The Barbed Gift of Leisure – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education

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

Idler Q&A (3) | HiLobrow

Mark Kingwell and Joshua Glenn discuss their sequel to The Idler’s Glossary, The Wage Slave’s Glossary. Kingwell:

The idler/slacker distinction is a powerful lever. It makes clear that idling, unlike slacking, is not about work at all: it’s not avoiding work, or resenting work, or hiding from parents or spouses who think you should be working more. Idling offers an independent value which, in being independent, constructs an implicit (sometimes explicit) critique of the work-world’s norms. […] The idler says, don’t grow (if growth just means bigger markets). Instead, play! We are trustees of our time here, not owners of it. When it comes to selfhood and our time here, there is no property; there is only care.

I loved Mark Kingwell’s book In Pursuit of Happiness.
Idler Q&A (3) | HiLobrow

I’m a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, and out of curiosity comes everything.

Steve Jobs. Sort of paraphrasing here.

We must be indulgent to the mind, and from time to time must grant it the leisure that serves as its food and strength.

I’ve noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me.

You know how they make us look on TV? Like we live on the front porch with flies and shit flying around us, with our stomachs all big eating watermelon rinds? That ain’t us, man. We’re smart, man. Our life is slowed down so we don’t miss nothing. When shit gets moving too fast you miss everything.

Scarface, quoted in Dirty South.

The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.

Alain de Botton, “On Distraction” (via austinkleon)

This waking dream we call the Internet also blurs the difference between my serious thoughts and my playful thoughts, or to put it more simply: I no longer can tell when I am working and when I am playing online. For some people the disintegration between these two realms marks all that is wrong with the Internet: It is the high-priced waster of time. It breeds trifles. On the contrary, I cherish a good wasting of time as a necessary precondition for creativity, but more importantly I believe the conflation of play and work, of thinking hard and thinking playfully, is one the greatest things the Internet has done.