Monday, November 23, 2009

Leisure Versus Free Time

I'm writing a paper on technology's impact on the leisure versus free time distinction where leisure is somewhat akin to contemplation and free time is more about amusement. It's a distinction that Aristotle addresses in Politics (although in my edition it's translated as 'play' instead of amusement):
nature herself, as has been often said, requires that we should be able, not only to work well, but to use leisure well; for, as I must repeat once again, the first principle of all action is leisure. Both are required, but leisure is better than occupation and is its end; and therefore the question must be asked, what ought we to do when at leisure? Clearly we ought not to be amusing ourselves, for then amusement would be the end of life. But if this is inconceivable, and amusement is needed more amid serious occupations than at other times (for he who is hard at work has need of relaxation, and amusement gives relaxation, whereas occupation is always accompanied with exertion and effort), we should introduce amusements only at suitable times, and they should be our medicines, for the emotion which they create in the soul is a relaxation, and from the pleasure we obtain rest. But leisure of itself gives pleasure and happiness and enjoyment of life, which are experienced, not by the busy man, but by those who have leisure. For he who is occupied has in view some end which he has not attained; but happiness is an end, since all men deem it to be accompanied with pleasure and not with pain. This pleasure, however, is regarded differently by different persons, and varies according to the habit of individuals; the pleasure of the best man is the best, and springs from the noblest sources. It is clear then that there are branches of learning and education which we must study merely with a view to leisure spent in intellectual activity, and these are to be valued for their own sake; whereas those kinds of knowledge which are useful in business are to be deemed necessary, and exist for the sake of other things. And therefore our fathers admitted music into education, not on the ground either of its necessity or utility, for it is not necessary, nor indeed useful in the same manner as reading and writing, which are useful in money-making, in the management of a household, in the acquisition of knowledge and in political life, nor like drawing, useful for a more correct judgment of the works of artists, nor again like gymnastic, which gives health and strength; for neither of these is to be gained from music. There remains, then, the use of music for intellectual enjoyment in leisure; which is in fact evidently the reason of its introduction, this being one of the ways in which it is thought that a freeman should pass his leisure

Part of what strikes me is the technology of the written word as sort of a proxy for the existence or lack of leisure. Basically, when one writes in stone (literally) one is more thoughtful about what they are writing. Then there is a spectrum from expensive papyrus, hand copied and illuminated manuscripts, to the printed word, typewriters, word processors, emails, instant messages, and finally twitter, where 140 characters seems entirely opposed to serious contemplation and results in banal, but perhaps amusing, thought.

That's just a tiny point, but I thought people might be interested. Another angle I will consider is if tech even creates additional free time, and if so if it's conducive to leisure. For Aristotle, a small sliver could engage in leisure on the backs of laborers and slaves. For Marx it was a similar thing, but technology offered a way, if the economics and politics were changed, to provide everybody leisure. "do one thing to-day and another to-morrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner" to overcome alienation.

However, I'm trying to figure out if I even need to incorporate music, which seems to undermine my understanding as contemplation. Although, I guess people contemplate music. I'm vexed.

1 comment:

The Ancient said...

1) Setting aside the problem of Homer (and other similar "writers"), was there ever real writing before there was a hand with a pen? Things were inscribed in stone and dug into clay tablets, but it wasn't ever anything spontaneous. It wasn't, so far as I know, creative. (I can imagine -- just -- an argument that would claim that the sculpture recently found at a 10,000 BC site in southern Turkey was an early form of writing, insofar as it was story-telling. But it wouldn't be writing as we understand it.)

2) It's my impression that what we have of Aristotle is usually regarded as little more than worked-up lecture notes (conscientiously worked up, but still). There is nothing in what we have that explains why Aristotle was praised by his contemporaries as a graceful and felicitous writer.

Perhaps the excavations at Herculaneum, recently funded by an American foundation, will find something that will explain this. (The odds are somewhat better than the odds of pulling out the original draft of the Didache from a monastic grave in the deserts of Egypt.)

3) And just to pull 1) and 2) together (or apart), what about the sign that Pilate directed to be placed on the Cross? Did he "write" that?

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