When I look back on my life and try to understand why it has been such a failure, the key, I think, is in my inability to endure boredom. Or perhaps I should say my inability to endure boredom for the sake of making money. In this, I am spiritually one with the street people, the addicts, the semi-professional criminals – with all of those who never quite grew up, whose immaturity is caught in their throat. The difference is that, among the decayed Peter Pan gang, there is – as you will find out very quickly if you talk to them - an astonishing nostalgia for the larva days – high school pranks, days of honey in the suburban hive. I hate that shit, which bored me at the time, and bores me in memory still.
And yet, at the same time, I am enmeshed in activities that may seem, and probably are, boring to most of workaday America. And, to add to the problem of being bored in America, I find the culture of entertainment that has been foisted upon that workaday world – and eagerly adopted – to be, if not completely boring, at least boring enough that I know little about it. The TV, the pop movies, the celebrity culture – I can’t keep up because I can’t concentrate, I can’t remember what it is all about. And I can’t remember because I am not moved by it.
Which makes me want to start over again and ask whether my failure, here, is not so much that I fly from boredom, as that I am bored at the wrong time and by the wrong things. Add to this another confusion: although sometimes I will say, like anybody else, that such and such a thing is boring – and mean, like anybody else, that it is contemptible, that I would like to step on it, shit on it, spit on it, expel it – at other times I despise this kind of language. Boredom, I think – at these other times – is a kind of test, an exercise. It has a necessity, especially in relation to the ecstatic, the sublime, the interesting. To fly boredom in these cases is to fly the depths. To be unable to be bored is to be unable to be. All of which ties me into knots.
Kierkegaard, in the Concept of Dread (or Anguish), has a lot to say about boredom. In the fourth chapter, Kierkegaard asks what happened to the demons. Why do Christians no longer talk about the demons in 19th century Europe? Are they ashamed?
This is the starting point for Kierkegaard’s discussion of the demonic. He makes a two-fold approach to the demonic. One approach is to see it in terms of communication. Communication, for Kierkegaard, is ultimately about revelation, and revelation is ultimately about the divine. Every act of true revelation is divine. And revelation is at the heart of communication. Thus, every act of non-revelation is on the side of the devil, the ‘spirit of negation’. The demon is, ultimately, non-communicative – on the ethical level. In the German translation I take this from, the word is Verschlossene. However, what is the content of revelation, or communication? What is affirmed? The affirmed is, ultimately, the continuous. Continuity itself. The devil’s part, then, is the sudden – the Plotzlich, that which puts itself in opposition to the continuous.
Here we have to engage in some dialectical shenanigans, because if the divinely continuous is really to be continuous, it must contain the sudden. Revelation, after all, has its own suddenness. This gets us to boredom. Boredom is, Kierkegaard maintains, incommunicable – it expresses nothing. This is because its content is the Inhalflos – the content-less. The content of boredom is no content.
This polarity between the sudden and the continuous explains the boring core of entertainment, which relies on the sudden as its structuring principle. Myself, possessed by the l’wa of boredom, long for a continuum of suddenness – for the ultimate miracle, for nothing to become something.
Here’s a bit from K. I’m translating, remember, from the German.
“The demonic is the content-less, the boring. Since I have permitted myself to direct attention to the aesthetic problem by the mention of the sudden, in as much as evil lets itself be represented, I will now once more take up this question in order to explain what I’ve been saying. As soon as one gives speech to the demon and wants to represent him, the artist who is supposed to solve such a problem must be clear about his categories. He knows, that the demonic is essentially mimic; he cannot thus achieve the sudden, then this blocks the dialogic. Like a blunderer, he won’t try to pull off an effect by beating out many words, etc. – as if that gave us a true effect! He thus chooses correctly just the opposite, boredom. To the sudden there corresponds a kind of continuity as well, the immortality of boredom, a continuity in nothingness. .. Freedom takes its rest in continuity; the sudden figures not only the opposite, but as well the opposite of the “rest”, of which a person can give us a good impression who seems as if he were long dead and buried.”
The dead and buried person is the person, to my mind, who is selling his or her boredom for money. And using that money to buy plenty of nothing – suddenness in all its multiple forms and varieties. Myself, I am, of course, bored in the culture of the bored, but I fail to find my boredom, lightly transformed, entertaining.
Odile Gilon et Christian Brouwer (éd.) : La liberté au Moyen Âge - *Librairie Philosophique Vrin - Novembre 2017 - Annales de l'Institut de philosophie et de sciences morales* Peut-on parler de liberté au Moyen Âge? Le s...
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