Idle Pursuits


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Idle Pursuits brings insights of social theory to bear on a literary corpus composed of masterpieces (such as Le Roman de la Rose and Les Essais) as well as less familiar texts including conduct books, romance, and personal letters. The concept of idleness provides a new frame for understanding Renaissance notions of social identity and its manipulation.
The point of departure for this book is the initial detachment of the "idle condition" from religious contemplation in the thirteenth century. Idleness passed from religious institutions and ideals (monastic otium) to first one secular elite (the feudal aristocracy) and later another (a new class of officeholding "gentlemen"). The gradual redefinition of leisure as a secular ideal constitutes the historical time frame for the analyses proposed. How did secular interests compete for control over the meaning and function of excess time and resources? This question underlies Krause's analysis of the birth of the modern contemplative, the commodification of leisure, and the exclusion of women from the realm of leisure.
Throughout this study, idleness is shown to be a key element of self-presentation beginning with the figure of the idle aristocrat. The extravagant display of a life of leisure made Gilles de Rais the icon of aristocratic idleness. But even the hardworking humanist was anxious to assume a studied posture of idleness. If both figures were eager to display idleness, it was because oisivete was an important source of what modern theorists have termed symbolic capital. Finally, the Renaissance also saw the birth of a new figure of the "idler": the consumer of leisure. For it was leisure itself along with chivalric and amorous adventure that was consumed by the readers of the popular Amadis series. At once a commodity and form of capital, idleness (otium) clearly belonged to the realm of social exchanges ostensibly reserved for affairs (negotium).

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