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Showing posts from June 20, 2010

The influence of civilization on madness

Alexandre Brierre de Boismont is one of the touchstones of research on boredom and suicide. Baudelaire read his essay on l’ennui – or at least references it in his notebook. Foucault, in his lectures on psychiatric power, mentions de Boismont’s clinic at Saint Antoine, in which the doctor consciously familialized his relations with his patients – they were to consider him a father, and his wife a mother. Elizabeth Goodstein recognizes him, in Experience without Qualities, as the doctor who is most associated with modernizing “the modern topos of ennui as a disease of civilization.” [129] Boismont himself, in his essay on l’ennui, taedium vitae, refers to a talk on the “influence of civilization on madness” that he gave in the 1820s. Boredom – or something like boredom, something like Langeweile, something like tedium, something called l’ennui – was at the center of Boismont’s contention. Boismont was born in Rouen in 1797 (where his father, on his birth certificate, is listed as viva

the visions of the bored

Was die Leute nicht alles aus Langeweile treiben! Sie studieren aus Langeweile, sie beten aus Langeweile, sie verlieben, verheiraten und vermehren sich aus Langeweile und sterben endlich aus Langeweile, und – und das ist der Humor davon – alles mit den wichtigsten Gesichtern, ohne zu merken, warum, und meinen Gott weiß was dazu. Alle diese Helden, diese Genies, diese Dummköpfe, diese Heiligen, diese Sünder, diese Familienväter sind im Grunde nichts als raffinierte Müßiggänger. – Warum muß ich es gerade wissen? Warum kann ich mir nicht wichtig werden und der armen Puppe einen Frack anziehen und einen Regenschirm in die Hand geben, daß sie sehr rechtlich und sehr nützlich und sehr moralisch würde? What don’t people do out of boredom. The study out of boredom, they pray out of boredom, they fall in love, marry and multiply out of boredom and finally they die out of boredom… and, this is the funny thing – do this all with the most important faces, without seeing, why, and God knows for wha

Defending myself against the materialist attacks of my conscience

Now we're gonna be face to face As I lay right down in my favorite place When Emile Tardieu published his book on L’ennui, a reviewer in the Zeitschrift für Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorgane in 1905 reproached him for taking much of his data from the belles letters, which “proves little.” Today’s Tardieus, notably Elizabeth S. Goodstein, in Experience without Qualities: boredom and modernity, also references, besides such writers as Tardieu, of course, the same writers Tardieu mentions, from Senacour to Flaubert and Baudelaire. Goldstein is an infinitely cleverer methodologist than Tardieu, and defends herself by taking up the thesis that if we are to look for affective changes, or changes in the interpretation of effect, in a culture, we should look in the discourse – we should look in the rhetoric, our collective sensorium for the registration of mood. I, too, am going down this route, and I’m not quite satisfied with the unanchored discourse defense of gathering evi

Places and people: bored Europe

The year 1831 in Strasbourg, according to the city chronicle written by Charles Staehling, saw the return of reaction after the liberal revolution that had put Louis-Philippe in power. Strasbourg had been a hotbed of liberalism under Charles X; its chief notable, Frederic Turckheim, had allied himself with Benjamin Constant. But in 1831, Turckheim, who had been appointed mayor of the city by the king, tried to deflect the liberal momentum, for instance by advocating the disbanding of the national guard, and then, when that didn’t work, operating to elevate reactionary officers. Of course, the university – and especially the medical students – were notoriously to the left. Surely they took part in the charivari that greeted Turckheim in the summer of that year, when he and his associates – the respectable middle class – took to calling themselves the Juste-Milieu, after a phrase of the King’s. And this is a scene from the year of the juste milieu, preserved in amber by Staehling: “The