Thursday, 26 January 2012

Creative hedonism

The rapacity of the creative can know no satiety.

Back in November, Bill Kaye-Blake was bored by a SciFi story that found the end of scarcity: what's then left to do? I suggested the protagonists could find ever more creative forms of hedonism.

Turns out, this isn't a new suggestion. Arts & Letters Daily points to a nice bit of history:
Petronius, if the historical record is any guide, had every reason to be a snob. In a court full of decadents, he was the most refined of all. This is how Tacitus paints him: "He spent his days in sleep, his nights in attending to his official duties or in amusement, that by his dissolute life he had become as famous as other men by a life of energy, and that he was regarded as no ordinary profligate, but as an accomplished voluptuary [erudito luxu]."
It's the two most incongruous words in that passage that point us toward Petronius' chief insight into pleasure and abundance: "accomplished voluptuary." How can anyone be accomplished at taking pleasure? Isn't that something anyone can do? Yes, under most circumstances. But under decadent circumstances, such as Trimalchio's feast or Nero's court, pleasure becomes cheap. It must, at first, be exhilarating to find exquisite versions of the things we most want—food, sleep, sex—right at hand. But then comes the revelation that even with unlimited means, our capacity to take pleasure is itself limited. The usual enjoyments become repetitious and dull, until we can barely taste them at all, or remember how they once tasted. And it's at that point that Trimalchio and Petronius part ways: One flails to enjoy himself while the other becomes a scientist of pleasure. Under decadent circumstances, Petronius devises ever-more-original varie­ties of hedonism. [emphasis added]
Infovores follow Petronius in taking delight from the now decadent information environment; Trimalchio gets bored after uploading the millionth YouTube cat video.

6 comments:

  1. We could go the The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World way, with sadistic forms of hedonism. That's a bit dystopian though.

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    1. Will have to add that to the reading list...

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  2. So end of scarcity equals massive consumer surplus, consumers utilise surplus but on existing goods and services run in declining marginal utility problems, thereby generating demand for new services (assumption that end of scarcity applies to goods) such as bungy jumpy, sky diving, scuba diving and arguments on blogs :)

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    1. I can imagine satiety in individual goods consumed in specific ways. I cannot imagine that general satiation is possible.

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  3. I'm going to have to find a way to work 'erudito luxu' into everyday conversation!
    More recently, de Sade's writings were surprisingly...um...technical. He also made a science of pleasure-seeking, in a similarly voluptuous time.

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    1. My next adventures in unlocking the erudito luxu badge:
      http://www.zestuous.com/2011/08/brown-sugar-chili-bacon/

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