April 9, 2006

"Boredom: the desire for desires."

I was thinking about boredom -- and not because I was bored -- so I read the Wikiquote quotes on Boredom. I liked the above-quoted one best, partly because it's concise, and I like concise. It's Tolstoy. I nearly chose this one, from Soren Kierkegaard: "Boredom is the root of all evil - the despairing refusal to be oneself." I found it fascinating, but then I realized I had no idea what he was talking about.

MORE: Yes, I know it's absurd to browse so shallowly by reading Wikiquotes on a subject I purport to be interested in. Here's Roger Kimball on Kierkegaard and boredom:
“All men are bores,” he wrote in “The Rotation Method” (a key essay in Either/Or).
Surely no one will prove himself so great a bore as to contradict me in this. . . . The gods were bored, and so they created man. Adam was bored because he was alone, and so Eve was created. Thus boredom entered the world, and increased in proportion to the increase of population. Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored together; then Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were bored en famille; then the population of the world increased, and the peoples were bored en masse. To divert themselves they conceived the idea of constructing a tower high enough to reach the heavens. This idea is itself as boring as the tower was high, and constitutes a terrible proof of how boredom gained the upper hand.
Kierkegaard was very astute on the subject of boredom. He understood “the curious fact that those who do not bore themselves usually bore others, while those who bore themselves entertain others.” He also understood that boredom could be far more than a passing mood of nameless dissatisfaction. In Kierkegaard’s view, boredom is essentially a spiritual malaise, endemic wherever a purely naturalistic conception of man holds sway. Hence he defines boredom as “the daemonic side of pantheism.” It is the dark side of a life devoted to amusement and pleasure. What happens when amusement palls and pleasure fails to please? Boredom yawns before one, a paralyzing abyss. (Compare Tolstoy’s definition of boredom as “the desire for desires.”) It is part of Kierkegaard’s task to show that boredom can only be defeated by moving beyond what he calls the “aesthetic” conception of life, a mode of life unleavened by moral or religious engagement.
There. I feel I've done right by Soren. Very good. "Those who do not bore themselves usually bore others." Ah, there is a lesson in that for professors everywhere! In fact, I was thinking about boredom in the context of thinking about a professor who was boring me. I won't say when or where! It's not you! And, no, you don't need to remind me that I am a professor. I willingly admit that I don't bore myself. I know what that means in Kierkegaard's calculation. At least he said usually.

"Those who do not bore themselves usually bore others." That directly contradicts the folk wisdom: If you're bored, it's because you are boring.

21 comments:

Dave said...

I think Kierkegaard has been playing an elaborate ruse: he sounds isnightful but is saying nothing.

Pretty much like most philosophers.

James R Ament said...

Boredom is the word we use when we expect somebody else to make our life intersting. It's on the order of the Roman ruler demanding of his slave: "Peel me a grape."

James R Ament said...

"Interesting" Jeeze, can't spell this morning.

Ann Althouse said...

JR: I was thinking about boredom not in the context of being on my own (which most of the quotes refer to) but in the context of having someone else bore me. Actually, I was searching for tips to get out of a boring conversation with someone you don't want to disrespect.

Old Dad said...

Ann, this one always works:

"Excuse me, my Ebola is acting up."

Karl said...

From Kierkegaard's point of view, boredom is simple discontent with your plain state of being.

It is from which all evil springs because the traditional response is to look toward others to discover ways of improving your state, to create a better humor.

The quote is characteristic of his work, anti-Hegelian, anti-dialectical. We are A, and we should revel in it. We do not need some B that will show us how to be C.

-kd

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ricardo said...

"I found it fascinating, but then I realized I had no idea what he was talking about."

I adore your quote (above). It applies to so many things in our contemporary culture, which catch our eyes or ears because of the glitz, and which then on examination turn out to be shallow, vapid, or worse ... boring.

Simon said...

I don't think I've been bored since the last time I sat on a transatlantic flight. The very idea of having enough time to be bored is seductive.

Joan said...

I think that being bored on your own and being bored by someone else are very different things.

Being bored on your own is, I think, a sign of personal deficiency, or as J R Ament said, the desire to have somebody else make our life interesting. I deal with this several times a week when my 7-year-old declares she's bored. My response is always the same: It's not my job to entertain you. I think this type of boredom is closely linked to the belief that acquiring things is the only way to attain happiness. I think (hope) most people grow out of this type of boredom. I can't think of any adults who'll declare "I'm bored," the way children and teenagers do.

Being bored by someone is a very different thing, since what's really happening is that you are having to act against your own desires in deference to someone else. The I don't want to be here, I don't want to listen to this feeling encompasses the unspoken because there is something else I would much rather be doing!

Being bored on your own is not having the imagination to find something to do. Being bored by someone else is suffering from an abundance of imagination, of all the interesting things you could be doing if you didn't have to listen to this boring person.

Unfortunately I don't see any escape from occasionally being bored by others. There never seems to be a shortage of other, more interesting things we could be doing, when we're forced to do something else.

Fitz said...

Soren Kierkegaard's quote can be understood as Karl(above)outlined. To flesh it out more completely though, it can be understood from his Christ centric thinking. As the coiner of the term Christendom (which is about as properly used as meritocracy) We are of a fallen nature. We are separated from God. Boredom tends toward evil in as much as it does not lead us toward Christ. Our frustration with our incompleteness stems from our emphasis on materialism, which itself is rooted in a lack of authentic Christian devotion.

Christy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ann Althouse said...

Did Christy delete her post because it was too boring or because it was too interesting? Answer: too interesting! I was going to comment on it, but she took it down.

James R Ament said...

Ann Althouse: "I was searching for tips to get out of a boring conversation with someone you don't want to disrespect."

1. Speed things up. Pretend to be exceedingly interested. Ask several probing questions; move the conversation along by actually trying to dominate it, then find a reason to duck out fast.

2. If that's too much trouble, apologize then offer the vague, "But I really have to go." It's a whiter lie than giving a lying reason.

3.Say, "You must be mistaking me for someone who cares." Oops! It won't work if you don't want to show disrespect. Okay, #1 or #2.

ignacio said...

Best songs about boredom: Iggy Pop's "I'm Bored" (which has the line "I'm the Chairman of the Bored") and Destroy All Monsters "Bored."

The Clash were just posing (and lying, and seeking easy British applause) when Joe Strummer sang "I'm so bored with the USA." He wasn't, actually.

Henry said...

I've always liked John Berryman's poetic essay on boredom, from Dream Song 14:

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatedly) 'Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

Wince and Nod said...

"Those who do not bore themselves usually bore others." That directly contradicts the folk wisdom: If you're bored, it's because you are boring.

For every cliche there is an equal but opposite cliche.

Yours,
Wince

mdmnm said...

Jane wrote:
"I deal with this several times a week when my 7-year-old declares she's bored. My response is always the same: It's not my job to entertain you. I think this type of boredom is closely linked to the belief that acquiring things is the only way to attain happiness."
My mother's response to the declaration "I'm bored" was to find something for us to do, usually involving chores. Similarly, if my sibling or I responded "nothing" when asked what we were doing, we were given "something" to do right away. Consequently, we were never bored and always had something to do.

Joseph White said...

"Those who do not bore themselves usually bore others." That directly contradicts the folk wisdom: If you're bored, it's because you are boring."

My interpretation of this quote is that people who find themselves utterly fascinating are usually boring to other people.

Ann Althouse said...

JoeZ: So, in other words, it's not a contradiction. The jerk who thinks he's interesting is really boring and the folks who are bored are also boring. Just a lot of boring people, boring in different ways. Is anyone not boring? Maybe someone who is bored by himself, but becomes involved with others by amusing them.

Julian said...

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee..” - St Augustine

I think a prerequisite for boredom is spiritual malaise, since one lacks a proper interior life. That being said, I do find Kierkegaard true from examples in my life, from those who easily get bored but are excellent in company, as they enjoy being entertained as well being appreciated for being entertaining. They thrive on external stimulation, and lack a proper emotional, intellectual and spiritual life, therefore are easily bored when alone.