Tom Hodgkinson, How to Be IdleThe Idler
has been a bit of a champion in my book lately: writers digressing at length and leisure on their favourite habit: pondering, ruminating, slacking off and creatively wasting time. And creating all the while, mind you. Time is the great commodity of our age, and genuine artists are those that know how to manage it well. Hodgkinson does a fine job of hacking into the working mindset instilled by the Industrial revolution and refined by the Protestant work ethic and of course the modern work culture that takes and takes and just owns all your time in the end (whilst chopping your rights). Another documentary on TV recently illuminated just how much longer we work now, both partners, in an effort to stay afloat. The downshot of all which is: Quality of life is diminishing in spades. Working people have little time to themselves, and the dominant message being communicated is that work is the answer for everything. Want the lifestyle, the products and a chance at big bucks on the corporate ladder? You gotta sacrifice everything, you gotta work. Want the image and digs propagated by the media? You gotta read the lifestyle sections, then work to pay for the products. Want a holiday? Go to our packed activity deals. Want the security of fitting in? Work is the answer. Need more cash… etc.
To which the idler, of course, says Fuck all that codswallop, I’m going back to bed*. The problem here is control over how you live your life, an ethical problem at heart, whose boundaries interact with your societal participation. If you want to control the time you give to others, you have to radically re-think your priorities re: work, lifestyle etc. And that is the brilliance of idling: it’s a deliberate choice to slack off and find ways of creative living that are fulfilling on a soul level. To find the personal groove that fits your skin. And, once found, to not be afraid of being greedy with that time, to indulge and cultivate the self. And thence to mould your life around it. Prioritisation, people. Like Slow Food, it’s a way of extending your experience of quality time. Time is good for you.
Hodgkinson is damn convincing when it comes to planting the seed that becomes the faultless logic of the idler (call him the Alain de Botton of Bludging? Creative bludging). The book is full of fruity and pithy-serious ideas like the Sabattical Year, the right time to sleep in to, the appreciation of beer and bacon, fishing and smoking. The context of work and go-go-getting he draws against is pretty depressing and hollow, so even the smallest piece of advice shine with obvious glee: want holidays more often? Move to a place where normal living is like an everyday holiday (Tom chose Devon). Never forget that an Idler is capable of serious industry and application (think Dr Johnson). Quit work (or the working mentality) and take time. Become a part time consultant, or start your own magazine (speaking of which, Mr Hodgkinson, if there’s any room for editorial expertise and serious writing chops, email me). The fruits of idling cannot be measured but we live in their vicinity all the time.
Until I get a site design together, it’ll be a small while before I get to apply this my way at the SlowReview.com.* Comment at time of purchase: 'You need a book to tell YOU how to be idle?'
WG Sebald, Austerlitz
The novel as travelogue of recollection and loss. Of the rootless migrant, adrift in denial yet governed by the dark impulses of deep memory. Of stories, pictures and observational lists told at a narrative degree removed (She said, Austerlitz explained, etc) and consequently perilously close to abstracted distance. A novel without much corporeality or bodily ties; a work of remembrance addressed to the vertiginous void of oblivion, fiendishly devoted to details and the conceptual slip of time and generations lost. And yet powerfully European in a geographic sense, informed wholly by the world lost after WWII. Actually, I'd hesitate to even call it a novel in the formal/dialogic sense of the word, with narrative contours and inexorable movement; it is almost pure travelogue set on the rails and stations of memory. Ahem. There is sufficient mastery in 't (especially on migrant mentality, unbelonging etc), for sure, but also a touch of aloofness in its fortresses and death camps and myriad vaulted objects. Leaves one hungry for the cerebral finesse of the full-blooded writer.