The Pursuit of Laziness

The Pursuit of Laziness: An Idle Interpretation of the Enlightenment

Pierre Saint-Amand
Translated by Jennifer Curtiss Gage
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 176
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Pursuit of Laziness
    Book Description:

    We think of the Enlightenment as an era dominated by ideas of progress, production, and industry--not an era that favored the lax and indolent individual. But was the Enlightenment only about the unceasing improvement of self and society?The Pursuit of Lazinessexamines moral, political, and economic treatises of the period, and reveals that crucial eighteenth-century texts did find value in idleness and nonproductivity. Fleshing out Enlightenment thinking in the works of Denis Diderot, Joseph Joubert, Pierre de Marivaux, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Jean-Siméon Chardin, this book explores idleness in all its guises, and illustrates that laziness existed, not as a vice of the wretched, but as an exemplar of modernity and a resistance to beliefs about virtue and utility.

    Whether in the dawdlings of Marivaux's journalist who delayed and procrastinated or in the subjects of Chardin's paintings who delighted in suspended, playful time, Pierre Saint-Amand shows how eighteenth-century works provided a strong argument for laziness. Rousseau abandoned his previous defense of labor to pursue reverie and botanical walks, Diderot emphasized a parasitic strategy of resisting work in order to liberate time, and Joubert's little-known posthumous Notebooks radically opposed the central philosophy of the Enlightenment in a quest to infinitely postpone work.

    Unsettling the stubborn view of the eighteenth century as an age of frenetic industriousness and labor,The Pursuit of Lazinessplumbs the texts and images of the time and uncovers deliberate yearnings for slowness and recreation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3871-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. [ix]-[xii])
  4. Introduction Idle Nation
    (pp. [1]-[16])

    “Ours is the century of laziness,” announces Louis-Sébastien Mercier inMon bonnet de nuit(My Nightcap, 1784).¹ Looking back upon the literary production of the eighteenth century, he nostalgically observes the waning of the grand intellectual projects. The age of massive tomes of philosophy, of erudite abstraction, is past; the century has now discovered the trifle, the trivial. Mercier laments the impatience of authors and readers alike. It is as if the time of work has been compressed, interrupted by the futile. He would like to restore this time to the artist, so that creation could be reclaimed through action....

  5. [1] The Surprises of Laziness Marivaux
    (pp. [17]-[37])

    Laziness is not a trait that is usually associated with Pierre Carlet de Marivaux, prolix playwright and innovative novelist that he was. Nevertheless, in certain autobiographical fragments and a number of his other writings, laziness remains a persistent preoccupation. Despite his rich dramatic output and his success in various comical genres that were popular at the time, Marivaux repeatedly mentions laziness as a private dream. In fact, Marivaux’s laziness is intimately linked to writing, to its constant renegotiation of the future. I would thus like to examine other texts upon which Marivaux leaves a special stamp, a particularly modern quality...

  6. [2] Chardin’s Slowness
    (pp. [38]-[50])

    Already in their own century, Marivaux and Chardin were being compared. A certain Thomas L’Affichard discerned something of the painter’s style in Marivaux’s comedies: “he writes the way Chardin paints.”¹ I wish to explore here another area of common ground connecting these two Regency artists, starting with the dialogue in Chardin’s work between labor and leisure, between effort and laziness. Chardin is known as a painter of domestic interiors, a remarkable portraitist of individuals depicted while absorbed in everyday tasks.² These paintings led to the nineteenth-century perception of Chardin as a witness to his bourgeois contemporaries and, as Pierre Rosenberg...

  7. [3] The Great Project of an Idle Life Rousseau
    (pp. [51]-[75])

    Idleness is one of the contradictory figures that weave through Rousseau’s works. He rings all imaginable changes on the notion of inactivity, taking care to tease out the slightest nuances. The problem of idleness pervades Rousseau’s philosophical writings and dominates his autobiographical works. My intention here is to trace the various paradoxes that inhabit the question for Rousseau and to explore why it engages him as political philosopher, moralist, and writer alike. After considering his anthropological ruminations on work,¹ as well as his praise of labor, we will see how Rousseau creates a radical esthetics ofdésœuvrement(lack of occupation),...

  8. [4] Paradox of the Idler Diderot
    (pp. [76]-[99])

    Like Marivaux, Diderot makes the idler into a figure of modernity—but he adds an intriguing twist. Like his close ancestor, the Indigent Philosopher, Diderot’s idler appears in urban space. In the title character ofLe Neveu de Rameau(Rameau’s Nephew, 1762–1777), the author offers an example of alternative subjectivation. The dialogue between the philosopher and the vagabond brings face to face two opposing figures of idleness—and two opposing relationships to the work. On the one hand there is the philosopher, addicted to his philosophical promenade, his meditative strolls: “Come rain or shine, my custom is to go...

  9. [5] Philosophy on the Pillow Joubert
    (pp. [100]-[118])

    Diderot is fond of his dressing gown. The writer’s study is an extension of his nighttime cocoon, where moments of creativity take the slippered philosopher by surprise. This is the same space that Louis-Sébastien Mercier, already known for hisTableau de Paris, conjures up inMon Bonnet de nuit(My Nightcap), an anthology of his midnight musings. Here scraps of paper are pieced together during the respite from the daily hubbub. Before entering into the realm of sleep, the writer welcomes the final ruminations of his waking hours. These are the thoughts that will accompany him to bed: “How sweet...

  10. Epilogue Toward Moderation
    (pp. [119]-[124])

    The heroes of this book hardly typify the legacy of the Enlightenment. They are not workaholics, addicted to frenetic speed, compulsively busy—those to whom Rousseau applied the term “restless” (Reveries,CW8: 56). Next to those movers and shakers who championed the spirit of Voltaire, transforming his values into an ideology of productivity and efficiency, the lazy cut a rather pathetic figure. Their aesthetics of the minimum, their desire for less, their calculated refusal of ambition, are unseemly. Today, elections are won by competing in the omnipresent field of action and speed. Laziness is castigated in the name of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. [125]-[142])
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. [143]-[150])
  13. Index
    (pp. [151]-[156])