The spir­i­tual cost of avoid­ing bore­dom

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INBOX - By GILES FRASER

THE boats on Roar­ing Wa­ter Bay are hardly mov­ing. The west Cork wind, of­ten fe­ro­cious, has dropped to a whis­per and the dinghies are aim­lessly bob­bing up and down on the tide. Ge­orge, the seag­ull, keeps me com­pany, look­ing out over the vast stretches of the At­lantic to­wards Amer­ica.

Noth­ing much is go­ing on. My body clock is still set to Lon­don, twitchily look­ing for the next fix of do­ing some­thing ex­cit­ing. But this tran­quil en­vi­ron­ment re­sists any de­mand for per­pet­ual ac­tiv­ity. There are no dis­trac­tions out here from me deal­ing with me. This is a good thing.

“He who com­pletely en­trenches him­self against bore­dom en­trenches him­self against him­self,” said Ni­et­zsche. De­com­pres­sion is neces- sary, but more emo­tion­ally prob­lem­atic than the sim­ple idea that a hol­i­day is all about fun, food and rest.

Au­gust of­ten sits on the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween calm and bore­dom and me­lan­cho­lia.

I stare at my com­puter screen and pon­der the prospect of a lit­tle af­ter­noon kip. I can’t quite be both­ered to work. The spir­i­tual writ­ers of the early church called it ace­dia – a sin, they thought, some­where be­tween sloth and world-weari­ness.

It was the “noon­day de­mon” that at­tacks the her­mit from the fourth hour to the eighth. Time stands still. Noth­ing re­ally mat­ters. Ace­dia is the ul­ti­mate cri­sis of mean­ing.

There is some­thing in­dul­gent about bore­dom. It makes me think of posh people in Rus­sian plays com­plain­ing they have noth­ing to do while other people work their ar­ses off in the field. As Schopen­hauer in­sisted, life for the per­son of means be­comes a ques­tion of how to dis­pose of sur­plus time. Maybe that’s why bore­dom feels like a prob­lem es­pe­cially as­so­ci­ated with Au­gust and not least with chil­dren on long car jour­neys.

But ac­cord­ing to the Nor­we­gian philoso­pher Lars Svend­sen, au­thor of A Phi­los­o­phy Of Bore­dom, bore­dom comes to take on a par­tic­u­lar and pos­si­bly darker in­flec­tion with moder­nity. Hav­ing been bored wit­less writ­ing his PhD about Kant, Svend­sen came to see a con­nec­tion be­tween his sub­ject and his state of mind.

With Kant, God is re­placed by the self as the ul­ti­mate source of mean­ing. As tra­di­tional struc­tures of mean­ing are wiped away, bore­dom comes to be re­garded as a very per­sonal sort of fail­ing. And in or­der to avoid it, var­i­ous dis­trac­tions are en­ter­tained: travel, drink, drugs, the Xbox, sex, trans­gres­sive be­hav­iour – all strate­gies of avoid­ance, all hint­ing at a des­per­ate de­sire to hold off the ac­knowl­edg­ment of mean­ing­less­ness. It is, says Svend­sen, a prob­lem char­ac­ter­is­tic of moder­nity. Whereas bore­dom was once bragged about as a mark of no­bil­ity, now it is the ul­ti­mate in per­sonal fail­ing. Those who are bored are losers.

Per­haps this is why the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try is more im­por­tant to us that we are of­ten pre­pared to ad­mit. It comes to per­form the role pre­vi­ously re­served for re­li­gion, where the weight of cre­at­ing mean­ing is not shoul­dered by the in­di­vid­ual alone. En­ter­tain­ment keeps mean­ing­less­ness at bay.

But pre­cisely be­cause tra­di­tional struc­tures of re­li­gious be­lief do not make mean­ing-gen­er­a­tion my own re­spon­si­bil­ity, it al­lows us to sit with bore­dom with con­sid­er­ably less fear. And this, in turn, al­lows us to sit with a con­di­tion that can po­ten­tially be much more cre­ative and re­flec­tive than be­ing stuck in front of the TV.

Think of those anx­ious mid­dle­class par­ents that con­stantly fill their chil­dren’s lives with im­prove­ment ac­tiv­i­ties.

It’s prob­a­bly health­ier just to let them be out in the gar­den and ex­pe­ri­ence bore­dom, thus leading to mak­ing up games or learn­ing to talk to each other.

But, as with these chil­dren’s overly man­aged lives, so too with their par­ents. We have be­come far too afraid of bore­dom and we do our­selves no favours by liv­ing a life con­tin­u­ally in flight from it. I look up from my com­puter. Ge­orge is still there.

All is well. – Guardian News & Me­dia

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