Sunday, November 12, 2006


Ohh, I'm wicked and I'm lazy
Ohh-oh, don't you want to save me
--David Byrne, "Lazy," 2004

Today, to follow up my viewing of Godard's Week end, I watched one of those '60s multiple director films, The Seven Deadly Sins, with each director taking a sin. Godard covered "Sloth" (La paresse -- and I'd like to note that several years ago Pynchon covered that particular sin when the NYTimes Book Review had writers comment on their favorite or most baleful sin -- see "Nearer, My Couch, to Thee"). In the film, the hero is too lazy to tie his own shoelace and tries to offer a couple people 10,000 francs to do it for him; he's also too slothful to want to have sex with the Jean Seberg-type who jumps in his car and is waiting for him to jump in her bed ("getting dressed afterwards is too much trouble," he remarks). I was amused by all this, of course, because I recognize that Sloth is probably the sin I'm most prone to too. But then (while actually washing dishes -- talk about chores I'd pay someone to do for me!), I reflected:

Sloth keeps me from writing because writing is both fun and work -- and if work is to be avoided, fun is also something you avoid for the sake of work, which you are trying to avoid. But Sloth also prevents me from sending work out -- because it's like "getting dressed afterwards." But then, because I accomplish nothing, I feel Envy for those who do accomplish things, which is likely to make me fantasize, which leads to thoughts about having sex (Lust) or having money to spend (Greed) -- of course, "spending" applies to both. And of course my lack of prospects for getting anything like enough sex or money can lead to Anger. And to work that off, I go get a snack (Gluttony) -- preferably crunchy so I can enjoy biting.

Clever of the Catholics, isn't it, to come up with such a mutually supportive set of vices to show how fallible and fallen we all are? But I'm leaving one out -- and of course that one has to do with the narcissistic Pride that causes me to assert all this in the first place. Pride in our failings? You betcha. Modern man in a nutshell, or what JJ calls "a notshall." And of course Pride is the sin of Lucifer, which leads to the reflection that, yes, I'm already in hell, recalling Robert Lowell's lines from "Skunk Hour' (riffing off Milton's Satan):

I myself am hell;
nobody's here--


Anonymous said...

"Indolence is therefore one of the vices from which those whom it once infects are seldom reformed. Every other species of luxury operates upon some appetite that is quickly satiated, and requires some concurrence of art or accident which every place will not supply; but the desire of ease acts equally at all hours, and the longer it is indulged is the more increased. To do nothing is in every man's power; we can never want an opportunity of omitting duties. The lapse to indolence is soft and imperceptible, because it is only a mere cessation of activity; but the return to diligence is difficult, because it implies a change from rest to motion, from privation to reality."
Johnson: Rambler #155 (September 10, 1751)

Donald Brown said...

Ok, nothing I can say will ever top that, so I might as well listen to music or watch TV...

But, seriously folks, that "lapse to indolence" also covers the lapse to ease, where we let things that are not "all that" become our standards for the sake of lack of discord. The return to diligence, like to the return to rigor, is hard indeed. But, thinking of American letters and culture, I'm forced to ask: "whaddya mean RETURN?"

Anonymous said...

Well, they have been a few diligent American writers over the centuries, haven't there? :-)

But seriously folks: Greg Brown and Neil Young are diligent; Philip Roth is diligent; even Woody Allen is. Or is productivity (one new work in one's field every 12-18 months) not what you are talking about?

I had actually been looking for the Johnsonism where he complains about his own laziness and how he writes in order to not feel guilty about being lazy. Guilt must have been an effective tool for him, given that his collected works come to well over a hundred volumes no matter how you edit them.


Donald Brown said...

oh, my mistake -- I wanted the "whaddya mean return" to refer to rigor, not diligence. Diligence we've got, sure. Everybody puts stuff out whether we need it or not (must produce, that's what consumers are for!), but producing, publishing, releasing only what is really good, and having the rigor to work on something until it is worthwhile, that seems to be beyond most of the U.S. authors I can think of. It's a bit different for songwriters I guess, but I'm much happier with Dylan now being more like Waits and only putting an album out when he really has an album. It's best not talking about most of Neil's 80s productions, and I haven't been keeping up with the slew of stuff he's put out since Greendale (on which he wondered if "the guy writing this song" has anything to say he hasn't already said ... I wonder too).

esllud, god of error