Kingwell, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, opens the book with a long essay in defense of idling–confronting the benefits and perils of boredom, goofing off, the Protestant work ethic, religious conceptions of Purgatory, and everyday idleness along the way.
Why do we work—and why do some wander? What is the impulse to lay about and do nothing?
"It is only when work is thought characteristic of human life, and so work and idleness are opposed, that the latter may be considered bad or in need of defense," Kingwell suggests, making use of the writings of Søren Kierkegaard. "Leisure time is just work by other means," he quickly adds.
The heart of the book is Glenn's glossary, throughout which Seth's images are placed. What does it mean to be Ataractic, for instance? Well, it means that you are "calm, serene, at peace with the world." When you Dilly-Dally, what are you, in fact, doing? To dilly-dally "is to seesaw, zigzag, or shilly-shally–in other words, to act with trifling vacillation or indecision."
Or perhaps you're a Good-For-Nothing, perhaps you're Half-Assed, perhaps you're a Laggard or even a Mooch. Maybe you're a Procrastinator, a Scamp, or you've been overwhelmed by Spleen: "Like ennui," Glenn writes, "spleen [from the Greek word for 'that internal organ believed to be the seat of moroseness, or bad temper'] is a thoroughly modern affliction, a burden borne of sophisticated urbanites incapable of resigning themselves to the subjective tyranny of (in this case) space."
Of maybe you're a Stargazer–or you'd like to be one: "'We are all lying about in the gutter,' wrote Oscar Wilde, 'but some of us are looking at the stars.' The stargazer is not a lazy daydreamer; instead, he is absentminded in the best possible sense."
While it's perhaps difficult to sit down and read the book from cover to cover, The Idler's Glossary is a fun–and beautifully produced– book to set aside some time to flip through, as these gray autumn days turn cold and we're all faced with slumberous (Slumberous: "To be slumberous [from the Middle English word for 'doze'] is to be tired in the sense of lethargic, torpid.") winter.
The Idler's Glossary from Biblioasis.