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.

And there’s the key to understanding the often anesthetic effect of the Internet. Decadence doesn’t demand great wealth: Decadence is a useful way to understand any situation in which an existing pleasure becomes cheap, and it takes the ingenuity of a Petronius to fight off the boredom.

Link to the full article here.