When I quit working as an educator in public schools, I immediately gained 180 hours of sleep back per year—just from waking up one hour later than my teaching job would allow. That’s almost eight entire days per year devoted to sleeping, and who knows how many years the aggregation of that additional time to rest will ultimately add to my lifespan. It took me about two years to admit to myself that I needed to quit.
The Nap Ministry Instagram account was a consistent blessing while I was preparing to cut ties with the grind culture of teacher life. The Nap Minister, Tricia Hersey, preaches that rest is a human right and that resting is a form of resistance to the many terrors of capitalism. These notions soothed me in a time of perhaps my greatest need, so I looked forward to her new book immensely.
Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto is divided into four parts: rest, dream, resist, and imagine. In the section on rest, the author situates herself among the Black liberationists and explains how she has been called to spread the messages of rest since they saved her exhausted life. Moreover, because capitalists, racists, patriarchs, and their ilk rely upon the body to instill grind culture, resistance to these must also be embodied. Yes, this is about taking more naps when the tiny fascist voice inside of you says you should be working, but Rest Is Resistance is not only about naps or even literally about the cessation of body movement. Rest is a highly individualized pursuit, and it can take many forms.
The section on dreams discusses the obvious math that if we do not get much sleep, then we also do not get much time to dream. For an Afrofuturist like Hersey, the dream space is where imagination and hope for a well-rested planet live. Using our imaginations to envision this future free from grind culture is how we can begin to resist. In that sense, the future is now. We can rest right now, and the remaining two sections of Rest Is Resistance focus on the beautiful struggle of trying to do that. It’s not easy to rest, let alone for an extended time. After all, we still must pay the bills, answer the emails, feed the kids, and so on. No part of this world encourages or assists us in resting, so we must snatch rest for ourselves.
It’s an appealing message for these exhausting times, isn’t it? As part of my academic interest in the manifesto as a form, I’ve taught a handful of memes or statements from Hersey’s social media accounts a few times, both in an undergraduate course and in a community reading group comprised mostly of tenured professors. Both audiences received Hersey’s messages well, yet the total implications of her project generally provoked many good questions. I’d hoped the extra space of a book-length treatment about rest would likewise promote an expansiveness in the scope of her thinking so that some of my most fervent and long-held queries might be answered. In this regard, however, Rest Is Resistance was a letdown.
The can of worms for all revolutionary roads is that they must pass through the wide open gateway of Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto (1985), which allows equal chances that technology can save us or destroy us. Hersey’s book comes down on the side of technology destroying us, never acknowledging the other possibility—which she should. Technology could ultimately give us a huge amount of our time back for resting. Have we not been told that literal robots were coming for all our jobs, thus freeing us up to rest all the time? Instead, the author often elides distinctions between capitalism and machines and between technology and social media. She downright conflates machines with technology, and she is anti-machine when metaphorizing grind culture as responsible for our bodies operating at a machine-like pace.
Hersey wants humanity to detach from the thinking of machines, but I’d rather be a cyborg. Haraway’s analysis of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993) evidences how much Butler believed in the power of cyborgism. Hersey also analyzes this sci-fi novel and maintains Butler is one of her icons.
She focuses on what Butler says about dreaming, remarking that “this idea of the dream lesson resonates so eloquently as motivation for beginning the unraveling and healing process.” Yet, she draws a conclusion about technology that opposes Butler’s enmeshment with tech, seemingly without realizing it. That’s a pretty big gap in the content of Hersey’s philosophy that I was hoping to see resolved through Rest Is Resistance, but alas.
The form was also frustrating at times, as I was too frequently reading a line and felt strongly that that exact line had already appeared in the text. Some of these repetitious mantras, like “rest is resistance”, are valuable, but it often seems the author repeats her analysis without expanding upon it. Hersey’s poetic prose has a way of shallow looping, like a whirling Dervish that spins in a circle, each circle much the same yet slightly different. Reading Rest Is Resistance often made me want to nap, sometimes because it’s emotionally exhausting to confront one’s exhaustion. Other times, this looping writing style lulled me to sleep.
On the one hand, it’s performatively excellent that a book on naps makes the reader want to nap. On the other hand, sliding around under there might imply that some will judge Rest Is Resistance‘s style is boring. I’m not insisting on a more academic (ahem, “white”) style, but there are missed opportunities to clarify and rigorously build arguments. I’m thinking of other powerful queer Black women like The Combahee River Collective’s Statement or E. Jane’s NOPE, or even Hersey’s paper mentor, bell hooks. Each has written arrows that go directly to the heart with more poignancy and less meandering than this debut. Perhaps the author will grow in that direction.
In teaching courses on the manifesto as a form, two things have emerged as constant lines of inquiry, and Hersey’s work only begins to deal with one of them. The first is the nagging feeling that there is no truly practicable alternative to the present systems. Hersey’s alternative to grind culture is rest, but let’s imagine that her project truly brings on a community revolution where—I’m reductively short-handing here—our entire planet naps to defeat capitalism. Then what? What leaps in to fill the vacuum left by the erasure of our present systems? She puts imagination there, which glosses the issue. She also substitutes in a simpler version of this question about how we can rest and still pay the bills. Still, as a Gen Xer and lowkey anarchist sympathizer, I’m accustomed to believing that the human experience is full of impossible and contradictory elements. People who can’t let go of their anxiety about suitable alternatives to capitalism may find Rest Is Resistance tough to swallow, but that’s not what irks me most.
The second thing is that nearly all manifestos deliver anger. Rest as resistance can’t really do that and Hersey doesn’t try. Wonderfully, she skips right past 99 percent of the weeping and gnashing of teeth accompanying most manifestos that tackle subjects like these. Anger can be distancing to some readers, especially those who feel called out by the arguments in the text. Yet the author does convey a seriousness that is on par with the average manifesto—and it is much too much seriousness.
The beauty of an angry manifesto is that the anger functions as the tip of a seriousness spear. Without those flashes of anger, the seriousness of a manifesto can devolve into impotent assertions. If a manifesto isn’t angry, it must rely on a bit of humor as another option for the tip of the spear. There are some truly hilarious and campy manifestos, particularly those offering a queer feminist take. The Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH), Jo Freeman’s Bitch Manifesto, and the Queer Nation Manifesto. Even the ones that appear to condone murder, such as The Chicks’ song “Goodbye, Earl” and the infamous S.C.U.M. Manifesto, are full of wisecracks.
Hersey explicitly states the intersectional nature of her rest project, yet her voice and her content both heavily foreground her experience of Blackness over any other aspects of her identity. There is a brief section on womanism. I would’ve liked to hear more about her understanding of rest and parenthood, for example.
Hersey’s book sticks to the language she knows best, which is preaching—perhaps a more performance-based cousin of the manifesto. I can easily imagine flipping around to different pages of Rest is Resistance at the pulpit on a Sunday morning, reading aloud whatever passage happens to be on that page and knowing that any of these pages hangs together usefully. Hersey’s voice delivers a certain amount of fervency one expects from a true believer in the power of rest, but to what extent can this reach a worldwide audience? Especially in a call to revolt, surely the author is hoping this book will give her ideas more traction with those uninitiated into Black liberation and the theological underpinnings of the author’s own inspiration. The text may be less Christian and more secular in its content that the author’s own roots, but it is delivered in a voice that is seldom of interest to those outside of the Black church.
An occasional display of her sense of humor might have helped broaden the appeal, and the author is capable of it because I’ve seen it on her social media many times. So far, long-form work does not seem to suit her voice, but that may change over time. I expect to keep going back to The Nap Ministry more than I expect to want to go back to Rest Is Resistance. Hersey’s Instagram project is potentially very valuable and positioned to boost many strains of anti-capitalist resistance. Teachers have the clichéd saying about how it takes a village to raise a child. Hersey understands that true resistance is communal, so she doesn’t expect her rest project alone to solve our modern-day systemic challenges. Rest Is Resistance offers one layer in a manifold project of revolution and is worthy of a read for anyone—anarchist, socialist, feminist, liberationist, philosopher, lover of manifestos—looking to add rest back into their life and add to the methodologies they are already using to destroy grind culture.