Summer 2003

For or Against Laziness?

We'll write a subtitle after our well-deserved nap

Compiled by Marina van Zuylen, Sasha Archibald, and Christine Potts

To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.
—Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), “The Critic as Artist”

The only way to avoid being miserable is not to have enough leisure to wonder whether you are happy or not.
—George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Zeal has killed off far more people than laziness.
—Corsican proverb

Lying down was not for Ilya Ilyitch either a necessity as it is for a sick or a sleepy man, or an occasional need as it is for a person who is tired, or a pleasure as it is for a sluggard:it was his normal state. When he was at home—and he was almost always at home—he was lying down, and invariably in the same room, the one in which we have found him and which served him as bedroom, study, and reception-room.
—Ivan Goncharov (1812-1891), Oblomov

Our life, it’s an assassination by work. We dangle from a noose for sixty years. Now we’re about to cut it...
—Georg Büchner (1813-1837), Danton’s Death

It is necessary to work, if not from inclination, at least from despair. Everything considered, work is less boring than amusing oneself.
—Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Mon Coeur mis à nu

It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?
—Ronald Reagan (b. 1911)

Laziness is what distinguishes the barbarian from the civilized man; this laziness, as opposed to a practical training that promotes ... the need for action, is what keeps him plunged in stupor.
—Hegel (1770-1831), The Philosophy of Right

I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention—invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble.
—Agatha Christie (1890-1976), An Autobiography

Why is work so exalted, enthroned and glorified, while laziness is in the doghouse, why are most lazy souls smeared with shame, branded with the stamp of infamy, the stamp of mother-laziness, when the most menial of workers is destined for glory, honors, and rewards?

I have always believed that it should be the exact opposite: work should be cursed, as legends about paradise teach us, while laziness should be man’s essential goal.
—Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935), “Laziness: The Real Truth of Mankind”

It is a mistake to believe that only the violent passions—love and ambition—can be triumphant. Laziness, with all its languor, comes out just as victorious; she encroaches upon all of life’s designs and decisions; she silently destroys and consumes all passion and virtues.
—La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680), Maxims

In addition to our own failure to succeed, the triumph of others is yet another punishment for our laziness.
—Jules Renard (1864-1910), Journal

I have discovered that all human evil comes from the fact that man is unable to sit still in a room.
—Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Pensées

People of all pursuits combine to disparage those who have none.
—Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), An Apology for Idlers

Nobody can think straight who does not work. Idleness warps the mind.
—Henry Ford (1863-1947)

Laziness is not a myth; it is a basic, seemingly natural given of the educational situation. Why? Because school is a structure of constraint, and laziness is a means for the pupil to dupe this constraint.
—Roland Barthes (1915-1980), “Osons être paresseux,” (interview)

Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.
—Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Either/Or, vol. 1

Sloth is the condition in which a man is fully aware of the proper means of his salvation and refuses to take them because the whole apparatus of salvation fills him with tedium and disgust.
—Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), “Sloth”

The American’s inability to loaf comes directly from his desire for doing things and in his placing action above being.
—Lin Yutang (1895-1976), The Importance of Living

An unrelated note about the sloth: The sloth is more or less a walking gut, needing a large digestive system to cope with the large amount of low-quality browse that it eats. Its digestion is extremely slow and it needs to defecate only once a week. Each time it does, it will leave the tree to excrete on the ground, taking half an hour to reach the forest floor. When the animal does go, it releases one fifth of its body weight, about a kilogram of dung. Readers are also referred to Joshua Glenn’s superb “An Idler’s Glossary” at [link defunct –Eds.].

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