The things that an ostensibly unproductive vacant hour could bring to the intellectual fore have been severely underestimated: an introspective inner-monologue, eloquent prose that blossoms at its own accord or a quicksilver creative idea meandering through your mind, which may evade your senses if you are incessantly multitasking and depriving your psyche of the opportunity to reflect and introspect.
Idle is an adjective riddled with disdain; serrated judgments have been reserved for those who choose to languish in the abyss of inactivity, instead of indulging in a relentless pursuit of keeping themselves occupied. In his essay, “In Praise of Idleness,” Czech writer Karel Čapek vehemently declares that idleness is not to be equated with laziness, passivity or a replaceable pastime; idleness is symbolic of a void: a perceptible lack of any intentions or stimuli that could distract or entertain a person. According to her, idleness depicts a seamless absence of any purpose: it is not synonymous with procrastination, resting or the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure; it is simply the act of doing nothing.
The virtue of idling has been subjected to long-drawn debates, that have attempted to discern whether it is a distrait act of disassociating or a thoughtful manoeuvre that enhances productivity and catalyses creative thought-processes. In his 1577 work, “A Treatise Against,” John Northbrooke is wary of most idling tendencies and he crafts a watertight distinction between “an honest and necessary idleness” and the “beastly and slothfull” rendition. The former way of idling, according to him, burnishes a man’s talents and makes him more capable of carrying out his tasks whereas the latter one is depicted as a sinful, immoral deviation.
In his poem, “The Eolian Harp,” English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge ponders upon his “tranquil musings” and his “indolent brain” seems to engage with fleeting fantasies; the passive state of his conscience has enabled the passage of ideas, brought by the seemingly fortuitous gushes of gales; despite not being engaged in an activity, the poet seems to possess agency over his creative pursuits as fresh ideas seep into his psyche even while he isn’t labouring to unearth them, as he states that his mind is, “full many a thought, uncalled and undetained”.
In the poem “Mont Blanc,” the thoughts of the human are portrayed as a “tribute”, as compared to the colossal universe that resides outside his mind and English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley
Shelley’s refers to the “unremitting interchange” that his passive mind has with “the clear universe of things around”. The poet revels in the utter relinquishment of control over his mind through the lines, “And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea/ If to the human mind’s imaginings/ Silence and solitude were vacancy.”
Both Coleridge and Shelley’s poems showcase poetic attempts at comprehending the abilities of an inert mind and to engage in the aesthetic contemplation of the milieu that surrounds them, especially through their assessment of nature as a powerful force. The inactive mind described in both the pieces of poetry is juxtaposed by the exhaustive round of introspection that it spawns and the diverse types of wisdom that are unveiled for the poets, who are engrossed in the torpid reverie.
In his book, “Work and Wealth” British economist John Hobson has stated that thoughts and feelings that bring happiness can justify bouts of idleness. Another influential economist, Alfred Marshal has advocated for workday of two six-hour shifts and three-to-four hour gigs for the tasks that tend to drain the workers physically and mentally; according to him, the leisurely hours ought to be utilised in a methodical manner, however, people could only learn how to use their time-off well if they possess the liberty to indulge in recreational activities in the first place. American sociologist Thorstein Veblen equated leisure with power and, not freedom, owing to the socio-economic connotations associated with the act, given that not everyone can afford the spatio-temporal capital required to reflect and rest; idling in its pristine form would rejuvenate the individual, and not merely distract him from the drudgery of work.
British philosopher Bertrand Russell has also commented on the fixation of the society for an unceasing flair for performing their so-called duties, which makes one feel guilty for seeking a break. The contemporary milieu steeped in many such obsessive paradigms of so-called productivity: the internet is abuzz with the robust glorification of the ruthless hustle culture wherein overworking is endorsed, almost religiously; every crevice of the virtual sphere is peppered with an array of neon advertisements: there are online classes and workshops for everything, ranging from language lessons to tutorials for becoming a pro-gamer in an E-sports arena, strategically tapping into Gen-Z’s sensibilities and proclivities.
The boundless availability of entertainment content and learning platforms seems to indicate that “one must not remain idle”, one must constantly upskill themselves and polish their credentials,
Essay/Article commissioned by: TDLM Editorial
Written by: Ria Chakraborty
[Political Science; Lady Shri Ram College for Women; Literary Reviewer]
‘On Idling as a Young Person’ First Published in The Daily Life Magazine on August 24, 2023