March 24, 2020

"Query: How contrive not to waste one’s time? Answer: By being fully aware of it all the while."

"Ways in which this can be done: By spending one’s days on an uneasy chair in a dentist’s waiting-room; by remaining on one’s balcony all of a Sunday afternoon; by listening to lectures in a language one doesn’t know; by traveling by the longest and least-convenient train routes, and of course standing all the way; by lining up at the box-office of theaters and then not buying a seat; and so forth."

From page 26 of "The Plague" by Albert Camus, which I am rereading. Why did I pick out that passage? I liked the details, but I was also intrigued by the presentation of the problem of being fully aware. Being fully aware is the solution to wasting one's time. But the way to be fully aware demonstrates that the solution is worse than the problem.

47 comments:

Archilochus said...

I began reading it yesterday to, inspired by your post. That passage struck me as the most interesting in the 40-odd pages I’ve read so far.

rcocean said...

the key is to empty your mind of negative thoughts and drink in the environment. Its a chance to practice Zen meditation and not be bored.

rcocean said...

Next Althouse reads Sartre's "Being and Nothingness"

“Time gnaws and wears away; it separates; it flies. And by virtue of separation--by separating man from his pain or from the object of his pain--time cures.”

rcocean said...

"only boring people get bored - go out and play"

Mother.

Ann Althouse said...

"That passage struck me as the most interesting in the 40-odd pages I’ve read so far."

Thanks! I really appreciate that meeting of the minds!

Ann Althouse said...

"only boring people get bored - go out and play"

I was going to continue the post into the topic of boredom. Here's the key passage from "The Plague," pages 4-5:

"The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits. Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, “doing business.” Naturally they don’t eschew such simpler pleasures as love-making, sea-bathing, going to the pictures. But, very sensibly, they reserve these pastimes for Saturday afternoons and Sundays and employ the rest of the week in making money, as much as possible. In the evening, on leaving the office, they forgather, at an hour that never varies, in the cafés, stroll the same boulevard, or take the air on their balconies. The passions of the young are violent and short-lived; the vices of older men seldom range beyond an addiction to bowling, to banquets and “socials,” or clubs where large sums change hands on the fall of a card. It will be said, no doubt, that these habits are not peculiar to our town; really all our contemporaries are much the same. Certainly nothing is commoner nowadays than to see people working from morn till night and then proceeding to fritter away at card-tables, in cafés and in small-talk what time is left for living. Nevertheless there still exist towns and countries where people have now and then an inkling of something different. In general it doesn’t change their lives. Still, they have had an intimation, and that’s so much to the good. Oran, however, seems to be a town without intimations; in other words, completely modern. Hence I see no need to dwell on the manner of loving in our town. The men and women consume one another rapidly in what is called “the act of love,” or else settle down to a mild habit of conjugality. We seldom find a mean between these extremes. That, too, is not exceptional. At Oran, as elsewhere, for lack of time and thinking, people have to love one another without knowing much about it."

The Vault Dweller said...

Didn't John Lennon say "Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted?" That being said the idea of quoting John Lennon as an authority on almost anything makes me queasy.

Fernandistein said...

This stuff is pure nonsense. Being uncomfortable itself is a waste of time. Reading Camus is a waste of time.

Ryan said...

Camus was killed in a car accident. The coronavirus killed 100 people yesterday, which is the same number of deaths as car accidents caused everyday in 2018. The virus is now as deadly as driving in a car.

tcrosse said...

“Boredom is the root of all evil. It is very curious that boredom, which itself has such a calm and sedate nature, can have such a capacity to initiate motion. The effect that boredom brings about is absolutely magical, but this effect is one not of attraction but of repulsion.”

― Søren Kierkegaard

Ryan said...

Now, car pollution also causes climate change, which is an existential threat to humanity. So cars themselves are still far more deadly than coronavirus.

Sebastian said...

"Being fully aware is the solution"

That's the intellectual's conceit. Which, as Althouse self-awarely notes, is not the solution in any case.

Anyway, being blissfully unaware is the solution.

Ryan said...

I never have a problem being bored. Too many hobbies pleasures to enjoy.

At the every least, sit at the piano for an hour and practice II-V-Is. L When I get sick of that, hit the squat rack, then jam on guitar, then practice some law, then have an intellectual conversation with my son, then gossip with my wife, then hit the kitchen and make a marinade with herbs from the garden, then do a bit of yard work, then fire up the grill, then sit on the patio with a beer and watch the sunset. And the list goes on and on. How the hell do people get bored?

Shouting Thomas said...

I've spent 70 years developing artistic, physical, intellectual and spiritual disciplines in myself.

I play piano, organ and guitar several hours every day. I also sing.

Although I can't go to the gym, I continue to ride bicycle and do my yoga every day.

And I pray every day.

Ralph L said...

As a callow young man, I got absolutely nothing out of that novel. I kept waiting for something to happen besides death.

Ryan said...

About five years ago I splurged and purchased a good-quality squat rack and bench with a set of bumper plates. The whole thing cost about as much as one year gym membership at Equinox. Best investment ever. With that, plus a copy of Starting Strength, you will never need to pay for another gym or hire a "personal trainer," most of whom have no idea what they are doing.

Your squat rack never closes, doesnt have annoying rules like no chalk, doesnt play music, and you dont need to get in a car to get there.

Ryan said...

As explained thoroughly in the book The Barbell Prescription, lifting weights is the antidote to metabolic syndrome and frailty. Overweight, diabetic or frail people are at greater risk from dying of things that attack weakness, like coronaviris. Be strong people. Squats, deadlifts, presses, bench presses, and cleans will keep you alive.

Ralph L said...

“There is a certain elegance in wasting time. Any fool can waste money, but when you waste time you waste what is priceless.”

― W. Somerset Maugham

Lurker21 said...

by listening to lectures in a language one doesn’t know

I guessing he didn't mean listening to lectures in a language one didn't understand at all, but rather lectures in a language one didn't understand very well. An American listening to French lectures might be awake and aware and trying to put together the words already known to make sense of the lecture. If the talk was in Burmese, frustration might gnaw at you, but would you really call that awareness?

The desire to always be aware may be related to the existentialist desire to always be conscious and responsible. There's a radical individualism there that is hard to reconcile with the collectivist politics of so many existentialist thinkers, an individualism that the next generation of French intellectuals rejected in favor of the idea that we were all products or collections of social codes.

Or maybe I'm wrong about all that.

narciso said...

the hive is the outbreak

rcocean said...

Certainly nothing is commoner nowadays than to see people working from morn till night and then proceeding to fritter away at card-tables, in cafés and in small-talk what time is left for living. Nevertheless there still exist towns and countries where people have now and then an inkling of something different. In general it doesn’t change their lives.

I like that extract. Maybe, I'll start reading the Plague. I read it 30 years ago, and it didn't make much of an impression.

rcocean said...

Time. Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook - Truman Capote (Beat the Devil)

Ann Althouse said...

How do you know when you are bored? Are you bored only when you are aware of the boredom?

When Camus said "The truth is that everyone is bored," he had to be including a lot of people who didn't realize they were bored, including the sort of people who say "I am never bored," which is, you know, a boring thing to say! Oh, yes, you — the "never bored" person — you have so many interests and there's always another thing that you are keen on doing. Yawn!

Phidippus said...

"Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich."

What a pompous, tiresome jackass that Camus was! And, apparently, omniscient too. What a burden on the poor slob it must have been.

Him and the rest of the 20th Century French Marxist/existentialist philosophes. What a group they were, what a mess they left behind.

rcocean @7:49 AM is correct: Life is infinitely rich if you are paying attention. So, pay attention.

Shouting Thomas said...

I am bored when I cease being active.

The things I'm "keen on doing" include learning to play all of Chopin's Nocturnes on piano and most of J.S. Bach's organ repertoire. I have a place to play them, too. My client church is on the egghead side and they demand that I play a classical prelude and postlude.

I occupy myself with intellectual, physical and spiritual disciplines.

I'm 70 and I have so little life left. Really, I don't have the time (or the inclination) to be bored.

Oddly, I still finding mastering programming languages and applications very stimulating. I just downloaded a renewed subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, a suite of 21 video, audio, animation and web development programs. Character Animator, in particularly, is fascinating. It automates the process of character animation and lip sync.

Two-eyed Jack said...

There is a striking story in Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, which is a great book, about a Russian man who calculates all the time he has left in his life, down to the second, and reckons it a great fortune. He finds, however, that, day by day, his fortune is slipping through his fingers. He starts rushing about everywhere, trying to save time, but finds that still, each day, he has not saved even a second of his fortune. Soon he begins to feel the earth turn under his feet and he finds he can only endure the movement of the earth by lying in his bed day after day.

Ryan said...

But isn't there a difference between being a boring person, which no doubt I am, and myself being bored? Wouldn't a self-professed very non-board person possibly be totally self-absorbed and therefore very boring to others?

Ryan said...

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Essays on Idleness. Being idle is not the same as being bored, and a person can be bored (or boring) even when they are busy doing lots of things.

Ryan said...

Thomas, that's awesome. In a former life in also did programming as a software engineer. It's great stuff! Recently I wrote a Perl script to fix an annoying issue with sorting through a litigation document production. It's also the pleasure of engineering something beautiful or useful.

Ryan said...

My grandfather built a pipe organ from scratch so my grandmother could practice organ at home. Talk about a man who was never bored!!

Phidippus said...

I agree with Ryan. The Nocturnes are sublime; time well spent.

I'm kind of all engineeringed-out these days but after I finish this small introductory book on crystallography I'm going to try to learn calculus of variations from my copy of Wylie and Barrett.

And gardening season is here! Roses are done, rhododendrons are next. Chervil growing under the lights in the garage.

Lurker21 said...

Boredom thrives in the gap between what we can imagine and what we can actually do at the moment. I was going to say that boredom was a result of the absence of stimulation, but today we have plenty of stimuli - websites, television, books, music - and can still be bored and feeling like we aren't actually doing anything.

When you get out of the house and experience new stimuli it can lessen your boredom, but there has to be some kind of action or activity, maybe even purposeful, goal-directed activity, something that stops us from blankly staring outward or inward and gets us to focus on some task, however mundane, rather than ourselves.

I was also going to say something about boredom and the modern world, but it's been this way for a long time. Emma Bovary was bored because she had her books and dreams, expectations and aspirations. Those around her didn't have those stimuli - didn't have the gap between imagination and reality - so they weren't bored, or not so bored.

Lurker21 said...

Dream Song 14

BY JOHN BERRYMAN

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature ...

Lurker21 said...

TUZENBACH: . . . Birds . . . will still go on flying, not knowing where or why. They fly and will go on flying no matter what philosophers spring up among them; and let them philosophize as much as they like, so long as they go on flying....

MASHA: But there is a meaning?

TUZENBACH: A meaning ... Look, it's snowing. What meaning has that? [Pause]

MASHA: It seems to me a man must have some faith, or must seek a faith, otherwise his life is empty, empty.... To live and not know why the cranes fly, why children are born, why there are stars in the sky ... Either one knows what one lives for, or it's all futile, worthless. [Pause]

VERSHININ: In any case, it's a pity youth is over....

MASHA: Gogol says: It's boring in this world, gentlemen!


-- Three Sisters - Anton Chekhov

rcocean said...

Boring other people is different from being bored yourself. Being "Bored" in the modern age is a choice. In 1900, no one had cars, TV, the internet, CD's, I pads, jet travel, radio, or movies. Once you got off the train or the subway, you got around by Bike, horse or foot. People in small towns and farms were often "snowed in" for days.
By contrast we are surrounded by amusements at our fingertips. We can travel the world without getting out of our chairs.

Huisache said...

I have also been reading The Plague, but it's the first time for me. I've posted a couple of passages that I thought were apposite in the last couple of days, which I won't bore everyone by repeating now.

I find myself immeasurably enriched by my family's isolation. As in the passage quoted by Ann, I've become conscious of what I'm doing every minute of the day. My productivity has gone up. I'm reading and doing more creative work than I have in a long time. I sit up awake in the night, reading, writing, thinking, instead of drinking or doing other things to numb my brain, to smooth away the frustrations of the day. Gone are the petty politics of the university campus. I perch here alone, on my stool, web conferencing with students in six upper-level math classes spread across nine borderland Texas counties, even better connected with them than usual. My kids are at home and on a schedule that allows time for the busywork that ordinarily takes up their whole day at school but also for independent reading and research and creative work and outdoor play. It's hard to get staples out here but lots of people keep chickens and the tortilla factories are running. The whole community is coming together while simultaneously keeping apart.

My brother, on the other hand, is in food service for events at a convention center in a big city. They laid off the hourly employees and cut his salary to 75%. He's got four kids. They want to come quarantine with us out here in the hinterlands. It may get to that point.

Narr said...

I hadn't noticed the echo of Camus in Catch-22, with the character Dunbar(or was it Nately?)--the one who spent all his time doing things he didn't like with people he didn't like, because it made the time go slower . . .

Narr
Sometimes people here seem like that

daskol said...

Doing things you don't like with people you don't like is a drag, but if you really want the clock to stand still: dull aching pain, especially if it throbs slowly.

Narr said...

daskol, Dunbar was at war and had to adapt in the field.

I've had MSG headaches--talk about slowing time.

Narr
Made a whiny picky eater out of me!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Or you could try to help others in the time you have been given and not fret about the counting of it.

Narr said...

I always remember the advice of my beloved Granny: 'tis better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.

Narr
Goddam Darkness!

daskol said...

social distancing agrees with Huisache. I can’t say I feel more productive professionally but the part about being trapped at home with my wife and kids has major upside.

Josephbleau said...

"Damn the darkness, speed the dawn." The goal of all good Cavalry.

Josephbleau said...

like Mack Wiseman, i would rather live at the side of the road.

Estoy_Listo said...

Jordan Peterson para-quote--"Everyone says they want to have a meaningful life. What does that mean, 'a meaningful life?' It means that you live as if everything you do matters."

Banjo said...

Boasting about not being bored is the kind of pride and vanity the church fathers warned against. So you are busy with your squats, dumbbells, organ recitals and so forth. Very admirable, but still. As I ended a 10k race many years ago, not young even then, I saw a T-shirt that said, "Eat right, exercise, still die." The message remained with me all the time since. Now I am 80, extremely inactive, and reconciled and comfortable with what comes next.

Ryan said...

Boasting about being bored is the kind of pride and vanity the church fathers warned against. So you are busy with your extreme inactivity and reminiscing about the good old days and so forth. Very admirable, but still. As I ended a Netflix and chill binge many years ago, not young even then, I saw a T-shirt that said, "Eat right, exercise, and get off your ass you fucking loser." The message remained with me all the time since. Now I am 45, extremely active, and reconciled and comfortable with what comes next.