David McCooey reviews 'The Pleasures of Leisure' by Robert Dessaix

The Last Resort (1986), a photobook by Martin Parr, includes a photograph of a woman sunbaking in the English seaside resort of New Brighton. The woman is lying, facedown and topless, on a concrete ramp, directly in front of the caterpillar tracks of a gigantic excavator. Beside her, a young girl plays with a red plastic bucket. As with so many of Parr’s images, one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Certainly, one can note the woman’s faith in the vehicle’s brakes.

I was haunted by this picture of English recreation as I read Robert Dessaix’s stylish contemplation on leisure, The Pleasures of Leisure. The seemingly redundant title of Dessaix’s book implies the oxymoronic possibility of unpleasurable leisure, but – unlike Parr – Dessaix does not dwell on that possibility. Dessaix’s work is for ‘general readers’, and while it makes passing references to some late-model theorists of leisure (such as ‘humourless’  Theodor Adorno), it largely bypasses the field of Leisure Studies that emerged in the 1970s. Nevertheless, Dessaix isn’t blind to the workings of class, gender, capital, and race (ideology, in other words) in the production and consumption of leisure.

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Published in May 2017, no. 391

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