Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Ideal Idler: from Concordia's Link

by Christopher Olson

One of the perks of being your own boss is not having to deal with deadlines. On that note, I confess to handing this review in late, but doing anything else would be going against the spirit of everything that is The Idler’s Glossary.

Born from a cocktail column in a men's magazine, The Idler’s Glossary is a collection of slang speech and words meaning lazy, inactive, non-committal, and generally slow to action.

Usually a glossary comes with a text, but “this is a glossary without a text,” says Mark Kingwell, a columnist for the National Post who teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto. “In a sense, the text is life itself.”

When Kingwell was asked to write the book's introduction by long-time colleague Joshua Glenn, “these thoughts that had been in mind for so many years just crystallized,” says Kingwell. “It wrote itself. There was no work in making it. [Doing so] would have been contrary to the spirit of the book.”

Kingwell makes a strong distinction between idleness and procrastination, which he describes as feeling compelled to do something, but not desiring to do it. For an idler, however, “doing nothing is what he’s not doing.” In essence, idleness is being free from the expectations set upon us to do something with our lives.

“We’re not defending idleness as a route to productivity,” says Kingwell, although some statistics have shown that added leisure time can have positive effects on our output, just as a lack of leisure time can have its adverse effects. The word “death,” notes Kingwell, is implied in words like “deadline.”

“An idler’s utopia would be a place where you only did things that were beautiful and that really mattered,” claims Kingwell. Like all utopias, true idleness is an illusion brought on by the desire to escape the grit of the daily grind. In reality, affirms Kingwell, “Idleness can only exist as an aberration, as an opposition to some other form of activity.”

As a professor of philosophy, Kingwell is paid to ponder the ineffability's of life, and claims to live the ideal of comfort espoused by The Idler’s Glossary. But if he had it his way, grading his student's papers would be a simple matter of pass or fail. Grades are another example, says Kingwell, of the “relentless quantifications of people's lives.”

Like an erudite Tyler Durden, Kingwell believes the “way we live nowadays is sick,” and that the true path to happiness is finding ways to let go of the things that demand so much of our time.

As a connoisseur of popular culture, Kingwell points to an episode of “The Simpsons” as an indication of what's wrong with forcing idleness onto a world that demands responsibilities from each of us as a whole.

“It’s the episode where Springfield announces a “Do What You Feel Day” which of course, replaces “Do What We Say Day.” On the one hand, it seems like an obvious message, but what happens is everything collapses.”

However, “there's a danger that creeps up when you turn idleness into work,” warns Kingwell. “We spend so much time keeping thought at bay, that even the weekend becomes another kind of work.”

With students buried in exams and research papers stacking up, the upcoming holidays will be a welcome reprieve, what with all the endless shopping and accruing of financial debt, followed by the emotional exhaustion that’s synonymous with the season. The transformation of the holidays into the busiest time of the year is a telling sign that idleness is missing from our lives. The Idler’s Glossary was published in pocket-sized form for “small moments of openness,” says Kingwell, but would also make a welcome stocking stuffer.

Like most procrastinators, Kingwell’s work is never done, as he hints at the ongoing evolution of The Idler’s Glossary: “People have sent us recommendations for new words, which means a new edition could be done relatively fast.”

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