I am consolidating all my writing into one website, and have been picking, particularly, through my prose pieces. I find the self that was musing 3 years ago to be quite fascinating – full of ideas and thoughts that have since aged a few seasons.
It is in reaction to Gramsci’s idea of an inventory that I began the blog that started this journey, and although I shall be saying goodbye to its url, I’m taking everything else with me. I will be republishing some of the first pieces that I wrote when I first began actively wrestling with the process of decolonizing.
This is the Art of Leisure revisited, edited down by a self three years older, in the voice of a budding undergraduate.
I am preparing to write an essay on “leisure” – an ironic moment if there ever was one.
Leisure is a dying art form in the face of an expanding modernity, as Capitalism continues to mutate into a monster beyond our control.
The words of Lin Yu Tang in his “The Importance of Living” accompanied my lazy afternoon as I wondered in and out of overdue readings and upcoming essay theses.
There were brilliant moments in his writing, where I wanted to stand on my chair and cheer but was too lazy to do so. So I lifted my fingers to highlight, in order to mark down the instance of my excitement.
“Leisure in time is like unoccupied floor space in a room.
Every working girl who rents a small room where every inch of space is fully utilized feels highly uncomfortable because she has no room to move about, and the moment she gets a raise in salary, she moves into a bigger room where there is a little more unused floor space, besides those strictly useful spaces occupied by her single bed her dressing table and her two-burner gas range. It is that unoccupied space which makes a room habitable, as it is our leisure hours which make life endurable.”
In our increasingly mechanized world, the role of art, it seems, equates itself with leisure. This is not so, as in my own study of the arts I spend an agonizing amount of time making sense of the logical progression of classicists, philologists, historicists, essayists, poets and novelists who are all speaking out some statement to the existence of truth – paradoxical, and often hair-tearing-ly frustrating.
“Figuratively speaking, we, too, are so cramped in our life that we cannot enjoy a free perspective of the beauties of our spiritual life. We lack spiritual frontage.”
In a sea of arguments, criticism, theory and the search for meaning, it is through the voices of the postcolonial, the diasporic, the second-language speaker, or the non-European, that I really re-discover the leisure of art to begin with.
Lin Yu Tang hits home again, as the mechanization of art is only reflective of a greater mechanization going on everywhere – including personal growth. Walking into any bookstore, there is an overwhelming number of self-help books, steps to personal growth, steps to becoming a better person etc. As though wisdom and personality were products to be bought of the shelf and learned through the mere process of process.
“Unfortunately, character is not a thing which can be manufactured overnight. Like the quality of mellowness in wine, it is acquired by standing still and by the passage of time.”
In our rush for the now, for instant gratification, we want perfection to also be achieved now, and we are unwilling to wait for time to sandpaper our foolishness away. The hunger is incredible, but because we have lost sight of the spiritual life, we have begun to mechanize the growth of the soul. Culture is something to be absorbed, through a systematic reading of literature, a systematic acquiring of skill, a handbook full of commonly used phrases in a foreign language, or a packaged tour.
“Character is always associated with something old and takes time to grow, like the beautiful facial lines of a man in middle age, lines that are the steady imprint of the man’s evolving character. It is somewhat difficult to see character in a type of life where every man is throwing away his last year’s car and trading it in for the new model. As are the things we make, so are we ourselves.“
We don’t want to be old to be wise, because we just don’t want to be old. And spurring the fast-paced life we are living, is a chasing fear of death. Ironically, in the year 2012, vintage and old-school are celebrated terms of culture, and we search for traces of history to attach ourselves to. Out come my grandfather’s shoes, old tweed jackets, and typewriters re-appear in shop fronts inside rectangular, battered luggages. Black and white films are ‘the good thing’ and the past is re-packaged in romantic sentiment, occasionally challenged by a memorial of a war, of mass destruction that has in fact, been sandpapered with time.
“In 1937 every man and woman look 1937, and in 1938 every man and woman will look 1938. We love old cathedrals, old furniture, old silver, old dictionaries and old prints, but we have entirely forgotten about the beauty of old men.”
And they sit in homes built for the unwanted, or on the streets in clothing threadbare from wind and snow, or at home in a corner of the living room, unheeded.
On a day like this where it is all quiet, time notifies me of its passing when the words on the page end….
“I think an appreciation of that kind of beauty is essential to our life, for beauty, it seems to me, is what is old and mellow and well-smoked.”