Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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February 08, 2007
Boredom Studies: The State of the Discipline, 2007

At TiR, we do not merely study boredom. We live it. We attempt to inflict it on the random Lost Souls who meander here in active efforts to drive them away
so we can enjoy our (structurally unachieveable, thus the more fun to attempt) blog "solitude"

kind of like this blog did (does?), one of the 1st we ever got a crush on

Over two years have elapsed since our last (blogpublic) systematic [ha!] treatment of boredom. Time for an update?

The evidently quite multifacted Ghita Schwarz now has published a great examination of boredom in the current Believer mag. I dutifully buy ASAP with excitement and skim with deflating excitement every single issue of the magazine. Hers is the first real "article" in it that's I've completed reading in prob about 1.5 years.

Her article works on a number of levels.

First, it should be distributed as a propaedeutic to everyone who works, aspires to work, or is in school for, any of the "caring" professions:

I was a lawyer in a high-volume legal aid office.

Actual case work towered before me, but I could not open a file at my desk. . . . If a hearing approached I would wait until the subway ride to familiarize myself with the facts, in the hope that the novelty would push me to pay attention during the proceedings.

Later in the piece, she essentially is crawled under her desk in a fetal position on the floor.

You may know somebody in a similar situation.

Or you may be in a similar situation.

Second, she adds another exhibit to help establish by a preponderance of evidence a question of fact on a dispositive issue that by now should be almost beyond dispute: That the internet may be for us in the 21st Century what alcohol was for Homer Simpson in the 20th Century:

So at work I did not work. To make the day pass I surfed the web. . . .

When I ran out of celebrities, I went to political blogs.

When I ran out of those, I turned to Google.

I Googled my friends and my sister, and the sisters-in-law of my brother-in-law. I Googled my co-workers, my boss, and my allergist. . . .

Third, her considerations of the history of the word "boredom" interestingly suggest that the concept is a perfect product of modernity, of surprisingly recent vintage, one that has migrated from being a transactional [trans/inaction/al?] verby notion of interpersonal exchange
("bore" = 1st use 1766, per the OED)
to being a static nouny existential state of being and an isolato's attribute of personal identity.
(Per the OED and the BBC, "boredom": tedium, ennui, the state of being bored; word invented by Dickens in 1852 in Bleak House, a book that, coincidentally enough, may be the 2nd best novel ever written about the Law.)

Fourth, Schwarz seems to have read up on much of the past and current literature about boredom. Her article thus provides a nice update on the state of the discipline of Boredom Studies, circa 2007. However I wonder if her editors at Believer asked her to go easy on or avoid cites, proper names or footnotes. She mentions by name Freud and Spacks and seems to be aware of Lars Svendsen and Richard Ralley. Her viewpoint seems maybe influenced by Fernando Pessoa, who was the focus of a nice Believer piece a few years back, and whose idea of tedium vitae links up boredom and disease, as she does.

One of the only overlooked sources here that I can think of might be Joseph Brodsky, whose wonderful 1995 speech to Dartmouth's graduating class remains alive and in circulation on the internet. Brodsky's best insight might be this:

If it takes will-paralyzing boredom to bring your insignificance home, then hail the boredom. You are insignificant.

Brodsky thus prescribes a corrective for our even more dangerous and fatal collective disease, which is narcissism.

In addition, Scwharz's essay omits as external to her concerns reference to the fascinating scientific research that continues to come out regarding boredom among various groups of individuals, including black college students; women in the fashion world; cancer patients; and, most seriously, glue sniffers.

Maybe most fundamentally, Schwarz's essay works as a pretty profound reflection on grief, mourning and the loss of a parent or loved one. In this regard, its indispensible counterpart piece maybe is the fiction thing she wrote for Ploughshares last year, about, inter alia, the child's perspective of a parent who is still alive in the more simplistically understood sense but who is wrestling with his own deep inner grief and loss.

Finally, one must congratulate anyone who can overcome with success the contradictions inherent in getting a finished piece about bordeom onto the page. A key problem with trying to write about boredom is that, if you don't get bored with the very topic, then you're not really paying attention to it and not placing yourself fully within the phenomenon, as is necessary to understand it in the first place. So you've got to get sick of then return to the piece multiple times and resort to all kinds of stratagems to remain motivated.

In other words, there is a great deal more that I intend to proceed to say about boredom right now. In this very post. I am about to start. Here I go. I will certainly not fail to do so, because that would be very embarrassing given the unequivocal and public declarations I have just made about how I will proceed to talk about it. So, here it is. It will be very exciting. In fact, certainly you should never take this blog seriously again, if ever you did, and should probably just stop reading it altogether and never return here, if after all that enormous buildup I don't write anything more in this post about boredom because I suddenly and totally just lost all intere