Thursday, June 04, 2009

boredom (crossposting at Newsfromthezona)

When I look back on my life and try to understand why it has been such a failure, the key, I think, is in my inability to endure boredom. Or perhaps I should say my inability to endure boredom for the sake of making money. In this, I am spiritually one with the street people, the addicts, the semi-professional criminals – with all of those who never quite grew up, whose immaturity is caught in their throat. The difference is that, among the decayed Peter Pan gang, there is – as you will find out very quickly if you talk to them - an astonishing nostalgia for the larva days – high school pranks, days of honey in the suburban hive. I hate that shit, which bored me at the time, and bores me in memory still.

And yet, at the same time, I am enmeshed in activities that may seem, and probably are, boring to most of workaday America. And, to add to the problem of being bored in America, I find the culture of entertainment that has been foisted upon that workaday world – and eagerly adopted – to be, if not completely boring, at least boring enough that I know little about it. The TV, the pop movies, the celebrity culture – I can’t keep up because I can’t concentrate, I can’t remember what it is all about. And I can’t remember because I am not moved by it.

Which makes me want to start over again and ask whether my failure, here, is not so much that I fly from boredom, as that I am bored at the wrong time and by the wrong things. Add to this another confusion: although sometimes I will say, like anybody else, that such and such a thing is boring – and mean, like anybody else, that it is contemptible, that I would like to step on it, shit on it, spit on it, expel it – at other times I despise this kind of language. Boredom, I think – at these other times – is a kind of test, an exercise. It has a necessity, especially in relation to the ecstatic, the sublime, the interesting. To fly boredom in these cases is to fly the depths. To be unable to be bored is to be unable to be. All of which ties me into knots.

Kierkegaard, in the Concept of Dread (or Anguish), has a lot to say about boredom. In the fourth chapter, Kierkegaard asks what happened to the demons. Why do Christians no longer talk about the demons in 19th century Europe? Are they ashamed?

This is the starting point for Kierkegaard’s discussion of the demonic. He makes a two-fold approach to the demonic. One approach is to see it in terms of communication. Communication, for Kierkegaard, is ultimately about revelation, and revelation is ultimately about the divine. Every act of true revelation is divine. And revelation is at the heart of communication. Thus, every act of non-revelation is on the side of the devil, the ‘spirit of negation’. The demon is, ultimately, non-communicative – on the ethical level. In the German translation I take this from, the word is Verschlossene. However, what is the content of revelation, or communication? What is affirmed? The affirmed is, ultimately, the continuous. Continuity itself. The devil’s part, then, is the sudden – the Plotzlich, that which puts itself in opposition to the continuous.

Here we have to engage in some dialectical shenanigans, because if the divinely continuous is really to be continuous, it must contain the sudden. Revelation, after all, has its own suddenness. This gets us to boredom. Boredom is, Kierkegaard maintains, incommunicable – it expresses nothing. This is because its content is the Inhalflos – the content-less. The content of boredom is no content.

This polarity between the sudden and the continuous explains the boring core of entertainment, which relies on the sudden as its structuring principle. Myself, possessed by the l’wa of boredom, long for a continuum of suddenness – for the ultimate miracle, for nothing to become something.

Here’s a bit from K. I’m translating, remember, from the German.

“The demonic is the content-less, the boring. Since I have permitted myself to direct attention to the aesthetic problem by the mention of the sudden, in as much as evil lets itself be represented, I will now once more take up this question in order to explain what I’ve been saying. As soon as one gives speech to the demon and wants to represent him, the artist who is supposed to solve such a problem must be clear about his categories. He knows, that the demonic is essentially mimic; he cannot thus achieve the sudden, then this blocks the dialogic. Like a blunderer, he won’t try to pull off an effect by beating out many words, etc. – as if that gave us a true effect! He thus chooses correctly just the opposite, boredom. To the sudden there corresponds a kind of continuity as well, the immortality of boredom, a continuity in nothingness. .. Freedom takes its rest in continuity; the sudden figures not only the opposite, but as well the opposite of the “rest”, of which a person can give us a good impression who seems as if he were long dead and buried.”

The dead and buried person is the person, to my mind, who is selling his or her boredom for money. And using that money to buy plenty of nothing – suddenness in all its multiple forms and varieties. Myself, I am, of course, bored in the culture of the bored, but I fail to find my boredom, lightly transformed into action, entertaining.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

the happy doppelganger 1

-- “What I have so often seen in dreams has been fulfilled to me – in the most fearful manner – crippled and ripped apart men.” Such was the entry in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s notebook about the 29th of August, 1813, when he ventured out of Dresden and toured the recent battlefield, upon which Napoleon had inflicted a defeat upon the Alliance. Napoleon’s victory didn’t save him - and it came at the loss of about 30,000 soldiers on both sides. Hoffmann, walking in a Dresden street on the morning of the battle, was nearly killed by a grenade.

“So often seen in dreams.” Hoffmann’s 19th century biographers remarked that their subject wildly claimed to see spirits and doubles outside of dreams. Our information comes from Hitzig, the curiously contemptuous first collector of Hoffmann’s papers. Georg Ellinger, later, saw Hoffmann’s statements as being the overflow of his spirit. His claims, Ellinger thinks, should be interpreted poetically, as metaphors. Although it is true that the short man, whose family in Konigsberg breathed upon him the noxious fumes of imbecility, was a rather peculiar character.

- We started this long thread with Freud’s notion of Projection because Freud makes the claim that it Projection that helps us understand animism. It exists, as it were, in the collective primitive imagination as a psychic machine that produces animism. This is an extraordinary claim. Freud wrote about Hoffmann’s The Sandman in his essay on the uncanny, but I want to examine another Hoffmann tale, “Small Zach, aka Zinnobar” because it involves not only a sort of convergence of projection and mental ventriloquism, but it also contains a story about animism and the enlightenment. I have not found commentary linking this story to Freud’s theory – and yet, I find it fascinating, for it seems to displace the moment of projection, both historically and psychologically, so that what is projected is, (a) literally, triangulated - that is, projection is literally materialized and made into a motif of fantasy, and (b) put in the service of enlightenment. Enlightenment, which chops down the forest, rids the land of fairies, and sees that a tree is a tree and a person a person. Enlightenment might be thought of as the anti-projective ideology – the ideology that gets behind superstition and discovers projection at the base of it.

It is from the viewpoint of a dream that I am thinking of the topic of animism and the enlightenment. The dream of Carpenter Shih in the Chuangtzu, which I have quoted once – and quote here, again:

“After Carpenter Shih had returned home, the oak tree appeared to him in a dream and said, "What are you comparing me with? Are you comparing me with those useful trees? The cherry apple, the pear, the orange, the citron, the rest of those fructiferous trees and shrubs - as soon as their fruit is ripe, they are torn apart and subjected to abuse. Their big limbs are broken off, their little limbs are yanked around. Their utility makes life miserable for them, and so they don't get to finish out the years Heaven gave them, but are cut off in mid-journey. They bring it on themselves - the pulling and tearing of the common mob. And it's the same way with all other things.
"As for me, I've been trying a long time to be of no use, and though I almost died, I've finally got it. This is of great use to me. If I had been of some use, would I ever have grown this large? Moreover you and I are both of us things. What's the point of this - things condemning things? You, a worthless man about to die-how do you know I'm a worthless tree?"


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...