gap between the somatic and the normative, where we are compelled to act upon the social’s lack of justification and the debt drive that roots deep in us. And, as Freud learned, one does not “conceptually annul” a fetish. Critique must analyze the spell cast by the doxological machine over everyday life, so that it can later intervene into, “the labor process itself along with the quasi-somatic, quasi-normative pressures informing it” (120, 87). Santner suggests a lived critical practice on par with a psychoanalytical working through:

the often difficult, sometimes comical, and always repetitive emotional, cognitive, and practical reelaboration of the lived and embodied ways in which one participates in one’s own unfreedom, of the modes of busy-body-ness in which one’s capacity for freedom is held in a sort of suspended animation (263).

Alongside critique, however, Santner does propose a more positive project: a para-doxological “idle worship” that would be revolutionary in essence, a form of idleness, of non-capitalist and non-glory-producing worship that would “unplug” us from the constant vibration whereby the busy-business upholds itself and produces its glory (114). What we must induce is a general strike against liturgical labor (which is both political and economic), such that the void, “the absence of purpose and destination proper to human life,” the fundamental otium or inoperativity that marks it, is no longer captured and incorporated into a separate sphere (politics, economy, religion, etc). This means introducing into social practices, into the formations of the flesh that predominantly serve the invisible hand of Value, a coefficient of non-doing that would help us recognize the fact that humanity lacks any fundamental task or telos, that it is fundamentally without purpose, and that man, “in his essence… is completely devoid of work [opera], because he is the Sabbatical animal par excellence” (Agamben, 246). For us, “devoid of work” also means: devoid of glory and without need of it, neither on the level of singular existence, nor on the level of communal accomplishment. (We could even suggest a radical critique of radiance itselfAll that glitters is gold, and that precisely is the problem.)

On Really Doing Nothing

The answer to Santner’s closing question—what would happen if, once work has lost all sense of usefulness, we all joined in ‘idle worship’, a sort of sublime or sabbatical idling? —obviously cannot be ‘nothing’. To begin such idling is precisely to start doing nothing, but what does doing nothing really do? What manner of doing characterizes idling? What can be meant by the “passive sabotage” (Berardi) called for here? We have to be very careful and, in the development of this paradoxology, distinguish between the doing nothing that does nothing in the sense of ‘it doesn’t do anything’, and the doing nothing that ‘does something’, or rather does nothing, as when one says that one does the laundry or does one’s duty: it carries the object of the activity through, sees it to completion, only here the object is nothing but inoperativity, generic human (im)potentiality itself prior to being capture in an apparatus of glory. Doing nothing then, in this active sense, is counterintuitive and non-prescriptive, since in essence it prescribes a void, or rather, the exhibition of the void already there where rules break down but the social must nonetheless be vouched for. Idle worship recommends that one act rigorously non-telelogically– that one install nowhere everywhere? – and this in order to honor being ‘human’, that animal with no proper work, no proper biological or cultural goal or end-point, that strange creature of pure means whose heart is filled with the very void whose flooding into the world is such a risk.

To really do nothing is to introduce into the world the only type of cause that is relevant: one that doesn’t work, that doesn’t add up, that is “good-for-nothing” and can succeed “at not being pictured” (270-1). An enigmatic signifier, in Santner’s sense. A cause of the future.

Yet it is nearly blasphemy to assert that there might be a form of ‘doing nothing’ that is revolutionary or interventionist, even if only in the form of suspending the apparatus of glory-production. Is it possible to produce no surplus value without surrendering oneself to total uselessness and inactivity? Bataille developed this problem under the heading of the accursed share, that little piece of the real that could not be included in the global system of the work world. Perhaps it takes a special ear to hear that call, or to see its motion in history, beginning with the first moment of contemplation up to the development of the scholē, into our age where the last remnants of authentic leisure, silence, and withdrawal are being liquidated–at least on the surface, but can ‘doing nothing’ ever be detected on the surface? How would we see such interventions if were we not ourselves so caught up in them, such believers in the power of doing nothing, that it had become impossible not to believe? The difficulty is, and I suspect will remain, the quietist nature of “idle worship,” even its invisibility. How will doing nothing leave its mark in a world overloaded with titles and reputations? Are we not, after all, doing hard work?

Doing nothing and becoming no-one no doubt overlap; such is the extent to which the discontinuation of glory must go. The mystics were perhaps the first technicians of this, at least to the extent that their activity was not entirely absorbed in glorifying God. For our part, we would like to emphasize the importance of raising the banner of the generic in this debate. In our view, both dissolution into the They-self (the mob-mind that unthinkingly worships Value) and the set-up of singular existence (the withdrawn-mind that worships the unique Value it creates for itself, often philosophy’s own concern) must be avoided. Both appeal to radiance and foreclose human-generic potentialityPerhaps we must learn to detect and depotentialize the appeal not just of gold but of whatever glitters, whatever wants us to turn its flash into Value. Perhaps this implies the assumption of a radical night for thought?

What is certain is that we need a strong theory of “idleness” if we are going to prevent thoughts like these from sinking back into a nihilism of relaxation, spectatorship, ironic distance, and laziness. The paradox is that it is hard work to do nothing–to both keep oneself apart from the apparatus of glory-production, while also not defaulting on the easy solution of ‘vegging-out’ indefinitely. We need something different from the drop out model of the hippies or the withdrawal of the philosopher-contemplative. We continue to circle around this point central to Agamben’s own project: how to work the unworking into the work? How to exhibit inoperativity, act the de-activation, destitute the constituted and instituted powers, depotentialize the value-imperative? How to ensure that at each moment of its deployment something draws it back, retracts it, such that nothing is ‘in’ the work, save its potential to work-or-not-work?

For that too is part of “idle worship”: the contemplation of what one can and cannot do, but also what one can not do–all the things that one can abstain from and “prefer not to do”–like, for example, refusing to participate in the mediatized game of glory and repute, though not without putting its channels (like social media) to a new, ‘deactivatory’ use. Here, love of the social is no longer routed through spectacles, images, and discourses that serve primarily to mask the void at its heart, the inconsistency and illegitimacy of the entire society based on glorification and surplus value. Idle worship implies finding those “margins” of resistance to the many social liturgies and turning them into new centers of inoperativity and, in a more genuine sense, of anthropogenesis (but again, precisely by maintaining and articulating the gap between bare life and political life, the physical body and the flesh weighed upon by the symbolic-spectral).

What we need is a non-Bartleby: borrowing his famous “I would prefer not to” without yielding to the catatonia of one who must be forcibly removed from the law (office) by the narrator, only to die unknown in some asylum. A non-Bartleby for the streets, virtual or otherwise, who has internalized or radicalized the “I would prefer not to” so much that there is no prohibition on work or activity attached to it—no refusal to scriv. We could even imagine this with the help of complex numbers, which have a real and an imaginary component (a + bi). “I would prefer not to” is the imaginary component: it leaves the real coordinates of work be, while simultaneously bending, sending, or otherwise redirecting them toward idleness, adding to them a factor of ultimate non-action or zero-potentiality. Accepting the imaginary number as an algebraic constant for every human equation could indeed help us fulfill Santner’s wish to, “strike something other than what’s there.” Properly understood, we would identify it with the “messianic dimension of human action,” what Honig calls “Sabbath-power” (47, 259). At the very least, it is a speculative way to avoid making a contradiction out of teleology and the ateleological.

Doing nothing produces nothing in two senses: (1) the manifestation of the Non-, the “unthinkable emptiness” or inoperativity at the heart of human operations, but also (2) the “overturning of the Nothing” insofar as the latter might imply a destructive or negative figure, which is here excluded. Especially once considered as algebraic constant, the Non- is that which accompanies every work, its virtuality or messianity, undoing immanently and from within its very purpose– though again the purpose is upside down, for here every purpose to its repurposing. Or perhaps it shows the parody of purpose at the point of utmost purposiveness, thus unconcealing the radical indeterminability and undestinability of human work, its insubordination to every sovereign or symbolic order. Put otherwise, doing nothing cannot do without a subtraction, without un-binding the positivity of what is by introducing into the order of the positive a “negative,” which acts in the present as a positive cause of the future, against the mere (re)production of the present or the past. In this way, the folly of producing anything with the aim of producing glory shows itself, such that the global business of producing it and the restless tizzy into which it sends our bodies now appears wildly ‘counter-productive’.


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