Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2011: Lines Of Work Pt. II of II

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review, History]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover and art from L.Q. Spring 2011: Lines Of Work.]

A review continued.  Read PT. I for a smoother segue.

Click pictures for full view.

Thorstein Veblen (Theory of the Leisure Class, coined ‘conspicuous consumption’) expounds on Spending Time:

“The term “leisure”, as here used, does not connote indolence or quiescence.  What it connotes is nonproductive consumption of time.”
“The lasting evidence of productive labor is its material product–commonly some article of consumption.”  What’s wrong with producing and consuming Karl?  Laborers are consumers too, certainly more so nowadays than in the 19th century.

Edwin Lefevre advises on Trading Commodities.  It is brief and online.

“I mean that after a man makes money in the stock market, he very quickly loses the habit of not spending.  But after he loses his money it takes him a long time to lose the habit of spending.” (p. 117)

Alan Greenspan called Lefevre’s book “a font of investing wisdom”.  (p. 118)

Mark Twain, Grinding The Axe:

“The coat of arms of the human race ought to consist of a man with an axe on his shoulder proceeding toward a grindstone. Or, it ought to represent the several members of the human race holding out the hat to each other. For we are all beggars. Each in his own way.” (p. 128)  It’s online, lucky people.  No running in the halls on the way to the computer room please.  You thinkers, you know who you are, better be getting some of this.

Woody Guthrie about the miner strike Ludlow Massacre.  Serfs Up (online) about the 1525 peasant’s revolt.  The footnote is revealing:

“From The Twelve Articles of the Peasants. Some fifty representatives of Swabian peasant groups met in March 1525 and drafted this series of economic and religious demands. In the following months, 25,000 copies were printed. Europe’s largest uprising until the French Revolution, the German Peasants’ War ended in 1526 with the landowners suppressing the revolt. 100,000 peasants were killed.”

Getting freedom isn’t easy.  Where is the Arab Spring getting anyone?  Far too many dead will never know and in early April 2017 the horror continues.

Dongguan and Leslie T. Chang appear, with comments on modern-day China factory cities and lives. You can also find her in L.Q. The City: Fall 2010, p. 21.

Ah, the full essays in Further Remarks at last.  After all this work there is finally a lot of talk about leisure and idleness.  Is it good for you?  Calming, reflective, introspectively creative?  L.Q. in its magnanimous generosity has put them all online for you.  Don’t subscribe while there is so much free.  We all have too much to read.  How do you choose? I know you think I’m referring to YOU, but I’m not.

Wikipedia says the first essay author Sven Birkerts “is best known for his book The Gutenberg Elegies, which posits a decline in reading due to the overwhelming advances of the Internet and other technologies of the “electronic culture.””  Maybe so, but in my interaction with WordPress and Goodreads I find there are many voracious readers and writers out there, even a few bookfayries in certain magical kingdoms I suspect.

Birkerts ponders idleness.  Is it a luxury of the rich?  Is it good for us?

“Idleness—that beautiful, historically encumbered word. Beautiful because childhood is its first sanctuary and still somehow inheres in its three easy syllables—and who among us doesn’t sway toward the thought of it, often, conjuring what life might be like if it were still a play of appetites and inclinations rather than a roster of the duties and oughts that fill our calendar—indeed, make it necessary that we keep a calendar at all? Encumbered because the word has never not carried the taint of its associations. Idle hands, the idle rich, the downturns that idle workers. Idleness has been branded the obverse of industry, a slap in the face to all healthy ambition. So-and-so is a layabout, a ne’er-do-well, an idler. ” (p. 177)

He writes well and explores the topic through many historical references up to the modern day.

“Things are different now. New variables have been thrust into our midst—or, more likely, we have evolved our way into them. The old definitions of activity, the sturdy distinctions between work and leisure, have been broken down by the encompassing currents of digitized living. Obviously industry has not vanished, nor industriousness, but it has widened and blurred its spectrum to include the myriad tasks we accomplish with our fingertips. The spaces and the physical movements of work and play are often nearly identical now, and our commerce with the world, our work life, is far more sedentary and cognitive than ever before.” (p. 184)

I bracketed quite a bit of this essay.  Read it.

I say many more of us have time for idleness now than even a hundred years ago, let alone 500 or a thousand.  What a luxury.  Are we better for all that idle time or are we deteriorating?  That is the question.  Whether ’tis nobler…

To think that many of us can ‘retire’ from work.  We take it for granted now, an inalienable right of sorts.  I like to say I’m one less person taking a job someone else can have.

One of my favorites of these essays is Philip Connors’ A Talent For Sloth in which he eloquently, almost poetically, describes his ‘work’ of isolation as a fire-spotter in a desert national forest.  It earned my rare triple-asterisk mark.  Solitude at its finest.

“It is a world of extremes. Having spent each fire season for nearly a decade in my little glass-walled perch, I’ve become acquainted with the look and feel of the border highlands each week of each month, from April through August: the brutal gales of spring, when a roar off the desert gusts over seventy miles an hour and the occasional snow squall turns my peak white; the dawning of summer in late May, when the wind abates and the aphids hatch and ladybugs emerge in great clouds from their hibernation; the fires of June, when dry lightning connects with the hills, sparking smokes that fill the air with the sweet smell of burning pine; the tremendous storms of July, when the thunder makes me flinch as if from the threat of a punch; and the blessed indolence of August, when the meadows bloom with wildflowers and the creeks run again, the rains having turned my world a dozen different shades of green. I’ve seen fires burn so hot they made their own weather; I’ve watched deer and elk frolic in the meadow below me and pine trees explode in a blue ball of smoke. If there’s a better job anywhere on the planet, I’d like to know about it.” (p. 193)

Read it.

Donovan Hohn’s Lost Symbols (Lost Tools online) notes how tools used to make things, now machines make things and tools adjust.

Alain de Botton’s Treasure Hunt ponders work as self-fulfillment, yet another luxury of modern times in my opinion.  I marvel, slightly, when I hear people say ‘follow your dream’, ‘never give up’!  A worthwhile pursuit I agree, but in the meantime don’t forget to have a boring job by which you can get food and shelter.  de Botton:

“However powerful our technology and complex our corporations, the most remarkable feature of the modern working world may in the end be the widely held belief that our work should make us happy. Our choice of occupation is held to define our identity to the extent that the most insistent question we ask of new acquaintances is not where they come from or who their parents were but what they do, the assumption being that the route to a meaningful existence must invariably pass through the gate of remunerative employment.” (p. 205)

Read free online, subscribe, enjoy, learn, think, act.

Stop the madness.

[The now-standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered with very high quality paper throughout, richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and exactly 221 pages up to the Sources index at the back.
2. As it has noted on its About page:
Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past. ”
3. For more details see my previous-posts link or Goodreads site for the earliest reviews.]

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About JohnRH

Retired, avid winter skier, avid reader, traveler (avidly). :)
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