Monday, 7 December 2015


“Against boredom even gods struggle in vain.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Boredom in all its facets is inherent to us. Being bored never escapes our being. However we are paranoid of the very experience of being bored. Feeling depraves us of pleasure of being. Boredom invariably relates to work as its polarity. Proximity of the word 'boredom' being appeared (somewhere during 1852) during the industrial age, which betrays it's relation to work and being industrious. But, immediately one can sense a paradox on how when humanity was turning towards its most industriously occupied time does the word for being bored come to be. Moreover the relationship between boredom and work goes deeper than this. To understand it more from philosophical and theological perspective let us turn to Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Heidegger for their insights.

For Nietzsche boredom can be experienced as a resultant of work without pleasure.[1] This essential relationship between work and pleasure is almost totally negated in work ethics of Christianity. The divorcing of work and pleasure begins in Christianity with the advent of monasticism. Solitary lives of the monks naturally lead to what the early fathers of the church called "acedia" (sloth). In order to combat acedia, monasteries were formed and the "rule and life" (regula et vita) for the monks were created wherein everything was regulated according to specific time (horologium). Lives of the monks were so meticulously organized so as to evade all possibility of acedia or boredom. In this meticulousness and horologium vitae of the monks work is allegorized as spiritual work. In Agamben's study of monasticism he writes, "The spiritualization of the work of the hands that is accomplished in this way can be seen as a significant precursor of the Protestant ascesis of labor …"[2] Thus monasticism brings into Christian work ethics a form of asceticism, wherein the work is not done for the sake of pleasure itself but to engage the time by avoiding boredom. This explains the paranoia of boredom among us. Within the same lines Max Weber when analysing Protestantism (especially Calvinism) and their work ethics writes, "the summum bonum of this ethic, the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life"[3] which he calls "Worldly asceticism of this form of Protestantism." In contrary to this Nietzsche writes, "Now there are rare individuals who would rather perish than work without taking pleasure in their work … they do not fear boredom as much as work without pleasure."[4] Boredom is the "lull of the soul" and one has to completely let it take him over until its effect leads to something creative.

In talking about boredom Kierkegaard has even more interesting analysis. He declares "All human beings, then, are boring,"[5] further he distinguishes two types of boring people, those who bore others who are called as "plebians" and those who bore themselves are called as "the nobility." And within this distinction the plebians are the most boring because, "those who do not bore themselves are busy in the world in one way or another, but for that very reason they are, of all people, the most boring of all, the most unbearable." And it is the nobility as in the Nietzschean analysis are the people who are work for pleasure and will avoid all work without pleasure, unlike the plebians who work all the time without pleasure, is the most boring. Plebians, "in the fact that the busiest workers of all, those whirring insects with their bustling buzzing, are the most boring of all, and if they are not bored, it is because they do not know what boredom is." And those who know boredom are "an immediate genius." And using boredom as genius, Kierkegaard advises all those who are bored to "limit" themselves. This limiting can help in one become more creative. He explains this "principle of limitation" as "The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes." This principle he explains in a more playful way by giving an example, "Think of our school days; we were at an age when there was no esthetic consideration in the choosing of our teachers, and therefore they were often very boring-how resourceful we were then. What fun we had catching a fly, keeping it prisoner under a nutshell, and watching it run around with it! What delight in cutting a hole in the desk, confining a fly in it, and peeking at it through a piece of paper!"[6] This advice is as nostalgic as it gets for us from Kierkegaard.

In Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, Martin Heidegger gives us a more serious analysis of boredom. He identifies three types of boredom,[7] 'Becoming Bored by Something', 'Being Bore with Something' and 'Profound Boredom.' In the first type we experience boredom from situation we are forced to be in, example waiting for the train in a deserted railway station. This boredom arises as a result of "being left empty." Second type of boredom is not the result of the things or the sense of being left empty but we bore ourselves or in other words, "what is boring can bore us without directly coming toward us from particular boring things", for example the feeling of retrospective boringness that could occur to us even after the most lively event. In the second type boring is actually "self-forming emptiness." The profound boredom is what Heidegger views as essential boredom, a condition of dasein (being) in the contemporary age. This profound boredom is unlike the first and second type of boredom; herein boredom is "not this or that being that we are bored by. It is not we who, on the occasion of this particular situation, are ourselves bored - rather. It is boring for one." In this boredom it is "the self, one's own beloved ego of which we say that I myself, you yourself, we ourselves are bored." It is to this profoundness of the Heidegger calls our attention to. The characteristic of the profound boredom is the sense of indifference. The indifference is that which drives the being out of every shelter of work and leaves no shadow to hide, we are made to confront our own existence as the profound indifference itself. It is to this indifference, that we need "to listen to what it has to tell us." This telling does not lead to "despair" but rather to the "possibilities of Dasein."[8] Therefore in Heidegger's view the superficial boredom that appears through the objects can be warded off through some work without pleasure, whereas the profound boredom leaves no room for escape rather, lights up everything and leaves the bare bones of our existence or our being (dasein) in stark light for us which is stripping at first but later leads to the achievement of possibilities of dasein.

In a way of synthesising Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Heidegger, we can look at boredom as creative sleep which we need to endure, this sleep can have the de-creating effect of stripping us bare from all the superficiality, which we seek to protect ourselves. But as the Kierkegaardian Nobility we need to let ourselves to be bored to the bone and maybe realise our very many possibilities of being. Finally, a quote from Kierkegaard as attempt to theologise boredom, he writes, "The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings. Adam was bored because he was alone; therefore Eve was created. Since that moment, boredom entered the world"[9]. It is very difficult to ascertain the temperament of Kierkegaard to this quote, however, what rings true of this more of satirical text is that, genesis as the result of boredom itself. Boredom as the image of hovering spirit that always ends up creating light over the dark and bare beings. Thus boredom must be liberated from the paranoia of Christian work ethics and must be seen as the hovering or the brooding of the spirit over one's being. It is in this respect we could take Nietzsche's advice more seriously, "To fend off boredom at any price is vulgar."[10]

[6] Ibid., 288, 290, 290,292.
[8] Ibid., 101, 118, 126, 142, 134, 139, 140.

Agamben, Giorgio, and Adam Kotsko. The highest poverty: Monastic rules and form-of-life. Meridian : crossing aesthetics. California: Stanford University Press, 2013.
Heidegger, Martin. The fundamental concepts of metaphysics: World, finitude, solitude. Studies in Continental thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
Kierkegaard, Søren, Howard V. Hong, and Edna H. Hong. Either/or. Kierkegaard's writings. 3-4. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Weber, Max. The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Routledge classics. London, New York: Routledge, 2001.