Issue 70: The Boring Issue

Can boredom be interesting?

In this issue of IAI News, we ask: can boredom be interesting?

The essayist Joseph Epstein has remarked, "Boredom is after all part of consciousness, and about consciousness the neurologists still have much less to tell us than do the poets and the philosophers."

Boredom, for philosophers, sociologists and psychologists, is fast becoming a major and legitimate issue to grapple with in providing an account of modern life. It is, as the late Bertrand Russell wrote, ''essentially a thwarted desire for events" — or perhaps put in simpler terms, an inability to live the life that one desires.

For those in states of extreme isolation, such as solitary confinement or imprisonment, there is a direct link between boredom and mental stagnation — when life stretches out behind, and ahead, with few opportunities to progress, gain experiences or make choices. As the Roman senator Boethius, sentenced to die, discovered during his imprisonment, philosophy can offer a form of consolation. Kirtstine Szifris, Research Associate at Manchester Metropolitan University PERU explores the benefits of philosophy in the article When Boredom Becomes Stagnation.

Loneliness, according to the late psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, is a particularly destructive kind of boredom. The remedy, he thought, could be found in art — a space where the work of mending, the work of grief, preparing oneself for the dangerous, lovely business of intimacy can take place. In What Does It Mean To Be Lonely, author of The Lonely City Olivia Laing engages with Winnicott's work.

But what makes art worthwhile and interesting? Is it purely a subjective assessment? Boredom can be said to be to do with a lack of ‘meaning’, and in that sense it may transcend individual psychological phenomena to act a philosophical key to fundamental aspects of modern culture. Philosopher Andrew Bowie looks at The Art of Boredom.

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