Wednesday, August 20, 2008

WWW: Wednesday Words of the Week

It seems, my fellow indolents, that I have already goofed. Idling, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, is not easy; indeed, it requires constant vigilance. And I have made the mistake of inviting slackers into our midst. Yet slackers are, if not by definition anti-idlers, it is also true that they give idlers and idling a bad name. So, for our first words of the week, I thought that we should probably get this idling/slacking thing straight.

First, let us look at the slacker.

SLACKER: Unlike the idler, in whom work and leisure have combined to become something fine, the slacker remains unhappily trapped on one side of that binary opposition. Richard Linklater's movie Slacker may reference R. L. Stevenson's uplifting "Apology for Idlers," but Linklater admitted that the movie was a "kiss-off to a certain mindset -- wallowing in negativity and being very alienated." DR. Johnson frowned upon those so-called idlers who "boast that they do nothing, and thank their stars that they have nothing to do," and who "exist in a state of unruffled stupidity, forgetting and forgotten; who have long ceased to live." SEE: Dodger, Leisure, Free Time, Slackness.

One who has long ceased to live. Needless to say, it doesn't get much worse than that. Idling is, after all, a life-affirming philosophy, a way to regain control over all aspects of our lives. It is about liberation, and the slacker remains, alas, fully chained.

Now onto idleness and idlers.

IDLENESS: "Idleness, so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognized in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry itself," insisted a young Robert Louis Stevenson. How right he was! Idleness [from the Old English word for "worthless, useless"] may look to the untrained eye like laziness, slacking, killing time. Unlike slacking, though, idling is not the opposite of working hard, but is instead a rare, hard-won mode in which your art is your work, and your work is your art. SEE: Free Time, Leisure, Uselessness.

IDLER: "there are plenty of lazy people and plenty of slow-coaches but a genuine idler is a rarity," writes Jerome K. Jerome, in Three Men in a Boat (1889). "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." In his 1998 poem "Not the Idle," Carl Dennis praises the same rare type: "It's not the idle who move us but the few/Often confused with the idle, those who define/Their project in terms so ample/That nothing they ever do is a digression...." Despite our tendency to use "idle" as a pejorative meaning "lazy" or "useless," the idler is neither. SEE: Free Time, Freeman, Idleness, Otiose.

A world of difference, then, between slacking and idling, wouldn't you agree. So, insofar as the Royal Order of the Indolent goes, I must firmly order: ALL SLACKERS: OUT!

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