Magazine article The Spectator

How to Be Idle

Magazine article The Spectator

How to Be Idle

Article excerpt

Busy doing nothing HOW TO BE IDLE by Tom Hodgkinson Hamish Hamilton, £12.99, pp. 286, ISBN 0241142512 £11.99 (plus £2.25 p&p) 0870 800 4848

Tom Hodgkinson is a 21st-century Luddite. He wishes we could smash the principles of capitalist consumerism that enslave most of the population so they can service their debts. In this beguiling book, he persuasively advocates idleness as the way to gain access to the creativity of the subconscious mind, or at least to enjoy a few beers.

Hodgkinson is a dedicated connoisseur of idleness. He is the founder and editor of Idler magazine, which enables him to support himself and his family in Devon. Endorsed by quotations from an interestingly variegated team of believers in the benefits of inactivity, including Dr Johnson, William Blake, Bertrand Russell, G.K. Chesterton, Oscar Wilde, Karl Marx's son-in-law and Jeffrey Bernard, Hodgkinson now summarises his tranquil philosophy. He conducts the reader through a whole day and night, at a chapter an hour, showing that every one of the 24 is ideally suited to doing little more than nothing. He acknowledges, or seems to acknowledge, however, that making the best use of all of them is perfection rarely attained. I myself have spent half a century or so trying to idle and know it is not always easy. Hodgkinson admittedly idles only part-time. Even so, self-employed with a liberal boss, he finds that freedom from 9-to-5 servitude is so inspiring that his occasional, voluntary, independent work is enjoyably fruitful.

Writers and other 'creative artists' sometimes appear to be idle when they are engrossed in the preliminary phase of creation. A wise partner will recognise this process and protect it: 'Hush, dear - Daddy may be thinking.' Hodgkinson quotes Walter Benjamin, One of the great literary Euro-slackers', testifying that Beethoven when wandering daily around the ramparts of Vienna, apparently loafing, was actually composing symphonies in his head. …

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