boredom / happiness studies: adorno on the fetishism of suntanning & schopenhauer


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!

happiness studies: prison existentialism from don carpenter


“When I came in here, I was a mild socialist. I suppose I dreamed of a world in which all men received equal treatment before the law, and the function of the law was to see that everyone received equal treatment. Perhaps I even dreamed that in a mildly socialist world, we might even stop murdering each other’s children, since there would be nothing to gain from it. I have been in here two weeks now, and when I get out I’m going to make a very formal ceremony of going down and registering as a Republican. I have been in here two weeks, and like all the rest of us I have been stripped, absolutely stripped, of every single emotional and intellectual value, every basic urge, every desire; everything that distinguishes me as a human being from other human beings, or even from other animals. My privacy is gone, my pride is gone, I have no status, nor is there any way to get any status in here. My sexual urges, as weak as they are, have no possibility of satisfaction. My other appetites have been reduced to the point where I eat, drink, sleep, crap, piss, scratch, and yawn all for the same thing—the mere satisfaction or rather, reduction, of a primal itch I’d be better off without.”

 —from a speech by a convict in  

 

Don Carpenter’s

Hard Rain Falling

“accept the fact that life isn’t fun”: happiness studies from paul bowles and the international zone



Dyar was not a reader; he did not even enjoy the movies. Entertainment somehow made the stationariness of existence more acute, not only when the amusement was over, but even during the course of it. After the war he made a certain effort to reconcile himself to his life. Occasionally he would go out with two or three of his friends, each one taking a girl. They would have cocktails at the apartment of one of the girls, go on to a Broadway movie, and eat afterward at some Chinese place in the neighborhood where there was dancing. Then there was the long process of taking the girls home one by one, after which they usually went into a bar and drank fairly heavily. Sometimes, not very often, they would pick up something cheap in the bar or in the street, take her to Bill Healy’s room, and lay her in turn. It was an accepted pattern; there seemed to be no other to suggest in its place. Dyar kept thinking: “Any life would be better than this,” but he could find no different possibility to consider. “Once you accept the fact that life isn’t fun, you’ll be much happier,” his mother said to him.

—from Paul Bowles, Let It Come Down, 1952  
    


happiness studies: françois truffaut

 

I am the happiest man in the world and here’s why: I walk down a street and I see a woman, not tall but well-proportioned, very dark-haired, very neat in her dress, wearing a dark skirt with deep pleats that swing with the rhythm of her rather quick steps; her stockings, of dark color, are carefully, impeccably smooth; her face is not smiling, this woman walks down the street without trying to please, as if she were unconscious of what she represented: a good carnal image of woman, a physical image, more than a sexy image, a sexual image.

 —François Truffaut, “Is Truffaut the Happiest Man on Earth? Yes,” Esquire, August 1970

1970_8

 

 

 

 

 

 

happiness studies: highlights in the history of human misery

Paradise was unendurable, otherwise the first man would have adapted to it; this world is no less so, since here we regret paradise or anticipate another one. What to do? where to go? Do nothing and go nowhere, easy enough. 
 
— E.M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born
 
 
Man, who is an organic continuation of the Logos, thinks he can sever that continuity and exist apart from it.
 
Heraclitus
 
 
Me miserable! which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hell; my self am Hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatning to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a
Heav’n
.
O then at last relent: is there no place
Left for Repentance, none for Pardon left?
None left but by submission; and that word
Disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame…
 
Satan, in John Milton’s Paradise Lost
 
 
Conformity is one of the nihilistic temptations of rebellion which dominate a large part of our intellectual history. It demonstrates how the rebel who takes to action is tempted to succumb, if he forgets his origins, to the most absolute conformity. And so it explains the twentieth century. Lautréamont, who is usually hailed as the bard of pure rebellion, on the contrary proclaims the advent of the taste for intellectual servitude which flourishes in the contemporary world.

Albert Camus, Man in Revolt
 
 
Cut off from every root, unfit, moreover to mix with dust or mud, we have achieved the feat of breaking not only with the depth of things, but their very surface. 
 
— E.M. Cioran, Civilized Man 
 
 
Man is the great deserter of being.
E.M. Cioran, The Fall into Time
 
  

happiness studies with slavoj žižek!

 

When were you happiest?

A few times when I looked forward to a happy moment or remembered it never

when it was happening.


What is your greatest fear?

To awaken after death – that’s why I want to be burned immediately.


What is your earliest memory?

My mother naked. Disgusting.


Which living person do you most admire, and why?

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the twice-deposed president of Haiti. He is a model of what can be done for the people even in a desperate situation.


What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Indifference to the plights of others.


What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Their sleazy readiness to offer me help when I don’t need or want it.


What was your most embarrassing moment?

Standing naked in front of a woman before making love.


Aside from a property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

The new German edition of the collected works of Hegel.


What is your most treasured possession?

See the previous answer.


What makes you depressed?

Seeing stupid people happy.


What do you most dislike about your appearance?

That it makes me appear the way I really am.


What is your most unappealing habit?

The ridiculously excessive tics of my hands while I talk.


What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?

A mask of myself on my face, so people would think I am not myself but someone pretending to be me.


What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Watching embarrassingly pathetic movies such as The Sound Of Music.


What do you owe your parents?

Nothing, I hope. I didn’t spend a minute bemoaning their death.


To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

To my sons, for not being a good enough father.


What does love feel like?

Like a great misfortune, a monstrous parasite, a permanent state of emergency that ruins all small pleasures.


What or who is the love of your life?

Philosophy. I secretly think reality exists so we can speculate about it.


What is your favourite smell?

Nature in decay, like rotten trees.


Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it?

All the time. When I really love someone, I can only show it by making aggressive and bad-taste remarks.


Which living person do you most despise, and why?

Medical doctors who assist torturers.


What is the worst job you’ve done?

Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.


What has been your biggest disappointment?

What Alain Badiou calls the ‘obscure disaster’ of the 20th century: the catastrophic failure of communism.


If you could edit your past, what would you change?

My birth. I agree with Sophocles: the greatest luck is not to have been born but, as the joke goes on, very few people succeed in it.


If you could go back in time, where would you go?

To Germany in the early 19th century, to follow a university course by Hegel.


How do you relax?

Listening again and again to Wagner.


How often do you have sex?

It depends what one means by sex. If it’s the usual masturbation with a living partner, I try not to have it at all.


What is the closest you’ve come to death?

When I had a mild heart attack. I started to hate my body: it refused to do its duty to serve me blindly.


What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

To avoid senility.


What do you consider your greatest achievement?

The chapters where I develop what I think is a good interpretation of Hegel.


What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

That life is a stupid, meaningless thing that has nothing to teach you.


Tell us a secret.

Communism will win.


— Interview with Slavoj Žižek by Rosanna Greenstreet, The Guardian, Saturday August 9 2008

 

 

happiness studies with those depressive russians!

In Maxim Gorky’s memoirs, Count LeoTolstoy is described walking alongside the Crimean sea:

And suddenly, for one mad moment, I felt that he might be about to stand up and wave his arm, and that the sea would grow calm and glassy, and the rocks would move and begin to shout, and everything around would stir and come to life and start talking in different voices about itself, and about him, and against him. I cannot put into words what I felt then; I was filled both with rapture and with horror, and then everything came together in one happy thought:
 
"I am not an orphan on the earth so long as this man is alive."
 ___
Gorky also reports that:
 
Leo Tolstoy once asked a lizard in a low voice:
 
"Are you happy, eh?"
 
The lizard was sunning itself on a rock in the bushes along the road to Diulber, and Tolstoy stood facing it with his hands stuck into his leather belt. And looking around carefully, that great man confessed to the lizard:
 
"I’m not …"