The Art of Boredom

Andrew Bowie in IAI: 

The English word ‘boredom’, the French ‘ennui’, and the German ‘Langeweile’ are hardly synonyms – the first possibly deriving from the activity of boring wood, the next having to do with a feeling of annoyance, the last, which means ‘long while’, referring to the slow passing of time. Then again, if we think someone is boring they will probably be annoying, and time spent with them will feel unpleasantly long, so the terms make related sense. The relationship to the world involved in each term is evidently negative. ‘Langeweile’ implies, for example, that the meaningfulness of time, which is structured by desires, intentions, hope, anticipation, etc., has been reduced to a sense of time as empty because it lacks these projective qualities. However, boredom may not be thought of as simply negative. Nietzsche, for example, contends that boredom has a dialectical counterpart: ‘For the thinker and for all inventive spirits boredom is that unpleasant “doldrums” of the soul which precedes the happy journey and merry winds; he has to bear it, has to wait for its effect on him’. Boredom can, therefore, be seen as necessary to the generation of new meaning.

But what sort of phenomenon is boredom? If we go to a football match and it ends in a goalless draw, someone who analyses tactics may have found it fascinating for the ways the two sides’ tactics cancelled each other out, but someone else, for whom goals and spectacular action are what gives the game its point, may have found it boring. So is boredom something merely ‘subjective’? Significantly, this question resembles the perennial debates over whether judgements about art – which can include the judgement that something is boring – are ‘just subjective’. People make opposing judgements with respect to what is boring and what is of aesthetic value all the time. What these judgements have in common is that they both derive from the idea that some connections with things in the world involve the presence or absence of certain kinds of value. The idea that these are solely subjective comes from the fact that such judgements may appear irredeemably contested. However, construing ‘subjective’ this way is questionable. Judgements of this kind involve criteria, such as a football game being boring because of its lack of goals.

More here.