Monday, March 30, 2020

solitude, boredom … and spiritual exercises

Critique of Everyday Life  Bloch utopian function  Freud and Yoga

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ― Blaise Pascal, Pensées 

This is an all-too-brisk and cursory introduction to a profound subject that depends on presuppositions, assumptions and premises having to do with human nature, metaphysics (and philosophy more broadly), psychology (individuation and self-realization), and spirituality. And it unavoidably involves matters that broach socio-economic, sociological, and political topics and questions (e.g., New Age nonsense, the commodification of mindfulness or ‘McMinduflness,’ and The Happiness Industry). The “suggested reading” that follows might whet your appetite for further exploration. See too the titles in these compilations: (i) Buddhism and Psychoanalysis; (ii) Human Nature and Personal Identity; and (iii) Beyond Capitalist-Attenuated Time: Freedom, Leisure, and Self-Realization.

Free Time Hunnicutt  Free Time Rose  Philosophy as therapeia

For some folks, at least those of us who have our basic life-sustaining needs satisfied, down-time, alone time, or solitude can be—perhaps unintentionally or as a by-product effect—psychologically, morally and spiritually beneficial (these benefits are not necessarily immediate or obvious). Those familiar with the notion of “spiritual exercises” (found, for instance, in Stoicism, classical Yoga praxis, Buddhism, monastic or contemplative traditions, and other ‘therapies of desire’*) can avail themselves of this newfound discretionary time for such mental activity; there is of course a “bodily” dimension to such spiritual exercises, but it is by way of helping quiet the mind so as to incarnate or enhance the technique of prosoche (in short, ‘attention’) and self-examination generally, a fact often forgotten or ignored in contemporary forms of yoga practice which tend to emphasize its purely physiological or gymnastic benefits. There is nothing intrinsic to such spiritual praxis that renders it “quietist” in the sense that necessitates or implies abstinence or withdrawal from political involvement and action. On the contrary, some practitioners, be they Catholics, Buddhists, or agnostics, for example, will testify to its various virtues and values for persistent, principled, and courageous political action. Moreover, even episodic or sustained feelings of boredom (which can occur in conjunction with the aforementioned ‘exercises’) may likewise have unintended or surprisingly beneficial psychological and creative effects, as broached in this post from last year.  

* A nice introduction to the notion of “spiritual exercises” is found in the first chapter of John Cottingham’s The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (see below).
Disretionary Time 2  Solitude 2  Monastic impulse
Suggested Reading:
  • Bloch, Ernst (Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg, trans.) The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988.
  • Capps, Walter. The Monastic Impulse. New York: Crossroad, 1983.
  • Cottingham, John. The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. London: Verso, 2013.
  • Desikachar, T.K.V. and Hellfried Krusche (Anne Marie Hodges, trans.) Freud and Yoga: Two Philosophies of Mind Compared. New York: North Point Press, 2014.
  • Fiordalis, David V., ed. Buddhist Spiritual Practices: Thinking with Pierre Hadot on Buddhism, Philosophy, and the Path. Berkeley, CA: Mangalam Press, 2018.
  • Ganeri, Jonardon and Clare Carlisle, eds. Philosophy as Therapeia (Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement: 66). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Gardiner, Michael E. and Julian Jason Haladyn, eds. Boredom Studies Reader: Frameworks and Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2016.
  • Goodin, Robert E., et al. Discretionary Time: A New Measure of Freedom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Haldane, John. “On the very idea of spiritual values,” in Anthony O’Hear, ed. Philosophy, the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000: 53-71.
  • Haybron, Daniel M. The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Hoffer, Axel, ed. Freud and the Buddha: The Couch and the Cushion. London: Karnac Books, 2015.
  • Horney, Karen. Self-Analysis. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1942.
  • Hunnicutt, Benjamin Kline. Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2013.
  • Kakar, Sudhir. Mad and Divine: Spirit and Psyche in the Modern World. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2008.
  • McGhee, Michael. Transformations of Mind: Philosophy as Spiritual Practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Nussbaum, Martha. The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  • O’Brien, Wendell. Boredom: A History of Western Philosophical Perspectives, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Phillips, Adam. On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.
  • Pieper, Josef. Leisure: The Basis of Culture. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2009 (London: Faber & Faber, 1952).
  • Rojek, Chris. Capitalism and Leisure Theory. New York: Tavistock Publications, 1985.
  • Rojek, Chris. The Labour of Leisure: The Culture of Free Time. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010.
  • Rose, Julie L. Free Time. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.
  • Russell, Bertrand. “In Praise of Idleness,” in Russell’s In Praise of Idleness: And Other Essays. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2004 (1935).
  • Schor, Juliet B. The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. New York: Basic Books, 1992.
  • Shippen, Nichole Marie. Decolonizing Time: Work, Leisure, and Freedom. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  • Spacks, Patricia Meyer. Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1995.
  • Storr, Anthony. Solitude: A Return to the Self. New York: Free Press, 1988.
  • Svendsen, Lars (John Irons trans.) A Philosophy of Boredom. London: Reaktion Books, 2005.
  • Toohey, Peter. Boredom: A Lively History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.
  • Weeks, Kathi. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.
Cottingham spiritual dimension  Nussbaum 2  Freud and the Buddha 2


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