IDLER: “…He is not a man who slouches about with his hands in his pockets. On the contrary, his most startling characteristic is that he is always intensely busy…”
I had the rare privilege last week of attending a meeting of the Royal Society of the Indolent. The three full members in attendance – philosopher Mark Kingwell, journalist Joshua Glenn, and cartoonist Seth – expressed disappointment that so many of us had come to the meeting, while a lot of others had been properly indolent and stayed home on the rainy evening. Nevertheless the three of them languidly soldiered on, doing nothing on our behalf, sitting onstage, gazing into space, sipping at their drinks, crossing and uncrossing their legs…
Don’t worry, the whole evening wasn’t like this. This event, another in Pages Books’ This is Not a Reading Series, served as the launch of the three men’s joint venture: The Idler’s Glossary, published by Biblioasis. And although there was a hazy overtone of leisure hanging over the meeting, there was a little purpose too.
Because we’ve lost the true sense of the word “idle.” Look at the initial quotation: does that sound like an “idler” to you? Likely it doesn’t, because we now equate “idleness” with “laziness.” As Glenn remarked, the genuine idler is a person who doesn’t engage in productivity simply for the sake of being productive. Kingwell amplified this further, explaining that an idler can be (and usually is) extremely busy, but seeks an independent value not directly related to what he calls “the norms of work.” Idleness is when a person does something for the sheer love and enjoyment of it, and not because he or she is “supposed to.”
On one thing, all three gentlemen were in strong agreement, that our current emphasis on “productivity” is the wrong way of doing things. Even our “leisure time” is constructed only so that we can recharge and get back on the job after our weekend or vacation. It is not, in fact, true leisure at all, but something at which we work rather hard. Everything drives us toward “productive work,” and there is no sense of doing a thing for the love of it. Even human beings are now mere “human resources” – cannon fodder for the relentless work machine.
Yet the concept of genuine “idleness” has been with us through the ages, in every philosophy and religion in history. Every state of real meditation, every disengagement from the accumulation of things simply to possess them, every valuation of a human being for their own sake rather than as a means to an end – all of this expresses what true “idleness” embodies.
The very structure of The Idler’s Glossary expresses the ideal of idling. After the definition of each word (BENCHER: Slang term, from the 1930s, for someone who visits opium dens, but – oddly enough – only to observe, not smoke. Also used as a synonym for “bench warmer.”), there is a “see also” direction for the reader (See: EPICUREAN, LOTUS-EATER). So it’s possible to amble from Bencher to Epicurean to Sybarite to Luxury, enjoying the process of learning the definitions while avoiding the grim, purposeful A to Z reading from the beginning to the end of the book. Even if Kingwell’s long introduction must be read that way, it’s all philosophical, and he loves thinking about philosophy for its own sake, so it’s okay.
Do I want to read this book? I’d love to. So you do as you please while I put my feet up and flip it open randomly: FUTZ: Yiddish for “fart around.” See: FART AROUND, FIDDLE AROUND.
By the way. Sorry this article is a week late. I would have finished it earlier except, well, I recently joined the Royal Society of the Indolent and…you know… *
* final helpful explanation of my tardiness suggested by my friend and fellow blogger, MEC