Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Existential Boredom

Should I feel sympathy for those who are indifferent, for the existentially bored? I can't deny feeling an empathy with the profoundly bored, but should I sympathize with them? Lars Svendsen (A Philosophy of Boredom, trans. John Irons, London: Reaktion Books, 2005) asks us to think of boredom as woven into the fabric of the modern condition. He is especially concerned with a type of boredom he calls existential boredom, which is not a question of idleness but rather of a loss of meaning (p. 34). Provocatively, Svendsen identifies indifference rather than alienation as the condition that enables boredom (p. 36). If I were to sympathize with the bored because they have interiorized an awful indifference of modernity, because they have made a loss of meaning their own, I would not only risk disrespecting the existential freedom of the bored, I would risk not seeing boredom for what it is. My sympathies then would in effect be meaningless. "It is impossible," Svendsen tells us, "to make any clear distinction between the respective contributions made by the subject and object to boredom, because the emptiness of the subject and object is so interwoven" (p. 44). Svendsen says, "One feels bored, for boredom does not have any content that would make it mine" (p. 41, Svendsen's emphases). Is there a person whose feeling of loss I can sympathize with, that I should sympathize with?


Boredom, according to Svendsen, is "a death within life, a non-life" (pp. 40-41). I don't extend to my sympathies to the dead, but to those who live with death, to those who feel the loss of others. Does one live with boredom, or is boredom a way of not living? How can one feel and not be living? How can I not sympathize with one who feels?


"Boredom is connected to reflection, and in all reflection there is a tendency towards a loss of world" (p. 33). Again, I empathize with those who reflect, but I am not sure whether I should sympathize with them. Does the thinker who fights to the tendency towards loss, and fails, succumbing to indifference, deserve my sympathies? What of the thinker who succumbs without a struggle?


What is the relationship between boredom and the experience of an uncertain subject? Existential boredom, Svendsen argues, "must fundamentally be understood on the basis of a dearth of accumulated experience. The problem is that we try to get beyond this boredom by piling on increasingly new and more potent sensations and impressions, instead of allowing ourselves time to accumulate experience" (p. 45, Svendsen's emphasis). Let's say I value rumination. It allows me time to accumulate an experience of thinking. Yet I have ample ground for empathizing with those who do not ruminate, for the glib, and I can't easily assign a responsibility for rumination. One of the characteristics of modern individualism is that it places a burden on the individual person to create or discover meaning for her own life, and the more life is focused on the individual, the "stronger the insistence on [finding] meaning amongst the trivialities of everyday life will become" (p. 27). Can I blame somebody for not finding meaning amongst trivialities? Can I be sure that boredom isn't such a triviality, that it truly is a big philosophical problem that Svendsen makes of it? "Only a problematic self feels the need for realization," Svendsen tells us (p. 32). I wouldn't want to make a further problem of somebody's self by suggesting that they shouldn't feel bored, that they should find their own meaning for their life. Yet I am not sure that finding one's own meaning in life doesn't alleviate the suffering of boredom. The "person" who suffers boredom has been bequeathed a problematic self. The suffering of boredom may be a price paid for the resistence to the problematic self. Certainly then I wouldn't pity the bored. It is difficult, though, to find common cause with the existentially bored, so long and insofar as they have succumbed to indifference.


I think there's a lot to be said for accumulating experience together. Sympathy for the bored may not foster togetherness. I don't know that it's a bad thing to sympathize with the bored. Perhaps, though, it misses the point (or pointlessness) of boredom.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:21 AM.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boredom, doubt, and discomfort are the always primary afflictions of being a meat-body "personality".

Doubt is not transcended through either knowledge or belief. Doubt is a state of mind that is fundamentally without content. It is an expression of the doubt of BEING altogether.

Boredom, likewise, is not transcended through application of attention to what is interesting. That activity is in fact an essentially futile way of escaping boredom, not transcending it. Boredom does not have any content.It is an expression of the doubt of BEING altogether.

Discomfort, again, has no content. It is not truly released through self-indulegence, but through transcendence of the contracting power of the doubt of BEING altogether.

Boredom, doubt, and discomfort represent the contractions of the three fundamental levels of the being, if we conceive of the being in physical, emotional, and mental terms. Doubt is an affliction of mind. Boredom is an affliction of our emotional nature. And discomfort is an affliction or contraction at the physical level of being, of general uptightness.
Also these three primary afflictions blend in with each other. Altogether they provide a description of the usual man.

All of our life strategies, indeed all of our so called "culture" is entirely and only about trying to alleviate these three afflications. With rare exception there is nothing else going on.

September 11, 2007 8:45 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Interesting. I think there is a sense in which Svendsen might say that boredom expresses a doubt about being. On the other hand, that may go to far. He says boredom is marked by expressionlessness, and indifference. Wouldn't the bored person have to overcome indifference in order to actively doubt being?

I think the breakdown of being into fundamental physical, emotional and mental levels is problematical. Svendsen aims at a more holistic description of boredom. It isn't merely an emotional state in his view, though the feelings associated with boredom are important.

I appreciate that Svendsen doesn't mean to descibe an affliction of every human being in all cultures in all times. He means to describe the condition of those living in modern culture with its characteristic indifference, superabundance of diversions, emphasis on the individual, and a sort of "democratization" of boredom.

September 12, 2007 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous's comment seems v. sure of itself...

Didn't Heidy go on a bit about boredom...(the fascist druid to use Deleuze's amusing quip - smile).

Almost a transcendent perspective on the 'usual man'.

What space is left there for creative experimentation and anything other than cynical denunciation?

Could anonymous give some examples of the 'rare exceptions'?
Are there any unusual 'men' or women?

P.

September 13, 2007 12:43 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Hi, Paul.

Yeah, the fascist druid went on a bit about boredom. I think I touched on that with respect to Marion's going on about profound boredom. Svendsen reads the druid too, but has more to say, I think. He also has better taste in poets. The idea of creative experimentations in boredom (I'll take credit for that if you don't want to) makes me think of Pessoa, one of Svendsen's cherished writers.

September 13, 2007 7:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The rare examples of the un-usual man are the saints, yogis and mystics, and sages.

Altogether in one way or another they really discovered something remarkable about existence-being altogether.

They are also the real source(s) and inspiration of authentic human culture.

September 13, 2007 9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

True creativity only occurs when the usual solidified left brained created self sense dissolves,thus allowing free psychic participation in the multi-dimensional transformative space of the world-process altogether.

All of the truly great works of art are/were "created" via this process. And all truly great works of art invite the "viewer" into this transformative space.

I also quite like this quote from Carlos Castaneda who was very popular once upon a time.

"In European membership the world is built largely from what the eyes report to the mind. In sorcery the total body is used as a perceptor. As Europeans we see (or imagine) a world out "there" and talk about it. We are "here" and the world is "there". Our eyes feed our "reason" and we have no direct knowledge of things. According to socery this burden on the eyes is unnecessary. We know with the total body"

September 13, 2007 9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny that sorcery should come up

Currently reading isabelle Stengers' 'Capitalist Sorcery: practices of debewitchment'. (La Sorcellerie Capitaliste: pratiques de desenvoutement).

In this interesting analysis we are spellbound by a sorceric system without sorcerers and we need to learn strategies to prevent our capture...
Isabelle returns to the slogan of Seattle (and Starhawk) 'Another world is possible -
p

September 13, 2007 11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes I would agree capitalism is the anti-"cultural" form created in in the image of scientism which it could be argued is a form of black magic.

September 14, 2007 3:44 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I really mean to learn French. I just had an email exchange with Fran├žois-David Sebbah filtered through Google translation. There are books by Henry and Richir I'd like to read, and I'd like to read Isabelle's Cosmopolitique. And it wouldn't hurt me to read Merleau-Ponty, Nancy, Deleuze or Barbaras in French. If I start taking French classes next year at least I won't be bored--not like that's really a problem.

September 14, 2007 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hola.
sounds like you will be busy! to read philosophical french does take time...
Mind you I didn't start learning (running a cafe in montmartre) until I was old (smile).

But you don't have to read every phenomenological story! They do ramble on a bit

just restarted relearning spanish after a 20yr gap...I wonder why...
p.

September 14, 2007 2:14 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I figure three or four years and a trip to France will get me started. I've spent ten years thinking about it. I want to do something about my ignorance.

September 14, 2007 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, it's not hard - just learning vocab takes a little time --- when illich's centre in Cuenevarca taught spanish the students had to memorize many words each day. You can learn a lot in six months - and it snowballs....I didn't learn in school

hasta la proxima

September 14, 2007 9:05 PM  
Blogger NanoFiberKnot said...

The anonymous person who posted on Sept. 14 at 3:44am went way, way too far. Excessive scientism may potentially be problematic, but there's nothing wrong with better living via scientific inquiry as long as powerful entities don't use it to subjugate and enslave. Remember, the qualitative differences between scientist and shaman are due to cultural orientations. The intents are the same: figure stuff out so people can live better, abuse power/gifts for personal gain, and/or have a hell of a fun time.

November 05, 2009 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Remember, the qualitative differences between scientist and shaman are due to cultural orientations. The intents are the same: figure stuff out so people can live better, abuse power/gifts for personal gain, and/or have a hell of a fun time."

The problem with any discipline/culture/belief is the restrictions it places on the mind. Science for instance only accepts a certain part of the mind. Same for the others.

All the activities of Western culture exist because of restrictions on the mind - repression superficially, but deep down the restrictions are fundamental to the Western activity. The individual is condemned in the West - that is why education exists in the form it does, education seeks to prevent individuality from flowering. And this damages the natural connection man has to the 'source' (God whatever you call it).

And so when someone with a powerful mind discovers that the world is empty of meaning he is left only with boredom. Because his connection with the 'source' has been profoundly damaged by his culture.

Although the bored man has come out of his culture, he still operates from the culture - he is unable either to be with boredom without judging it (Western mind's view is always to judge), or to step into and trust the unknown (Western mind is against the loss of control).

Meditation, surrender, prayer can take you from boredom to realisation quite quickly if you have guts - and it is not too difficult, just sit on the floor and do it. Life is designed to work, and there is help within.

You just do it. Plunge into the unknown. Let go of judgement. Surrender.

October 31, 2011 5:15 AM  

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