Rest and Action

To make a rare foray into popular culture, there is a genre of music, particular prevalent on YouTube, called “lo-fi hip hop”. The significance of the term “lo-fi” is itself an interesting case study in the stipulated and conventional meaning of language. But, leaving that history to the side, we may say that today this instrumental genre of music, which is often paired with anime visuals of solitary individuals or couples sitting and staring off into the distance or at the ground and quite probably smoking a cigarette, cultivates an aesthetic of rumination. The music and the visuals invite an attitude of quiet thinking, reflecting upon one’s day—week, month, year, life.

And some of these videos receive millions of views and thousands of comments. Collectively, the phenomenon of their popularity signifies a yearning poignantly felt in the contemporary human heart: the yearning for rest and peace, situations we evidently lack “in the swarm” (to use Byung-Chul Han’s apt phrase) of digital/post-digital life. To sit unperturbed with attention focused upon a single thought, to resolve the experience of life into a single, coherent narrative: this we all want.

But, all too often, this yearning takes for its object not true peace, but the absence of conflict: that is, the absence of the unpleasant, the displeasing, the obstacle. Truly, conflict is an impediment to peace. But, as Aristotle says, to the sick man, health is the good—and to the perturbed, quiet. In other words, the ruminative retreat from the world pointed at by this desire, when truly fruitful, not only disentangles the tensions of chaotic daily life. Rather, it grasps something true and good experienced therein or thereby and attempts the resolution of the bad in light of that good: thus, the rumination.

This is not an idleness, but an action—and one of which we ought today, more than ever, not allow ourselves to be deprived.

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