Leisure, wonder, and Josef Pieper

I turned in final grades last Thursday evening after graduation and, this morning, myself graduated from the college's New Faculty Course, officially ending my first year as a full-time History instructor. Today is also the first day of in-service for the summer session. So work is on my mind, as is leisure. Appropriately, then, I read this nice short piece from ISI on Josef Pieper and his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture. I recommend it—both the article and the book itself.

I first read Leisure in the spring of 2015, as I concluded a semester teaching as an adjunct at two different colleges, tutoring two students—one in German—at my wife's school, and working part time at a sporting goods store. That was also the semester my daughter was born. By the time I picked up Pieper's book, I was exhausted.

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Pieper, a good Thomist, understood. Leisure is in part a critique of modern work, which is really a tyranny of economic activity over the whole person. "The world of work," he wrote, "is becoming our entire world; it threatens to engulf us completely." We all know a workaholic; probably several. Pieper argues that, while work is necessary and good, leisure is crucial to the creation of culture and our flourishing as human beings, both individually and in community. 

The ISI piece does a good job of explaining this. By "leisure," Pieper does not mean mere free time, spent aimlessly or on what he calls elsewhere "the incessant fabrication of tawdry empty stimuli" that dope us against boredom and sedate us between shifts at work. Rather, leisure is itself active, something pursued and embraced, something open and reflective and, therefore, basically philosophical. "To perceive all that is unusual and exceptional, all that is wonderful, in the midst of the ordinary things of everyday life, is the beginning of philosophy." And culture grows from this through sharing—stories, poems, art. After all, the great Western epics from the Iliad to Beowulf were composed for leisure time among friends and companions.

Something to think about. As summer approaches, we may have more or less downtime depending on our jobs, but let's use the time we have not simply to laze around or "rest" in a utilitarian way, but for leisure. In that way, both our work and our lives will become more meaningful.