69 minutes | May 6th 2020

Jenny Odell on nature, art, and burnout in quarantine

One of my favorite episodes of this show was my conversation with Jenny Odell, just under a year ago. Odell, a visual artist, writer, and Stanford lecturer, had just released her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy and we had a fascinating conversation about the importance of maintenance work, the problem with ceaseless productivity, the forces vying for our attention, the comforts of nature, and so much more. 

A lot has changed since then. Odell’s book became a sensation: it captured a cultural moment, made it onto Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2019 list and became, for many, a touchstone. And then, a global pandemic hit, radically altering the world in ways that made the core themes of Odell’s work more prescient, and more difficult. What happens when, instead of choosing to “do nothing,” doing nothing is forced upon you? What happens when all you have access to is nature? What happens when the work of maintenance becomes not just essential, but also dangerous?

So I asked Odell back, for a very different conversation in a very different time. This isn’t a conversation, really, about fixing the world right now. It’s about living in it, and what that feels like. It’s about the role of art in this moment, why we undervalue the most important work in our society, how to have collective sympathy in a moment of fractured suffering, where to find beauty right now, the tensions of productivity, the melting of time, our reckoning with interdependence, and much more. 

And, at the end, Odell offers literally my favorite book recommendation ever on this show. And no, it’s not for my book. 


My previous conversation with Jenny Odell on the art of attention

"The Myth of Self-Reliance" by Jenny Odell, The Paris Review

"I tried to write an essay about productivity in quarantine. It took me a month to do it." by Constance Grady, Vox

The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman

Book recommendations:

Give People Money by Annie Lowrey

Lurking: How a Person Became a User by Joanne McNeil

What It's Like to Be a Bird by David Allen Sibley

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