“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Paradise: the most modern thing of all

I sometimes get the feeling that, pursuing my set of themes in this blog, I tend to emit a volcanic eruption of instances and hints that bury the points, instead of doing what I should do, what I, as an editor, am always urging on others: taking the points and putting them, all shiny and new, in the shopwindow.

So let me take hold of the point that has been in travail and woe since I took up Kierkegaard: boredom. The point can be put like this: whereas, in the ancient world, and in the Christian world, the taming of the passions and the life that was liberated from the press of necessity by the discipline of askesis was a holy life, or, at least for the Stoics, a natural one, in the culture of happiness, this life is one constantly beset by boredom. In the worlds ruled over by fate or providence, worlds in which, in the end, there was a celestial balance to bow down to – worlds, that is, under the impress of the limited good – lifting necessity through a purification of the impressions or an impoverishment of the desires did correspond to a true insight about the world. We should remember, as well, that passion was felt, in these worlds, within the system of humors, within the structure of characters and temperaments. Not so, however, in the world in which Chronos, or growth, had displaced all other horizons. Chronos the capitalist, who revolutionized the world through trade and exploitation. This is a world so different in its orientation and instincts that it has been imposed on the disbelieving populaces of the world at the cost of millions of lives. However, in this world, for , at first, the circulating labor class, the non-necessary necessity – boredom – became a real social experience, a sign and a symbol, a puzzle.

As I’ve tried to show, this experience is seized upon by philosophers, writers and psychologists in the first half of the nineteenth century, who all seem to find boredom a very modern affair. And, in fact, in the realm of non-necessary necessity, they revive an old trope – paradise. Boredom is a special concern in paradise, and paradise itself, it turns out, is the most modern thing of all.

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