The New Daydream Imaginary – On the Ethico-Aesthetics of Spontaneous and Non-productive Thought

deadline for submissions: 
March 20, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Simon Fraser University
contact email: 

The New Daydream Imaginary – On the Ethico-Aesthetics of Spontaneous and Non-productive Thought

Simon Fraser University — School for the Contemporary Arts, 16-17 June 2023

In his 1972 essay “Passing for Human” (which was read at the second annual Science-Fiction Convention in Vancouver), Philip K Dick observed that The State was unable to tame the erratic behaviours associated with youth culture, and predicted that burnouts, paranoids, and heavy trippers would therefore be the salvation of the future in North America. However, Dick’s prediction has not exactly come to pass, for today we see such modes of thought as co-constitutive of the attention and information economy. Furthermore, daydreaming itself is undergoing rehabilitation. Historically understood as a waste of time, or an idle indulgence, daydreaming is coming to be treated as an adaptive faculty and health-giving activity. Although the concept of “positive constructive daydreaming” was proposed over fifty years ago by Irving Singer, only recently, in the wake of neuroscience’s discovery of the “default mode network,” have scientists and philosophers begun to systematically investigate the wandering mind and develop what we might want to call a new daydream imaginary. Largely driven by a rhetoric that takes the figure of the “brain at rest” not only as an evolutionary adaptation but as evidence of our essentially creative nature, this new imaginary comes at a moment in our history when we appear to have less time to indulge its refrains, and strangely, at the same moment that a pathological form of daydreaming is being diagnosed as “maladaptive.” Yet as daydreaming acquires a new imaginary so, too, does reality. This suggests that the study of daydreaming might be usefully conducted in a mode of thought less concerned with the facticity of its expressions than the efficacy of its fabulations. As such, current research into daydreaming might be productively linked to a growing trend in the (post)humanities to explore fiction as a method for conducting scholarly research. A consequence, albeit an oblique one, of daydreaming becoming integral to daily life is that the act of imagining alternative realities is beginning to overlap with contemporary media’s way of playing fast and loose with the categories of reality, truth, and reason. Thus, as we indulge our reveries we also experience an anxiety concerning our ability to distinguish news from fiction, conspiracy from criticism, a joke from an offense. Gathering a variety of non-productive modes of thought—from doodling to tripping to doom scrolling—within the genus of “daydreaming,” we might then ask: What role does the wandering mind play in the operations of cognitive capitalism, and what remains of its potential for resistance? How does distracted fantasizing figure in the current marketplace of meaning? Is there any hope left for the safeguarding of unruly and non-commodifiable forms of intelligence? What does daydreaming mean for the neurodivergent? Is daydreaming an art? If so, then what are its aesthetic contours? How is daydreaming conceptualized by different cultures? Is Dick’s vision of individual unpredictability now more urgent than ever before?

“The New Daydream Imaginary” will be held in person in Vancouver, Canada and hosted by the IdleLab, a new research group based at Simon Fraser University that supports the study of experimental art, thought and culture, with a focus on mind wandering and daydreaming as both an object of study and a method for critical analysis.

Topics might include, but are not limited to:
The aesthetics of daydreaming
The politics of idleness
Conceptions of daydreaming and mind wandering
Covid-19 “Brain Fog”
Maladaptive daydreaming
Neurodiversity and daydreaming
Hallucinogenic vs. oneiric experience
Daydreaming as method
Wandering with the algorithm
Manners of mind wandering
Bad Tripping toward good futures
Critiques of Cognitive Capitalism
Art and/or literature as forms of mind wandering
Mind Blanking
Mind wandering and altered states of consciousness
The oneiric life of Non-human animals/machines
The wondering mind vs. the wandering mind

Confirmed speakers include: Felicity Callard, Kalina Christoff, Zachary C. Irving, Ania Malinowska, Erin Manning, and Sharon Sliwinski.

Bursaries available to defray travel and accommodation expenses.

Please send an abstract (max 300 words) and a short bio to Eldritch Priest (epriest@sfu.caby 20 March 2023.

Accepted presenters will be notified by 1 April 2023