In 1765 Jean-Jacques Rousseau spent two months on a Swiss island dedicating himself to “my precious far niente” (doing nothing). He loafed about, gathering plants, drifting in a boat, sitting for hours in a “delicious reverie … pleasurably aware of my existence without troubling myself with thought”: an idleness that he later described as the most “complete and perfect happiness” of his life.
Rousseau is one of the heroes of Not Working, alongside Thoreau, Emily Dickinson and a rabbit named Rr that Josh Cohen once briefly looked after. The book opens with Rr shuffling around his hutch, his mindless serenity triggering an empathic recognition in Cohen of his own “secret, self-enclosed blankness”, his frequent bouts of “lapine reverie”. Like Rousseau on his island, Rr does not do, he merely is.