Friday, May 04, 2007

On Leisure

Helen asked:

I need to ask you about your posts on "leisure" and "recreation." Do these links to other posts bring me to those ideas?

To answer Helen's question the short way -- some of the posts I linked to at the bottom of this post discussed leisure but only indirectly. I had thought I had written more posts on Leisure, but I could only find a couple, and most of them were simply links to other sources. I am listing the links below. Then there are some additional web links if you are interested in reading more about this.


Now for the long answer : ) ---

In this post I wrote a bit about the book Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Joseph Pieper. Here is a summary of the book. The idea of the book is that leisure is an essential feature of civilization, particularly its culture. Thus, when we devote ourselves too entirely to the idea of "work" defined as productive output, we limit our personal meaning to the economic, productive sphere. This reduces the dignity of the human being in himself.

A couple of quotes from Pieper's book (he is a first rate Catholic philosopher)

"Idleness and lack of leisure belong with each other; leisure is opposed to both."

"Leisure is not the cessation of work, but work of another kind, work restored to its human meaning, as celebration and ritual."


(If I can find the book in my stacks I will try to type out some more quotes!)

This site summarizes Pieper's critique of our educational system today (and he was writing in 1948; it seems even more true today):

His critique of "intellectual labor," "intellectual worker," and the integration of education into the "total world of work." Pieper, in 1948 mind you, laments thecollapse of education into training. He offers that the value of the liberal arts is that "...they do not need to be legitimated by a social function, by being work." He argues that the intellectual worker "...is a functionary in the total world of work...[and] nobody - whether he be 'intellectual' or 'hand' worker - nobody is granted a 'free zone' of intellectual activity, 'free' meaning not being subordinated to a duty to fulfill some function." This is essentially a broader argument against the proletarianization of culture, pointing to the trap of labor as a foundation for culture.


Apparently leisure is related to contemplation. It is different from recreation, though the words are used synonomously nowadays. Recreation is pleasure for restorative purposes, as a respite from labor. Aquinas says that it is an aspect of modesty:

Now just as weariness of the body is dispelled by resting the body, so weariness of the soul must needs be remedied by resting the soul: and the soul's rest is pleasure.... Consequently, the remedy for weariness of soul must needs consist in the application of some pleasure, by slackening the tension of the reason's study. Thus ... it is related of Blessed John the Evangelist, that when some people were scandalized on finding him playing together with his disciples, he is said to have told one of them who carried a bow to shoot an arrow. And when the latter had done this several times, he asked him whether he could do it indefinitely, and the man answered that if he continued doing it, the bow would break. Whence the Blessed John drew the inference that in like manner man's mind would break if its tension were never relaxed.


Leisure, on the other hand, appears to be opposed to sloth -- acedie.

Now, as to leisure as it relates to contemplation -- see this section of the Summa where Aquinas considers whether the active life (as in Martha) is better than the contemplative life (as in Mary). He writes:

...the contemplative life consists in leisure and rest, according to Ps. 45:11, "Be still and see that I am God.".....

Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xix, 19) that "the love of" the Divine "truth seeks a holy leisure," namely of the contemplative life, for it is that truth above all which the contemplative life seeks, as stated above (181, 4, ad 2)....

Gregory says (Moral. vi, 37) that "there be some so restless that when they are free from labor they labor all the more, because the more leisure they have for thought, the worse interior turmoil they have to bear." Others, on the contrary, have the mind naturally pure and restful, so that they are apt for contemplation, and if they were to apply themselves wholly to action, this would be detrimental to them.....

Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xix, 19): "The love of truth seeks a holy leisure, the demands of charity undertake an honest toil," the work namely of the active life. "If no one imposes this burden upon us we must devote ourselves to the research and contemplation of truth, but if it be imposed on us, we must bear it because charity demands it of us. Yet even then we must not altogether forsake the delights of truth, lest we deprive ourselves of its sweetness, and this burden overwhelm us."...

A few articles on the web:

For that last link, I owe a hat tip to Cindy at Dominion Family who regularly writes about leisure on her blog -- here are some examples)


I also linked to Cindy's blog in Contemplation and Connections and Hearts -- she wrote this below, which seems to me to relate to Pieper's points on leisure and also to what John Senior wrote in Restoration of Christian Culture:

It occurs to me that one of the main arguments for starting community schools is that they are efficient. Why have 20 moms teaching Latin when one teacher will do? I personally believe the efficiency argument will not hold up because if we are going to argue for efficiency we will have to start arguing against the classical model altogether. Many classical educators espouse agrarianism because it speaks their language. Efficiency is the destructive god of our day not the key to the hearts and minds of students in the classical model. This very efficiency is what makes the school setting unyielding. Contemplation is lost among the wheels of efficiency.

I could probably go on and on, but for now I hope this will pull together some of the various ideas and resources I've come across. .... and not be TOO long and indigestible. I know it's hard to read things that are interspersed with quotes, but the quotes all explain things in better terms than I could do myself.

11 comments:

lissla lissar said...

Of course- efficiency is fine if it's human efficiency, not efficiency modeled on a mechanistic, product-driven understanding of life. Contrast the efficiency of a quilting party with a modern sewing factory. Have you read Better OFf, by Eric Brende? It's only tangentally related, but he writes strongly against a mechanistic, inhuman criteria for success. He's an MIT student who spent a year in a quasi-Amish community to investigate whether most of our gadgets make life easier or more difficult.

I haven't intruduced myself- I know your daughter from the Sense and Sensibility fora, and I wandered here through her links. It's a delight to read your blog.

Willa said...

So pleased to meet you, Lissla. I will look for the book you mentioned; it sounds interesting.

"efficiency is fine if it's human efficiency, not efficiency modeled on a mechanistic, product-driven understanding of life. Contrast the efficiency of a quilting party with a modern sewing factory"

This is exactly it. Efficiency is a word, like progress, that only has meaning in relation to what it is for.

ARistotle said: "We are unleisurely in order to have leisure."

Thus, even industrial efficiency is not a bad thing in itself. It could be a good thing if considered as giving more freedom from constant toil to more people. That is, if the means aren't made into the end.

It's when life is considered to be all ABOUT work, and leisure gets down-graded to necessary recreation in order to work again, or to idleness, that Pieper would argue that we've lost a proper sense of what it means to be a human being.

His book is complex and I don't claim to understand everything he says but that's the basic idea that I do grasp.

lissla lissar said...

Yes, it is. I loved that book (some friends gave it to us for Christmas a couple of years ago), but a lot of it went over my head. I should re-read it.

Progress by necessity implies a goal. It's not philosophically intransitive, a thing-in-itself. Everything really does come down to ordinancy, the right ordering of everything towards its proper end.

Mary Vitamin said...

Thanks Willa!
This is excellent.

Mary Vitamin said...

Now I have another question on leisure. Why do you think St. Benedict's rule is simply "Prayer and Work" with no mention of leisure? Was leisure assumed and taken for granted?

If it was taken for granted, our culture has moved away from St. Benedict's paradigm in more ways than one!

Willa said...

Helen,
The short answer is that the Benedictine way of life was all about leisure. I know this seems extremely strange to our modern sensibility. But prayer is of the essence of leisure -- which means, if you look at the Aquinas quotes, contemplation.

Mortimer Adler puts it this way:

Rest, in the sense of contemplation, is the very opposite of the activities subsumed under all the other categories. All of them have some practical purpose in this life. Rest lifts us above and out of the exigencies of practical involvement of every kind.
The Orthodox Jew and the Benedictine monk fill much of their free time with rest. They lead three-part lives, constituted by sleep, work, and rest. The motto of the Benedictine Order is ora et labora (prayer and work).


I will try to write out a longer answer sometime. But are you with me so far? I know it sounds really strange. But think of Sunday, Sabbath. Our lives are completed in rest, in contemplation, not in labor. Labor is a necessary part of our lot as the consequence of the fall, but it is not the sum total of our lives.

Willa said...

So yes, I think our culture has moved away from Benedict's understanding of what life was about. Partly because of the Marxist concept of "man as worker" and society as essentially about economics. And partly because of a sort of Puritan underpinning of our society.

Pieper says:

"Man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired wilh toil and trouble; he refuses to have anything as a gift."

It occurs to me that even the Benedictine concept of "work" is very different from the modern industrial concept. Productivity seems to be more of a byproduct to a Benedictine when thinking of "labor". I like Lissla's example of the quilting bee vs the factory, or say, perhaps, the sweatshop. Work to a Benedictine isn't a matter of maximized efficiency but of diligence and human dignity and the process of sanctification. (this is how I understand it, anyway)

Cindy said...

Oh, Willa, I don't have time now but I can hardly wait to read all of these links.

Mary Vitamin said...

Willa
Thank you
I think your comments are worth another post!
I think it would be very helpful if you continued to blog this topic.

Mary Vitamin said...

Mortimer Adler puts it this way:

Rest, in the sense of contemplation, is the very opposite of the activities subsumed under all the other categories.


We were taught at our Franciscan meeting that when Adam was put to sleep or when St. Joseph spoke to an angel in his sleep, in these biblical references, sleep didn't mean snoring-away-unconscious rather contemplation.

Anonymous said...

I am a random Norwegian who found this through Google.

This was really helpful reading. Thank you very much!