10 June 2009

Idleness or laziness?

In a 3-page essay titled In Praise of Idleness, Karel Čapek described idleness as follows: (1) "idleness is not wasting time"; (2) "idleness is not the mother of wickedness"; (3) "idleness is not laziness".

Idleness is absolutely aimless; it seeks neither repose nor pleasure, absolutely nothing.
Čapek's essay was in his book Intimate Things (available at the Internet Archive), the English translation of which came out in 1936. About 5 years later in Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts praised laziness:
Only in laziness can one achieve a state of contemplation which is a balancing of values, a weighing of oneself against the world and the world against itself. A busy man cannot find time for such balancing. We do not think a lazy man can commit murders, nor great thefts, nor lead a mob. He would more likely to think about it and laugh.
Although their ideas were somewhat similar to those of Čapek, laziness espoused by Steinbeck and Ricketts was "a relaxation pregnant of activity, a sense of rest from which directed effort may arise". Čapek, on the other hand, even eliminated planning of future activities from his idleness:
To be idle is not even to rest. If you are resting you are doing something useful; you are preparing for further work. Idleness is without relation to any past or future work; it has no results and looks forward to nothing.
The period of laziness of Steinbeck and Ricketts was not only for thinking, but also for drinking beer. Čapek's idleness almost sounds like some sort of meditative state; the lifting up of a bottle of beer would have been too disruptive for him.

Take your pick.

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