We may know that the work we continue to put off doing will be bad. Worse, however, is the work we never do. A work that’s finished is at least finished. It may be poor, but it exists, like the miserable plant in the lone flowerpot of my neighbour who’s crippled. That plant is her happiness, and sometimes it’s even mine. What I write, bad as it is, may provide some hurt or sad soul a few moments of distraction from something worse. That’s enough for me, or it isn’t enough, but it serves some purpose, and so it is with all of life.
A tedium that includes the expectation of nothing but more tedium; a regret, right now, for the regret I’ll have tomorrow for having felt regret today—huge confusions with no point and no truth, huge confusions…
…where, curled up on a bench in a railway station, my contempt dozes in the cloak of my discouragement…
…the world of dreamed images which are the sum of my knowledge as well as of my life…
To heed the present moment isn’t a great or lasting concern of mine. I crave time in all its duration, and I want to be myself unconditionally.
—from Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
An archetypal instance is the behaviour of those who grill themselves brown in the sun merely for the sake of a sun-tan, although dozing in the blazing sunshine is not at all enjoyable, might very possibly be physically unpleasant, and certainly impoverishes the mind. In the sun-tan, which can be quite fetching, the fetish character of the commodity lays claim to actual people; they themselves become fetishes. The idea that a girl is more erotically attractive because of her brown skin is probably only another rationalization. The sun-tan is an end in itself, of more importance than the boy-friend it was perhaps supposed to entice.
Adorno on the evils of suntanning:
The act of dozing in the sun marks the culmination of a crucial element of free time under present conditions – boredom. The miracles which people expect from their holidays or from other special treats in their free time, are subject to endless spiteful ridicule, since even here they never get beyond the threshold of the eversame: distant places are no longer – as they still were for Baudelaire’s ennui – different places. The victim’s ridicule is automatically connected to the very mechanisms which victimize. At an early age Schopenhauer formulated a theory of boredom. True to his metaphysical pessimism he teaches that people either suffer from the unfulfilled desires of their blind will, or become bored as soon as these desires are satisfied. The theory well describes what becomes of people’s free time under the sort of conditions of heteronomy, and which in new German tends to be termed Fremdbestimmtheit (external determination). In its cynicism Schopenhauer’s arrogant remark that mankind is the factory product of nature also captures something of what the totality of the commodity character actually makes man into. Angry cynicism still does more honour to human beings than solemn protestations about man’s irreducible essence. However, one should not hypostatize Schopenhauer’s doctrine as something of universal validity or even as an insight into the primal character of the human species. Boredom is a function of life which is lived under the compulsion to work, and under the strict division of labour. It need not be so. Whenever behaviour in spare time is truly autonomous, determined by free people for themselves, boredom rarely figures; it need not figure in activities which cater merely for the desire for pleasure, any more than it does in those free time activities which are reasonable and meaningful in themselves. Even fooling about need not be crass, and can be enjoyed as a blessed release from the throes of self-control. If people were able to make their own decisions about themselves and their lives, if they were not caught up in the realm of the eversame, they would not have to be bored. Boredom is the reflection of objective dullness.
Adorno on DIY (home improvement?):
‘Do it yourself ’, this contemporary type of spare time behaviour fits however into a much more far-reaching context. More than thirty years ago I described such behaviour as ‘pseudo-activity’. Since then pseudoactivity has spread alarmingly, even (and especially) amongst those people who regard themselves as anti-establishment. Generally speaking there is good reason to assume that all forms of pseudo-activity contain a pent-up need to change the petrified relations of society. Pseudo-activity is misguided spontaneity. Misguided, but not accidentally so; because people do have a dim suspicion of how hard it would be to throw off the yoke that weighs upon them. They prefer to be distracted by spurious and illusory activities, by institutionalized vicarious satisfactions, than to face up to the awareness of how little access they have to the possibility of change today. Pseudo-activities are fictions and parodies of the same productivity which society on the one hand incessantly calls for, but on the other holds in check and, as far as the individual is concerned, does not really desire at all.
—excerpted from Adorno’s essay “Free Time,” in his The Culture Industry: Selected Essays On Mass Culture (1991).
Read "Free Time," IF YOU DARE!
In this section from Gary Indiana’s Do Everything in the Dark, the narrator-as-culture-critic once again surfaces, with Indiana’s customary brilliance at identifying the essential details of an era…
Boredom can be viewed as a kind of fossil fuel, poured into inertia and ignited with fabulous results, but I am skeptical of this view, which reeks of unempirical optimism. We were excited for a while by drugs and sex, sometimes by escape from stultifying provincial childhoods, by ideological manias that were in the wind, by Che Guevara and Mao’s Little Red Book, by Rolfing massage and Maharishi meditation, by rock and roll, pun, rock, hip-hop, marketing brainstorms, junk bonds, liver transplants, by ever-refined electronic gadgets that seemed to afford some control over the gathering chaos. But eventually ever thing new became a short-lived palliative for the fatal gash of boredom. We began manufacturing problems that sounded deeper, worthier of analysis, than the Oblomov syndrome produced by getting older in an age when everybody had seen too much by the time they were thirty-five.
Is writing marketing copy the most boring job in the world?
Not necessarily, I suppose, and in some ways it is better than lawyering. But, once again, I feel compelled to commit the glaringly obvious to print: I cannot believe how fucking depressing work is…
In fact, I don’t think my mood could be any lower than it is now. I cannot understand why the people working all around me are not jumping out of windows as I type this post. These people should be slitting their wrists in the bathrooms, hanging themselves from the coat hooks in the toilet stalls, begging the janitor for the keys to the roof so they can bid adieu to this vale of tears with a sprightly leap from the top of the building…
Certainly having no capacity for imagination or powers of observation or faculty of empathy must help most of my colleagues get through the day. But why do they even bother?
I mean, my life is often a quiet and desperate hell. I really cannot take much more of this constant current of mental pain that runs through nearly every waking moment. So what keeps the walking failures all around me going? More specifically, how does one get through the day without the ordering powers of art?
These cretins seem to think if they work now they’ll have a better time of it in some distant future. Like squirrels with nuts, except squirrels definitely go about their work in a more orderly fashion that most of my colleagues… and now one has to remind them of their deadlines.
Perhaps I should try to take part in a psychology study and skew the results so badly this nonsense field of “happiness studies” is snuffed out before it gets much more of a toehold in Canada.
It’s not as sinister as William Burroughs‘ “the algebra of need”, but it’s no less corrupting …
Let V = vocation, E = ennui and D = depression.
If V represents one’s waking hours from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm, if E represents an overriding feeling of utter weariness and discontent from lack of interest in one’s immediate environment, and if D represents a pervasive low mood, loss of interest in usual activities and diminished ability to experience pleasure, then:
V = E + D.
Where V has a spillover effect into one’s non-vocational hours — represented as V + V1 — then the equation must be rebalanced with the levels of E and D rising exponentially:
V2 = (E + D)2.
Finally, if one’s vocation (V) also represents one’s career (C), then one is in even more trouble: in this situation E X D is now understood to represent — in addition to denoting the case of ennui multiplied by depression — the ensuing condition of Erectile Dysfunction, or ED:
V2(C) = ED2.
Or, in layman’s terms, getting fucked doesn’t mean you’ll get to fuck (the obverse of the old adage that “the fucking you get isn’t worth the fucking you get”).