Our culture values striving, purpose, achievement, and accumulation. This book asks us to get sidetracked along the way. It praises aimlessness as a source of creativity and an alternative to the demand for linear, efficient, instrumentalist thinking and productivity.
Aimlessness collects ideas and stories from around the world that value indirection, wandering, getting lost, waiting, meandering, lingering, sitting, laying about, daydreaming, and other ways to be open to possibility, chaos, and multiplicity. Tom Lutz considers aimlessness as a fundamental human proclivity and method, one that has been vilified by modern industrial societies but celebrated by many religious traditions, philosophers, writers, and artists. He roams a circular path that snakes and forks down sideroads, traipsing through modernist art, nomadic life, slacker comedies, drugs, travel, nirvana, and oblivion. The book is structured as a recursive, disjunctive spiral of short sections, a collage of narrative, anecdotal, analytic, and lyrical passages—intended to be read aimlessly, to wind up someplace unexpected.
Disocunt code CUP@) gives 20% off at Columbia UP site.More info →
Originally published in The Messenger, these essays are collected here for the first time, and include pieces on their home states by Wallace Thurman, Anita Scott Coleman, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Charles S. Johnson, E. Franklin Frazier, Wallace Thurman, & George Schuyler.More info →
Hysteria, insomnia, hypochondria, asthma, skin rashes, hay fever, premature baldness, inebriety, nervous exhaustion, brain-collapse—all were symptoms of neurasthenia, the bizarre psychophysiological illness that plagued America's intellectual and economic elite around the turn of the century.More info →
I have no nostalgia for my childhood. I don’t remember it well — maybe less than I should — and I don’t miss it or long for it. I am in fact, grateful it’s over, as I don’t recall it being particularly fun or easy. As far as I can tell, childhood is a pretty scary time, with little control over your life, little understanding of what’s happening and why, and much to be afraid of (both real and unreal terrors).
Let’s start with a love story. A few years ago, Rose, my partner’s 97 year old grandmother, met a man named Hardy in her retirement home. This may be apocryphal, but I heard that Hardy saw Rose walking in the courtyard and thought, “That is a nice lady.” This is the part I’ve always loved because Rose walks very slowly and with difficulty, usually with a walker. He was completely right — she is a very nice lady — and they have been inseparable ever since. Rose and Hardy exercise together in the mornings; they watch movies in the evenings. Hardy has proposed to Rose though she doesn’t want to get married because of the hassle. Hardy is in his early 90’s, which makes him a younger man. The last time I saw Rose, she said to me incredulously, “I never thought I would meet the love of my life in my 90’s!” (Never mind that Rose had three children with her late husband — he was obviously not the one.) Hardy and Rose have been the King and Queen of their local Mardi Gras celebration for three years in a row.
I sometimes imagine genius as a very fast moving body of water. People naturally slip in and out but it’s impossible to jump in. Or it’s like living in a house, where I’m generally free to wander at will, but the upper floors are boarded up. I know there are people up there, I can hear them, but who knows how they got upstairs, it looks pretty locked to me. This isn’t something to take personally — you either have access or you don’t. And besides, I can’t think of a more appropriate application for that Groucho Marx quote: genius is exactly the kind of club I would resign from if it ever accepted a person like me as a member.
We went back and forth about whether this should be the “Comedy” or the “Humor” issue and eventually, as you can see, landed on the former. Comedy, after all, has connotations that humor doesn’t have. It implies a certain professionalism — it can of course, be a job and a big job at that; it also has an implicit goal. Comedy is meant to be funny or entertaining. Comedy also evokes its opposite — tragedy — and, in that evocation, lets its audience hope for a happy ending. It goes beyond something as amorphous as a sense. A sense of humor is certainly a good thing to have, more people should consider acquiring one, but right now the concrete seems more interesting. If humor is tragedy plus time, then comedy is humor plus politics, plus current events, plus social and economic circumstances. Comedy is humor plus the business of the world.
The worlds of art and writing have always been close — friendly at some moments, suspicious and derisive at others. They have met and interacted for many years, mostly through the work of the stricken souls who travel in between, spending time in both places, trying to describe and explain one to the other. This is a difficult task, as bridging worlds usually is. They’ve been traveling for many years, since Samuel Richardson and Tristram Shandy, Baudelaire and Picasso, and yet, despite the years, the task remains just as difficult as it always was.
Perhaps we are in a revolution and perhaps we are not. It is sometimes hard to tell. Of course, that can’t always be the case, especially in revolutions that are full of violence or bloodshed, but there must be revolutions that we don’t see or don’t notice or don’t totally acknowledge. Or on the flip side, there are events that we are too quick to call by that name, when actually they aren’t really anything at all, except steps in a long and drawn out series of accidents.