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Boredom As A Lost Art Form


Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard called it “the root of all evil.” The English Romantic poet William Wordsworth described it as a “savage torpor.” To Seán Desmond Healy, the author of one of several book-length studies on the subject, boredom is the “silent scourge” of modern culture. Known as “acedia” to centuries of Christians, it was nothing less than a sin.

As an elementary and secondary public school teacher, the most common lament I heard each day was “I’m bored.”

In an age of quick-cut MTV videos, overamped special-effects action flicks, hip-hop and urban radio blaring into our ears from every direction, the frantic chirping of our cell-phones and the insistent beeps of instant messaging, not to mention all of those readily available pharmaceuticals which have been designed to enhance the ‘dreariness’ of our day-to-day existence, it would appear that boredom is a facet of our prosaic lives that is to be avoided at all costs.

San Francisco Chronicle Arts and Culture Critic Steven Winn isn’t quite so sure that boredom is all that unhealthy a feature of our lives. Quoting choreographer Brenda Way who, when she finds herself in a sluggish lane of traffic, often stays put, “the unfocused, unintentional time of feeling bored ... opens the unconscious scanning that’s the very stuff of problem solving and creativity.”

Others have something to say on the subject, as well.

“Boredom is paradise,” exults the poet Billy Collins, by e-mail from New York. It’s “the blessed absence of what the world offers as ‘interesting,’ i.e., the lures of fashion, media and other people, which, you may recall, Sartre considered Hell.”

We’ll leave the final words on the subject of boredom to Winn: “A culture frantic to entertain, stimulate, divert and inform us is in no danger of drowning out boredom. If anything, it may make that placid sense of turning off and turning away, buoyantly detached and rising to the opportunity, more valuable than ever.”

Posted by Raymond Tomlin at April 4, 2004 9:31 PM in A & E


1 Comment

I don't know. To me, if boredom goes more than an hour or two, it feels very much like depression. I go so far as to bring two or three diversions when I just take the half an hour train ride to NY (a New Yorker, a book on tape and a journal -- but I must admit that the best part of the last train ride I took was actually falling asleep.

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