In Praise of Idleness

photo by Jake Givens from

“Lord Henry smiled and, leaning down, plucked a pink-petalled daisy from the grass and examined it. ‘I am quite sure I shall understand it,’ he replied gazing intently at the little golden white-feathered disc, ‘and I can believe anything provided that it is incredible.'”

I was struck by the little detail, so wonderfully aesthetic, of the flower in this bit of dialogue from The Picture of Dorian Gray. He plucks a flower and contemplates it.  It made me think that perhaps we could use a bit of an aesthetic revival, bring back those subversive ideas about encouraging idleness, and making a religion out of the practice of art and the contemplation of beauty. Not being productive and busy seems so much more blasphemous than it did in Victorian times. Yet they too felt rushed and pressed upon by modern life.

Things go by so quickly, there is a fear you might miss something– that one tweet that will change your world.  Do you ever click on a link in your tweetstream and get bored before you read the first paragraph of the article?

A phrase in an article I read yesterday jumped out at me. “…posting stories engineered toward ‘virality;’ to court their new social-media kingmakers.”

On Word Press you can check your stats, several times a day if you like. It will tell you how many clicks you got. It becomes something like a drug, you have got to know– is anyone listening? You start to measure your success as a writer by the number of clicks you got. It is a measure of the success of your headline more than your content. It is not a measure of quality or beauty. It is, however, the only quantifiable thing you’ve got.

We are asking how many, how many how many? We should be asking how much? How much beauty or meaning or value can I convey? How much more can I see? How much is this world revealing to me right here, right now?

Normally, I would have gazed right over the description of the flower to move on to the important things– the next point in the plot, the next revelation of character.  Today I stopped. I tried to visualize that flower. That’s when I noticed something odd.

Oscar Wilde’s “pink-petalled daisy” is “golden white.”


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