We have always sensed that free time, time not dedicated to a specific purpose, is dangerous because it implicitly raises the question of what to do with it, and that in turn opens the door to the greatest of life mysteries: why we do anything at all. Thorstein Veblen was right to see, in The Theory of the Leisure Class, not only that leisure time offered the perfect status demonstration of not having to work, that ultimate nonmaterial luxury good in a world filled with things, but also that, in thus joining leisure to conspicuous consumption of other luxuries, a person with free time and money could endlessly trapeze above the yawning abyss of existential reflection. With the alchemy of competitive social position governing one’s leisure, there is no need ever to look beyond the art collection, the fashion parade, the ostentatious sitting about in luxe cafes and restaurants, no need to confront one’s mortality or the fleeting banality of one’s experience thereof. Even if many of us today would cry foul at being considered a leisure class in Veblen’s sense, there is still a pervasive energy of avoidance in our so-called leisure activities.
Work hones skills, challenges cognition, and, at its best, serves noble ends. It also makes the experience of genuine idling, in contrast to frenzied leisure time, even more valuable. Here, with only our own ends and desires to contemplate—what shall we do with this free time?—we come face to face with life’s ultimate question. To ask what is worth doing when nobody is telling us what to do, to wonder about how to spend our time, is to ask why are we here in the first place.
Previously in Mark Kingwell tumbles.
The Barbed Gift of Leisure – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education
In his 1689 De arte Excerpendi, the Hamburg rhetorician Vincent Placcius described a scrinium literatum, or literary cabinet, whose multiple doors held 3,000 hooks on which loose slips could be organized under various headings and transposed as necessary. Two of the cabinets were eventually built, one for Placcius’s own use and one acquired by Leibniz. It was an early manifestation of the principle that still governs our response to the knowledge explosion: The remedy for the problems created by information technology is more information technology.
Noted – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education
Going back to the 19th century makes you realize that a phenomenon we tend to blame on digitization actually happened a century earlier. Once you can throw it away, the value of books comes to reside in the words they contain rather than their potential for reuse.
Secret Reading Lives, Revealed – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education
Summarizing some of Marjorie Perloff’s ideas on unoriginal genius:
Today’s writer resembles more a programmer than a tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualizing, constructing, executing, and maintaining a writing machine.
For the past several years, I’ve taught a class at the University of Pennsylvania called “Uncreative Writing.” In it, students are penalized for showing any shred of originality and creativity. Instead they are rewarded for plagiarism, identity theft, repurposing papers, patchwriting, sampling, plundering, and stealing. Not surprisingly, they thrive.
Uncreative Writing: It’s Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s ‘Repurposing.’ – The Chronicle of Higher Education