Whenever I really had fun, I hadn’t sought it and never called it that.  What times am I thinking of?

There was the time a select group of us young colleagues, who were fired for resisting the powers that be, spent a day at one victim’s country home.  Ostensibly, we were there to plot strategy but really for the wisecracks, the high jinx and the sense, briefly shared, of wild freedom.

An earlier time, toward the end of my last summer at Hilltop, three friends took an afternoon for ourselves on horseback.  I was ten, the second rider was an older girl who belonged somehow to the farm where we rented the horses, and the third was my friend Flossie, who at thirteen was my ideal of maturity.  An entire afternoon!  Neither Flossie nor I had ever had more than half an hour to ride in truncated circles round the farmer’s property.  Our afternoon climaxed with a tearing gallop up Old Stony Road.  It was matchless!

At a different time, I wandered at night with my friend Danny into Les Halles, then the open-air food market in Paris, where we had something to eat.  Later Danny would become a professor of literature, but then he was only the boy who could explain in detail what was unique about Marcel Proust.  It was cold.  Did we warm up with soup a l’oignon?  I’m no longer sure.  But I do recall that nothing, positively nothing, stood in our way.

What do these slices of life have in common?  We never called them “fun.”  They were not about that.  In the first slice, we had done the right thing and wanted, briefly, to enjoy that fact.  When I was ten and Flossie was thirteen, we loved horses.  When Danny and I were walking through the night-lit streets together, it was Paris sans fin.  Without end.  We loved Paris.  And, maybe too, literature a bit.

Contrast this with episodes that bore the heavy imprint of “fun”:

  • High school dances that were sweaty and always somebody else’s imposition on the new-minted adolescents.
  • Dates that had a rigorous pattern: he will pay but then will want payback and I will have no idea how to manage that part.  He doesn’t want to be here and I don’t want him here.  It will be awkward.
  • Competitive sports, where somebody (previously a buddy) had to lose, or else you had to.  Before the age where the winning and the losing came into it, I’d been naturally athletic.

What did all these instances of “fun” have in common?  Artifice.  Constraint.  Generic patterns.

Procrustes, in the ancient Greek myth, had a bed in which travelers would be somehow persuaded or constrained to stay the night.  If their legs were too short for the bed, Procrustes stretched them.  If too long, he cut them off at the knees.

The Bed of Procrustes is my idea of what passes for “fun” in the world.


About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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