Thursday, March 26, 2015
You had me at leisure
If day-to-day life seems a bit of a bore, and you are anything like me, you have already sought an answer to this problem from the obvious source: the academic lectures of a long-dead German theologian, first delivered in Bonn in the summer of 1947. Am I right?
I can't remember when I first read Leisure, the Basis of Culture, but there is a good chance it was during law school, when I was avoiding -- with long, searching trips to the library -- doing my homework. (It was not during the summer before the bar exam, when I required quicker, stronger hits of procrastination, like Us Magazine.)
"This is my favorite non-fiction book," I told everybody I knew. "This is the best book I have ever read." Then I would flip to a random page to recite its life-changing contents, only to find a section called: Excursus on 'Proletariat' and 'De-proletarianization.' (p. 39)
And that's when the few law school friends I had would back slowly away . . .
In his more down-to-earth moments, Josef Pieper spoke eloquently on the themes of "functionality," idleness, and true leisure. This last has nothing to do with vegging out or being passively entertained. Rather, it involves elements of freedom, generativity, "not-knowing," "not-giving-up," and joy. (He's drawing heavily on Aristotle, so there may be something to it.)
The takeaway from this book, as I read it, is that there is nothing wrong with functional work -- which is a natural human endeavor -- or resting, or distracting oneself with amusements. But there is something wrong with a society that thinks life consists solely of either working or "recovering" from work. If that's all you do, something important is missing.
Pieper was a Catholic religious scholar, so his definition of leisure had elements of silence and contemplation, in order to apprehend "the real."
But another definition was suggested by a blue-haired young woman covered in tattoos, whose blog, The Dainty Squid, I ran across today. She says:
"I've finally accepted that it's okay to make things for no reason. It's okay to make things no one else will ever see. It's okay to make things for YOU and you alone. It's okay to make things that aren't perfect. It's okay to try new things for the fun of it. It's okay to make art that no one else understands. If it makes you happy, inspired, excited, or any other positive emotion that is all that matters."
As someone about to graduate law school, I felt this information was important.
Now, as someone who likes being a lawyer, I'd say it still is.
(Photo by Dave on a recent trip to Germany.)