Between Total Work and Uppgivenhetssyndrom

Idleness with Dignity

Between Total Work and Uppgivenhetssyndrom

Sleep! Wake! Work! (Bakunin, 1872).

In his book Poetry from the Future, author Srećko Horvat draws our attention to the symptoms of Uppgivenhetssendrom, a condition observed among refugee children upon their arrival in Sweden. Children suffering from Uppgivenhettsendrom literally give up; withdrawing into a world of total physical and mental stillness and disengagement.

Horvat then takes this motif one step further, ‘isn’t this resignation syndrome’, Horvat says, ‘the incapability, literally, to get out of bed and leave one’s room — and, metaphorically, in the sense of giving up, losing all hope — something that is increasingly chracteristic of our times?’ One answer to this question might be, sadly, yes: is this not just the kind of state we can find ourselves in when we try to disengage from what philosopher Andrew Taggart, drawing our attention back to the work of Josef Pieper, calls Total Work; the absolute subsumption of our physical bodies and metaphysical inner lives before labour. In such a state, non-work becomes uncomfortable. Far from feeling relaxed we feel listless, bored: we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

Faced with such a situation, then, to what potential salves might we turn to today? One such balm might be found in Heidegger scholar Johannes Niederhauser’s rehabilitation of Roman statesman Cicero’s notion of idleness with dignity. Put simply, what is different about idleness with dignity is that instead of being exhorted to do something, it reminds us of something quite the opposite; don’t do this or that, just take it easy, reflect and connect.