‘The Restless Compendium: Interdisciplinary Investigations of Rest and its Opposites’ reviewed by Dr Sarah Klein.

‘The Restless Compendium: Interdisciplinary Investigations of Rest and its Opposites’ edited by Felicity Callard, Kimberley Staines, and James Wilkes (Palgrave, 2016).

The Restless Compendium is aptly named: restlessness both references the book’s topic and its strategy. The compendium, (which is open access and available online) assembles twenty-two distinct contributions with varying perspectives on and approaches to the concept of ‘rest.’ The book emerged from an interdisciplinary collaboration called Hubbub, which held a residency at The Hub at the Wellcome Collection in 2015–2016. Hubbub focused on the ‘dynamics of rest, work, and noise’ (p. v) from the perspective of activists, artists, geographers, historians, literary scholars, poets, project managers, psychologists, and sociologists. The contributions are short (between 6–10 pages), which may leave readers who had expected a typical edited volume wanting more of a sustained “deep dive.” The collection of contributions are neither methodologically nor empirically unified enough to pin down their phenomenon such that “rest” emerges more comprehensively with each successive chapter — but pinning rest down turns out not to be the book’s aim. Instead, the compendium of radically distinct approaches conjures the multiplicity of “rest,” while also revealing the constitutive power of the contexts within which rest and its relations are made. The book is as much a multifaceted empirical exploration of rest as it is a document of the interdisciplinary project that organised its exploration. Rather than providing a unified or methodologically streamlined enquiry or narrative, this compendium exhumes, surveys, challenges, measures, folds, draws, riffs on, meditates, and plays with and around “rest.”

Restlessness, as a textual strategy, reflects the difficulty of pinning the book’s ubiquitous subject down: ‘consistently, we have found the boundary of what constitutes rest to shift and reshape, according to who is doing the investigating’ (p. 2). Some of the “opposites” the contributions explore are clearly constitutive — for instance, the labour that makes rest possible for another body, time, or place: the lullaby as embodied material labor supporting the sleep of a child (Holly Pester, Chapter 14); or the acceleration and reorientation of everyday materiality that goes into preparing for the Jewish Sabbath (Patrick Coyle, Chapter 16). An activity like mind-wandering may appear as its own opposite, as medieval monks attempting to purify their thoughts of worldly content (Hilary Powell, Chapter 3) bump up against neuroscientists attempting to elaborate and apply underlying features of the brain’s so-called “resting state” to understand pathological conditions (Ben Alderson-Day and Felicity Callard, Chapter 2). Sites and contexts for mind-wandering, rest, and relaxation (as well as noise, illness and unrest) expand and contract in this book, from the a localized explorations of how drawing unfurls its visual-haptic context (Tamarin Norwood, Chapter 13), to sites that are more distributed, like the networked community of people articulating and experiencing Autonomous Meridian Sensory Response (AMSR), by producing and consuming YouTube videos made to induce “relaxing tingling sensations” (Giulia Poerio, Chapter 15; Emma Bennett, Chapter1 6).

Restlessness also references the compendium’s resistance to closure, in the way that it invites its readers to assemble new clusters or connections between and across the contributions. While the editors organize the book into three ‘scales of enquiry,’ (Minds, Bodies, and Practices) each contribution also includes a short abstract and keywords that support and encourage less linear paths through the book (p. 3). It is by inviting readers to wander through, to disassemble and reassemble these contributions in their own ways that the book makes the most of its compendium genre. The compendium’s infrastructure, both through the collection of diverse contributions and through these additional features threaded through, allows the reader to virtually participate in the project of assembling rest.

In his contribution on illness and bodies-in-cities, Des Fitzgerald poses the methodological problem of whether it is possible to design experiments that can hold onto both ‘organisms and their environment,’ ‘simultaneously their own thing and in relation to one another at the same time’ (p. 102). The Restless Compendium seems to posit, not an experimental model, but a literary strategy for doing this: by using restlessness as a strategy, this book tackles the difficult problem of holding both method and object in view at once. In addition to assembling a multiplicity of methods, the book does this by regularly reflecting back to the Hubbub project from which it emerged. Two contributions, which include project coordinators and managers as co-authors, reflect on Hubbub itself, one attempting to register the rhythms and dynamics of interdisciplinary collaboration through a “diary room” (Felicity Callard, Des Fitzgerald, and Kimberley Staines, Chapter 19), and the other reflecting on the often-invisible labor that “greases the wheels” of an interdisciplinary collaboration (Kimberley Staines and Harriet Martin, Chapter 20). These reflexive contributions remind us that interdisciplinarity isn’t an effortless product of combining collaborators from different fields, but a specific accomplishment that takes work.

Beyond collecting divergent perspectives by which to consider rest, the book also includes contributions that merge, stretch or push disciplinary methods in novel ways. A poetry reading becomes an experimental field site for an introspective method called Descriptive Experience Sampling (Holly Pester and James Wilkes, Chapter 7); an archive becomes a source of narrative elements to craft a piece of fiction (James Wilkes,Chapter 10); self-tracking technologies are harnessed to register somatic features of moving through urban space (Josh Berson, Chapter 11). The book assembles multiple perspectives and projects, but admits its partiality — or, “provincial[ity]” — in that the pieces it assembles focus on European and North American contexts. (p. 6). For scholars of any discipline interested in rest, this book nonetheless enables its readers to encounter or assemble a rich and compelling collage of rest as a multifaceted and many-threaded phenomenon, which may suggest new questions and modes of research. For those involved in or interested in interdisciplinary collaboration, the book serves as a open document of how a large interdisciplinary collaboration might be held together, both through the strategies of restlessness and openness, and through its reflexivity. Not only is the compendium an ‘interdisciplinary investigation of rest and its opposites,’ but the complexity of “rest” warrants and anchors a consideration of, and argument for, interdisciplinary investigations.

Reviewed by Sarah Klein, a writing instructor at the University of California, San Diego, where she earned her PhD in 2017 in Communication and Science Studies. Sarah researches experimental practices as performances in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. She is interested in how methods move through time and space, and in staging collaborations as a way to learn about and intervene in the performative reproduction of scholarly practices.

Correspondence to Dr Sarah Klein.


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