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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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Idle Thoughts and Useless Knowledge in the American Renaissance, and Beyond

(p.152) 5 Conclusion
Idle Threats

Andrew Lyndon Knighton

NYU Press

This concluding chapter reexamines the productivity of thought as well as its capacity to generate presumably useful knowledge. It explores the epistemological and even ontological limits which define the objects of modern knowledge as well as the very practice of thought by contextualizing Theodor W. Adorno alongside Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. More specifically, it considers how the productivity of the unproductive in Adorno operates under the cover of work's shadow, along with his argument that the highly rationalized conditions of modern work become the model for a new kind of leisure that merely reflects the disciplinary and administered imperatives of late capitalism. It also discusses Thoreau's description of his strolls amid “the desert, the sea, the wilderness” as uncharted “sauntering”—echoed in his 1862 essay “Walking”; Melville's inquiry into the shadowy nether realms of thought in Moby-Dick; and Hawthorne's notion of the custom house.

Keywords:   productivity, thought, knowledge, Theodor W. Adorno, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, productivity of the unproductive, work, leisure

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