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Idle ThreatsMen and the Limits of Productivity in Nineteenth Century America$
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Andrew Lyndon Knighton

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780814748909

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814748909.001.0001

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Vital Reserves Revisited

Vital Reserves Revisited

The Energies of the Social Body

(p.124) 4 Vital Reserves Revisited
Idle Threats

Andrew Lyndon Knighton

NYU Press

This chapter explores a range of geographical, economic, and corporeal reconsiderations of the discourse of exhaustion at the turn of the century. In particular, it examines debates that construct an analogy between the individual and the social body, as well as the anxiety about the exhaustion of those bodies and the idle threat of their unproductivity. It first considers how leisure is complemented by a new corporealization of unproductivity—a shift “from idleness to fatigue”—and William James's theory of vital reserves. It then discusses the neutralization of the frontier and its repackaging as idle spectacle within a larger ideological context, along with Charlotte Perkins Gilman's reconceptualization of all human activity as work. It also comments on Theodore Dreiser's apparent theory of the energies of the human organism, in which he describes how the increasing powers of youth tip into inevitable exhaustion and decline with the passage of time.

Keywords:   exhaustion, social body, unproductivity, leisure, idleness, fatigue, William James, vital reserves, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Theodore Dreiser

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