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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Live for Work or Work to Live

Alain de Botton has a feel for capturing an image, spooling the powerful line of dialogue at a key moment, and building a frame around a subject which, often, can be lost in the details. I was not happy with his book “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work” … at least not at first. His focus was not what I had expected: a protracted exposé, using multiple interviewees, on what work can and cannot be; what it is and what it is not. But then I realized I had unrealistic, or myopic, expectations; when I opened myself to the possibilities of what he WAS doing (rather than what I had expected him to do), I found those exposés and interviews and “what it all (can) mean” of the work world. His focus was that of a bee sensing the flowers, dodging back to the hive, bringing the swarm, and then depositing all those individual pollen particles into the hive that, eventually, creates the honey. The effect was to weave together several tapestries that produced a far larger map than previously was available on the philosophy of work.


july 18, 2011

“There are few jobs in which years’ worth of labour can be viewed in a quick scan of four walls and even fewer opportunities granted to us to gather all our intelligence and sensitivity in a single place. Our exertions generally find no enduring physical correlatives. We are diluted in gigantic intangible collective projects, which leave us wondering what we did last year and, more profoundly, where we have gone and quite what we have amounted to. We confront our lost energies in the pathos of the retirement party.”

– Alain de Botton, “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work” (“painting”)

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