Josh Cohen: (2018) Not Working -why we have to stop. Granta Books

The oft-repeated statement of the need to achieve a good ‘work/life balance’ – “the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy”[1]  – gives voice to a potentially deep-rooted conflict between what people feel they need to do and what they may wish to do. Is work not part of living? Who decides what a ‘good balance’ is? What is imposed upon us and by whom? What are the sources and forms of these impositions? And, what are the things which may emerge or be utilised to distract from these, and other, deep-rooted dissatisfactions and distress? Winnicott emphasised the central developmental importance of the experience of simply “being” and of “continuity of being” – “After being – doing and being done to. But first, being” [2] . Well-adapted care achieves this by avoiding both premature awareness of an imperative to act, to be an agent, and avoiding the external world being an excessive impingement. Professor Cohen’s book theme is how an over-valuation of ‘busyness’ means our current way of living is not working. The need to been seen to be ‘doing’, or to feel that one is ‘doing’, denies an opportunity for other, perhaps better, possibilities to emerge, or to simply accept that sometimes things just don’t emerge and that this is not the end of the world. The old dictum “Don’t just sit there, do something” needs to be complemented by “Don’t just do something, sit there” to make creativity possible. Professor Cohen guides the reader through the examination of his theme using personal reflection, the exploration of four characters from literature and the arts and clinical material from his practice as a psychoanalyst. The style and content underline his academic background (Professor of Modern Literary Theory, Goldsmith’s, University of London) as he draws on a variety of sources to describe the characteristics of his four groupings – The Burnout, The Slob, The Daydreamer and The Slacker – and the lives of the characters who illustrate these. They present the other side of the coin from what might be called ‘cultural festination [3]’ as we continually keep moving to try and maintain our centre of gravity. This is a thoughtful and entertaining book which will be of interest across clinical and non-clinical disciplines and to a wider audience who wish to regain their balance and help others to do so.

[1] [2] DDW (1971) Creativity and its origins in Playing and Reality Harmondsworth. Penguin Books 99 [3] Festination: “a walking gait (as in Parkinson’s disease) characterized by involuntary acceleration”  

260 pages Granta Books. London

Adrian Sutton

October 2019