Saturday, August 07, 2004
Book extract: How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson
"As to how on earth going early to bed could automatically guarantee riches and happiness, I suppose nothing can be proved, but I'm with Dr Johnson who confidently asserted: 'Whoever thinks of going to bed before 12 o'clock is a scoundrel.'
Greatness and late rising are natural bedfellows. Late rising is for the independent of mind, the individual who refuses to become a slave to work, money, ambition. In his youth, the great poet of loafing, Walt Whitman, would arrive at the offices of the newspaper where he worked at around 11.30am, and leave at 12.30 for a two-hour lunch break. Another hour's work after lunch and then it was time to hit the town.
..............The lie-in - by which I mean lying in bed awake - is not a selfish indulgence but an essential tool for any student of the art of living. As Sherlock Holmes knew. Lolling around in his smoking jacket, puffing his pipe, Holmes would sit and ponder for hours on a tricky case. In one superb story, the opium-drenched The Man With The Twisted Lip, Holmes solves yet another case with ease. An incredulous Mr Plod character muses: "I wish I knew how you reach your results," to which Holmes replies: "I reached this one by sitting upon five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag."
René Descartes, in the 17th century, was similarly addicted to inactivity. Indeed, it was absolutely at the centre of his philosophy. When young and studying with the Jesuits, he was unable to get up in the morning. They would throw buckets of cold water over him and he would turn over and go back to sleep. Then, because of his obvious genius, he was granted the special privilege of getting up late. This was his modus operandi because, of course, when he was lying in bed he was thinking. It is easy to see how someone so inactive should conclude that the body and the mind are separate entities. Laziness produced Cartesian duality. For him, lying in bed and thinking was the very essence of being human: Cogito, ergo sum, or, in other words, I lie in bed thinking, therefore I am."
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