Kierkegaard and Leisure

Kierkegaard’s Either/Or

In Rotation of Crops (a part of his first published book Either/Or) Kierkaagard tackled the issue of boredom and briefly touches on the benefits of leisure:

Idleness, we are accustomed to say, is the root of all evil. To prevent this evil, work is recommended…. Idleness as such is by no means a root of evil; on the contrary, it is truly a divine life, if one is not bored….

You can find a summary in particular of “Rotation of Crops” here and here is a particularly good summary of what Kierkegaard’s answer to boredom is:

Our author recommends asking less from life, randomly approaching life, in an almost dadaistic sense, attending only to accidents instead of main themes. He describes a man so boring that he could only enjoy his company by focussing on the enormous bead of sweat that formed on his nose. He further recommends the use of recollection to enjoy the experiences of life. The recommendation to temper and control one’s thoughts and experiences, and the approval of idleness, is Epicurean (see introduction to Either/Or above). In sum, our author recommends taking charge of all of one’s experiences and reactions. It reminds one of the popular dictum that he who hopes for nothing will never be disappointed.

And here is a squashed version:

So all people are boring. Idleness, it is usually said, is a root of all evil. To prevent this evil one recommends work. But the choice of remedy and the supposed cause mark the whole thing out as a very lower-class idea. Idleness as such is by no means a root of evil; quite the contrary, it is a truly divine way of life so long as one is not bored. The Olympian gods were not bored, they prospered in happy idleness. A beauty who neither sews nor spins is happy in her idleness, for she is not bored.

Boredom is partly an immediate talent, partly an acquired immediacy. Here the English are, on the whole, the paradigmatic nation. One seldom encounters a born talent for indolence, but one occasionally meets an English traveller who is an incarnation of this talent, for other nationals are always a little more lively, not so absolutely stillborn. So, how to overcome boredom?Here, as everywhere, cool deliberation is clearly called for. My view is expressed in the phrase ‘crop rotation’. This phrase might seem to contain an ambiguity, in that it might be taken to involve changing the soil. This rotation is the vulgar, the inartistic method. One is tired of living in the country, one moves to the city; one is tired of one’s native land, one travels abroad; one is European, one goes to America, and finally dreams of travelling from star to star. The method I propose consists not in changing the soil but, as in the real rotation of crops, in changing the method of cultivation and type of grain.

A nice little gem from the squashed version:

Never take a job If one does that, one becomes just a plain John Anybody, a little cog in the machine. One acquires a title, and the law under which one slaves is equally boring no matter whether promotion comes or not.

The original version is this:

Never take any official post. If one does that, one becomes just a plain John Anyman, a
tiny little cog in the machine of the body politic. The individual ceases to be himself the
manager of the operation, and then theories can be of little help. One acquires a title,
and implicit in that are all the consequences of sin and evil. The law under which one
slaves is equally boring no matter whether advancement is swift or slow. A title can
never be disposed of, it would take a criminal act for that, which would incur a public
whipping, and even then one cannot be sure of not being pardoned by royal decree and
acquiring the title again.

Even though one stays clear of official posts, one should nevertheless not be inactive but
attach great importance to all the pursuits that are compatible with aimlessness; all kinds
of unprofitable pursuits may be carried on. Yet in this regard one ought to develop not so
much extensively as intensively and, although mature in years, demonstrate the validity
of the old saying: It doesn’t take much to amuse a child.

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