Tom Hodgkinson – How To Be Idle

Dreaming of Immortality in a Thatched Cottage
T'ang Yin, 16th Century

Here are some excerpts from one of my new favorite books, How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto that everyone should read. This guy weaves together excerpts from all the books you’ve always meant to read (Barrie, Baudrillard. Benjamin, Blake, Byron, Carroll, Chesterton, De Quincey, Doyle, Huysmans, Keats, Lawrence, Melville, Miller, Nietzsche, Orwell, Paine, Twain, Tzu, Whitman, and of course, Wilde) and insights that always lay at the tip of your tongue unvoiced. So here’s to sleeping in, dreaming, working little, drinking, smoking, long lunches, fishing, taking tea, going to the pub, friendship, conversation, napping, staying up late, and more drinking:
Let us be lazy in everything,
except in loving and drinking, except in being lazy.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-81)
As the Slow Food manifesto demonstrates, their philosophy reaches well beyond food, and can be seen as a protest against the dehumanizing mechanization of life:

Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model.

We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods.

To be worthy of the name, Homo Sapiens should rid himself of speed before it reduces him to a species in danger of extinction.

A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.

May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.
For him [Dr. Johnson], to drink was to forget. “I have often wished for it, and often take it . . . [t]o get rid of myself, to send myself away. Wine gives great pleasure; and every pleasure is of itself good.”
Ernest Hemingway was an absinthe fan. I always liked his diary entry: “Got tight last night on absinthe. Did knife tricks.”
I myself have calmed down somewhat, and find myself in the strange position of having forsaken cocktails for real ale . . . The cocktail is really a corollary of the hard-work culture: extreme toil needs an extreme drink to counteract the misery. In a life where work and play are more closely mingled, the true idle life, then a gentler brew is perhaps all that is required. I suppose if we were really happy, there would be no need to drink at all, but a life without booze seems to me a pretty miserable prospect.
Planned schemes of merriment, as Dr. Johnson rightly pointed out, rarely turn into the best evenings, which are usually the unplanned ones, when you have abandoned yourself to fate and chance and chaos.
Sometimes, when I set to thinking about the various activities of men, the dangers and troubles which they face at Court, or in war, giving rise to so many quarrels and passions, daring and often wicked enterprises and so on, I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. A man wealthy enough for life’s needs would never leave home to go to sea or besiege some fortress if he knew how to stay at home and enjoy it. Men would never spend so much on a commission in the army if they could bear living in town all their lives, and they only seek after the company and diversions of gambling because they do not enjoy staying at home.
Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1670)
And conversation should really take place at night . . . Dr. Johnson found people who went to bed so irritating that he came up with the dictum “whoever goes to bed before midnight is a rogue.” The earliest carriages should leave at 2 a.m. and anyone who wants to stay up later should do so. For it is at night, free of the cares of the day, that the wine and the talk begin to flow. Hence the historical practice, long pursued in the UK, of drinking the most and staying up the latest as a matter of honour . . . One thinks too of the laudable Irish custom of bringing a bottle of whiskey to dinner, with nobody allowed to go to bed until it is empty.
What is good conversation? It is certainly not about showing off or shouting louder than the others. Some can talk and do not listen. Some listen without talking. Both are equally irritating. The great conversationalists can do both in equal measure. Indeed, if you talk without listening you become, in the phrase of my friend Marcel Theroux, a “jukebox of monologues,” awaiting cues for rehearsed speeches

Ideas emerge in conversation and are embellished, improved, contradicted or torn apart by the assembled company. Friends will come up with anecdotes that either affirm or disprove some notion. One’s ideas are developed, modified. They are taken down from the museum shelf, dusted ad put on view. And their true worth is revealed: the diamond turns out to be a piece of glass, the dusty stone a rare fossil.
“One of the reasons why so few people are to be found who seem sensible and pleasant in conversation is that almost everybody is thinking about what he wants to say himself rather than about answering clearly what is being said to him. The more clever and polite think it enough simply to put on an attentive expression, while all the time you can see in their eyes and train of thought that they are far removed from what you are saying and anxious to get back to what they want to say. They ought, on the contrary, to reflect that such keenness to please oneself is a bad way of pleasing or persuading others, and that to listen well and answer to the point is one of the most perfect qualities one can have in conversation.”
François La Rochefoucauld
For Johnson, good talk unified learning and experience. His biographer Walter Jackson Bate says he “prized activity of mind, a constant and ready exercise of the imagination in applying range of knowledge while simultaneously drawing upon acquaintance with ‘the living world.’”
“. . . I discovered the Spanish word madrugada, meaning “the in-between time.” At 2 a.m. you’re wishing you’d gone home earlier; at 4 a.m. it’s getting cold. But 3 a.m. has that magic about it. The rational intellect has vanished and you’re in the moment. The doors of perception are open.”
Interview with Bill Drummond of KLF
“If someone were to tell me I had twenty years left, and ask me how I’d like to spend them, I’d reply: ‘Give me two hours a day of activity, and I’ll take the other twenty-two in dreams . . . provided I can remember them.’ I love dreams, even when they’re nightmares, which is usually the case.”
Surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel
“It has always seemed to me slightly bizarre that we should queue up to sell our time to someone else. It’s a form of slavery, voluntary slavery. We think it’s great but it’s crazy.”
Charles Handy

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