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20th October 2013, 21:49
Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez
Philosophizing Ennui


We’ve invented a civilization of perpetual entertainment in order to keep the monster of boredom at bay. Our world is lined with sounds, so that we won’t perceive the silent abyss. Games surround us, so we can stave off the anxiety of waiting. We kill time through ongoing, empty communications. A fight to the death against any idle moments. A fairly idiotic blog has even decreed the victory of technology over boredom. The argument is laughable: the tools and games of the new Nomad (iPod, Blackberry, GameBoy) have finally defeated tedium, that sinister nemesis of vivacity.

Lars Svendsen, a professor from the Norwegian city of Bergen, has published A Philosophy of Boredom (The University of Chicago Press, 2004). The mere thought of a Norwegian philosopher expounding on the phenomenology of boredom may seem like imminent torture: a slow death by run-on paragraphs of hermetic erudition. But in fact, it’s quite the contrary. A text filled with humor and density; a fresh, sharp reflection. A Philosophy of Boredom is a book with all the grace and passion of a good metaphysical essay. The imprecision of the experience described therein finds its precise form in the essay’s meandering. Svendsen does not go out in search of a definition; he presents a mosaic of sketches in order to gain a better understanding of the overwhelming nature of boredom. Thus, he wanders: from the germination of the word to its theology; from Samuel Beckett to the Sex Pistols; from the cinema of Cronenberg to the philosophy of Kierkegaard; from Andy Warhol’s notebooks to Pascal’s Thoughts.

Boredom, that vague, unimpulsive desire, is born out of criticism. It expresses deep dissatisfaction with everything that’s going on, with all that one possesses, with existence itself. And the mother of modern boredom is a sin: acedia, an existential meringue that plagued religious orders. A slothful monk commits the deadliest of sins: he snubs the creator; he dares to despise him, judging his creation incomplete. Indeed, Svendsen makes much of the fact that at the French court, boredom was exclusively the king’s prerogative. The monarch could yawn during a play or an audience, but no one else was allowed to show any signs of boredom in the monarch’s presence. That would be equivalent to dismissing him as boring: unforgivable insolence. Because anyone can tolerate a bore. What’s unbearable are those who find us boring.

Boredom is the hijacking of nonsense. “To suffer without suffering, to love without will, to think without rationale,” as expressed by that spokesman of disquiet, Fernando Pessoa. In our time, boredom nests within the absence of personal meaning. Our Norwegian philosopher suggests that this is due to the fact that everything reaches us already codified, resolved, digested. But we also need to find our own meaning. “Man is a being who creates his own universe, a being who actively builds his world. But, if everything is ciphered and codified beforehand, the active constitution of the world turns out to be superfluous. Thus we lose the capacity for friction in our relationship to the world. We, the Romantics, require sense that is susceptible to being made on our own, and those who throw themselves into this task of self-realization confront, necessarily, the problem of meaning.”

This burnout doesn’t seem to have any solution. Neither the empire of fashion and its routine novelty, nor the artifacts that burn away time, are cures. They may even be quite the opposite: by depending on all of our gadgets, we confess our incapacity to individualize ourselves from our selves. Perhaps Joseph Brodsky will come to the rescue: instead of fleeing from boredom, we ought to embrace it. In a brief, but luminous essay, titled precisely “In praise of boredom,” the Russian poet suggests that there is no encounter with time more profound in all its brutality, redundancy, and monotonous splendor than that which is experienced within the belly of boredom. Boredom is our window towards infinity.

20th October 2013, 22:00

20th October 2013, 22:04
How can anyone ever get bored (except when teenager, they are professionals at it). I am literally never bored, I do not have time for it, and it is not due to Entertainment or over stimulation. It is due to starting to work and having projects or being creative.

Personnaly, dépressions are much more a factor in my psyche than boredom.

20th October 2013, 22:10

This is not the Age of Anxiety. This is the Age of Boredom. Auden was wrong; Baudelaire was right.

Boredom is ubiquitous in modern western societies, and especially in the United States, where it may very well be the impetus behind what we see in horror films, pornography, and the violent and absurd headlines of daily newspapers.

Unconvinced? Well, you would be right to be skeptical; after all, so little is said about it.

Perhaps because of its pervasiveness we have failed to give it the attention that it deserves. This is especially true of modern philosophers who, though they have dedicated great intellectual energy to the study and analysis of film, music, television and video games (take a look at, for example, Blackwell’s very successful Philosophy and Popular Culture series), have had very little to say about the problem of boredom.

The Norwegian philosopher Lars Svendsen is a notable exception, and his essays are bound to be of great interest to those who wish to better understand the forces that are currently animating contemporary western culture.

In the preface to A Philosophy of Boredom (2005), the first of three book-length essays to be published by Reaktion Books in the UK, Svendsen explains that his motive for writing the book was “a certain dissatisfaction with contemporary philosophy” and the “boredom-related death of a close friend”. Songs such as G.G. Allin’s “Bored to Death” and Depeche Mode’s “Something to Do”, he realized, “suddenly became real. These songs stood out as the soundtracks of our lives.”

There are, of course, different types of boredom: situative (i.e., situational) boredom is very different from existential boredom, he argues. “Situative boredom contains a longing for something that is desired, existential boredom contains a longing for any desire at all.” It is this latter case that Svendsen is most interested in, and while Svendsen cites many of the usual suspects when discussing it—Beckett, Kierkegaard, Heidegger—he never strays too far from popular art and culture in his attempt to explore boredom and its various guises and manifestations.

Two of the most insightful analyses are of J.G. Ballard’s Crash and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which Svendsen considers both as films and as literary texts. In them, Svendsen argues that modern westerners live in a world bereft of “symbolic capital”, a world in which myths and religion are considered of little value; ergo, the birth of boredom is concomitant with the death of God in the West. Indeed, the word boredom, he tells us, is not found in English before the 1760s. The French ennui and the Italian noia have roots in Latin that go back to the 13th century, but the etymology of the word is different. Boredom as we know it, Svendsen argues, represents a crisis of meaning.

In a world without symbolic capital, a world devoid of mythical or religious depth, the notion of transcendence becomes incomprehensible; in its place, we moderns extol transgression, facets of which are explored in books and films like Crash and American Psycho. There, we see that “the crucial thing is whether or not an act is beautiful,” not whether it is ethical. “The ethical is subordinate to the aesthetic.”

This is as disturbing as it is profound and illuminating. One is reminded of the murder carried out by Leopold and Loeb in the early 20th century and immortalized by Alfred Hitchcock in the film Rope. Drawing from an essay by Thomas De Quincey, Svendsen observes in A Philosophy of Fear (2008), that, regardless of what we may think of it morally, “murder creates an aesthetic response in the observer”; the senses are stimulated and the effect is visceral. Edmund Burke, Svendsen notes, argued convincingly that “we find it satisfying to watch things that not only would we be unable to get ourselves to carry out but would rather not have seen carried out”. Shockingly, murder may also be considered an art.

Modern westerners are so afraid of being bored that even fear has become attractive to us. Svendsen eloquently notes that “fear lends color to the world. A world without fear would be deadly boring.” If our lives are boring, then “to see a horror film or play some terrifying computer game are safe ways of experiencing dangers.” Against the existential malaise of boredom, fear may be a palliative, “something that can counteract a boring everyday life.”

The problem is that even transgression becomes boring. This is perhaps more readily evident in the world of fashion, which Svendsen explores in Fashion: A Philosophy (2006). Here, too, the possibility of transcendence has given way to transgression. Even the body has become an aesthetic concern. “Fasting,” Svendsen points out, “was a central Christian practice in the Middle Ages, indicating that the spirit was stronger than the flesh.” Modern dieting, instead, is “motivated by a desire to shape the body, not the soul.” And, if at one time fashion aimed for glamour, it now aims, somewhat futilely, to titillate and shock, because “after a while transgression ceases to mean anything… the atrocious is no longer capable of creating any sort of feeling…” In sum, the attempt to overcome boredom through aestheticism is bound to fail.

Svendsen is overtly pessimistic. In the preface to A Philosophy of Boredom he writes: “This book is an attempt to develop thoughts about what boredom is, when it arose, why it did so, why it afflicts us, how it does so and why it cannot be overcome by any act of will.” Svendsen struggles with this issue in all of these books, regardless of the title. Indeed, although they stand alone, one can easily imagine them as chapters of a single volume. Certainly many of the passages from any one of the essays would sit comfortably in either of the others.

Fortunately, this month has also seen the issue of a hitherto unpublished essay from 1974 by the British existentialist Colin Wilson, titled Notes on Boredom. It is available as a Kindle download, and hopefully marks an increasing interest in the topic by serious philosophers. In the essay, which was written in response to a newspaper article (which is also published in the edition), Wilson discusses boredom and, like Svendsen, identifies different types. Yet Wilson is more optimistic and would disagree with Svendsen, at least on one point. For Wilson, boredom can be overcome by human will. “It is a mistake to say that something is boring,” he claims, “a form of the pathetic fallacy. We allow ourselves to be bored.” “The real cure,” he continues, “is insight.”

This being the case, although Lars Svendsen may not have the cure to our modern malaise, he has perhaps pointed us in the right direction by clearly identifying it. Hopefully, more contemporary philosophers will follow his lead.

Jon Morris

20th October 2013, 22:14

20th October 2013, 22:26


20th October 2013, 23:13
i found one of the greatest challenges in my maturing years is not boredom in and of itself ... But trying to navigate around individuals who have lost their desire for life ...

One might imagine considering all the uncertainties that are currently inundating us all upon this planet ... that these conditions would (should) rouse anyone from life's (existential) boredom ... But perhaps when floundering within this state of boredom... one might note its mirrored opposite of suffering ... With only the alternative buffer zone known as busyness as a remedy ...

Though i have found sleep (sometimes) to be a viable natural drug of choice ... :p

20th October 2013, 23:25
It makes me think of the society in terms of ''emitters'' and ''receivers'' and there has to be balance maintained between the two poles,
and it's kept artificially .

I don't dare to throw any statistical estimation here because the percentage grows with societal evolution ,
in small ( tribal ) societies, creativity is natural , with 10 people out of 100 who are more creative than everyone else, to put it easy . Naturally creative people do not get bored . I don't remember I'd ever get bored in my life ( and I'm NOT overly creative type of person, but I have so much to think about that the Space is not a limit .. )
Creative people turn to be natural 'emitters' . They produce all from music, arts, information, works of literature and science, you can 't stop them from producing something.
Some of the natural 'emitters' simply talk, or perform and burn all their energy in it .
Naturally, they need 'receivers' on the other end, people to make use of their productions , talks , books, information, you'd say 'consumers' but that's not exactly what I mean.

'Receivers' can be turned to 'transceivers' , and to 'emitters' when necessary but society tries to maintain balance .

If everyone got high on creativity and kept producing information at the same time there won't be enough people to entertain and that would be equally bad .

It's what has slowly but surely started to happen with the days of e-gadgets and the internet. Everyone has blogs, writes e-books, produces youtube videos .
Even the quality of all that slowly improves which is great and inevitable but on the other hand , it is more difficult if not impossible to reach the next stage of creative genius where you mature in your own style, through several stages as it used to be in the past when arts and science were more of solitary than group adventures .

The energy becomes scattered. Thousands of scientists, artists and con-artists alike, with distinctions between each category turning less obvious produce millions of pages filled with fairly credible pursuits .

Who is on the receiving end, you may ask, well , the new generation ..of course, someone is .

But society trying to maintain balance, it does not need too many 'emitters' at the same time,
so it always tries to burn some straight on the stage , burry others, creates stronger sense of competition, and ways how to make you less creative .

It creates ways of permanent impairment of creative abilities which is the ultimate MK Ultra . Creates ways how to prevent big percentage of healthy and naturally creative people to helpless consumers ,
forces them to corners when they start 'needing' others information as therapy for example .

To cover the crime, the same society creates illusion of 'teaching creativity' to crowds, awakening their abilities in manifold ways, offering courses to about everything imaginable regardless you're really gifted in that field or not .
For what it risks is nothing, by practising an art you are entertained, harm no one and become no one , especially while that's not your natural 'call' to do it.

But why this all is possible , at all .. is because of 'controllers' , those too are natural part of every society. Controllers don't have to be particularly creative , they are not easily entertained either, all they really enjoy is pulling the strings and being the neck of every society .

They will tell you who should perform and where you should sit, for best views .


21st October 2013, 05:35

A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.

All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.

There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be among those who come after.

Ecclesiastes 1:4-11

21st October 2013, 05:44
Albert Durer, Melencolia, 1514.