Leopardi and pessimism

 

Leopardi, wondering if he left the TV on....
Leopardi, wondering if he left the TV on….

 

Giacomo Leopardi is one of the greatest secrets of 19th century poetry. Despite being heralded by luminaries like Schopenhauer1 and Nietzsche, his fame remains scattered in Europe and hardly extends to the American hemisphere. Leopardi’s Zibaldone di pensieri2 was read by every school kid but they barely cracked open his Operette Morali.3 The likely culprit is an irredeemable pessimism that was too difficult for interpreters to connect it to contemporary issues. Leopardi wrote mostly moral essays, parables, fables, and dialogues – painting life as a joke of the gods – a darkly comic view of world and its inhabitants. However, instead of leaving the reader sad and pathetic, they are actually funny.  Continue reading Leopardi and pessimism

New Seven Deadly Vices: Boredom

Bored? by Urko Dorronsoro

There are two aspects of boredom: Kurzeweile (short while) and Langeweile (long while).

Langeweile is the condition of modernity and one isn’t held accountable for being born in a certain epoch. However kurzeweile is a response to a short stretch of time where nothing happens. Continue reading New Seven Deadly Vices: Boredom

Qualities Exercise

Browsing the Galilean Library this morning, I came across a thread about a creative writing technique called “Qualities Exercise.” You try to describe the characteristics of a quality or an abstract concept as if it was a person. There’s an art to this exercise of anthropomorphism, as I found out:

Boredom is a stubborn and dedicated motherfucker that never takes a day off and works twice as hard on the weekends. He is fond of interrupting anyone, especially when they’re having a good time, and starts going on the most irrelevant subjects. Although he is rarely ever officially invited, you will always find him at any party or social event- he’s the last one to leave. If you tried to remember what he looks like you wouldn’t be able to describe him – a nondescript, mousy, totally forgettable look – but you’d recognize him right away in a crowd. Most people complain about Boredom, how he drags them down. Although some of them have figured him out and when they invite him over for tea, he turns them down flat. He lives in the basement of his brother Despair’s house, and is married to Ennui, but he hasn’t spoken to his twin Ecstasy in decades.

All is vanity…

Schopenhauer’s great intuition: human existence is a constant vacillating between pain and boredom. The existence of boredom is more than just evidence of a disagreeable state; it is proof that man is fundamentally unhappy.

“If life possessed in itself a positive value and true content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfill and satisfy us. As things are we take no pleasure in existence except when we are striving after something..”(Essays and Aphorisms 53 – 54)

The default reaction to bare conscious continuity, being awake but not doing anything, is boredom. This awareness disappears once we institute and pursue a goal, thereby distracting ourselves from the empty or illusory nature of our lives. During those fleeting moments of satisfaction, we return to raw existence itself.

The final irony of pessimism: even if our desires are satisfied, although imperfectly, the outcome is naught but boredom.

Pure consciousness, framed by space and time, consists of nothing, nothing at all. That nothingness allows us to become most intimately aware of the der Nichtigkeit des Daseins, the Schopenhauerian nothingness of existence, i.e., better known as vanity.

While boredom is not as wounding as sheer pain, it is a form of suffering unique to conscious beings. It is the byproduct of an intuitive understanding of the metaphysical situation of man – the existence in time.

Vanity is not to be confused with the Christian view, where all things are empty as opposed to the heavenly. The phenomenal, temporal and conscious world is illusory because it conceals the real yet transcendental world of the will, and Schopenhauer says “the way in which this Nichtigkeit (vanity) of all objects of the will makes itself known and comprehensible to the intellect that is rooted in the individual, is primarily time. It is the form by whose means that vanity of things appears as their transitoriness, since by virtue of this all our pleasures n enjoyments come to nought in our hands” (WWR II 574)

Because the fundamental element of all individual wishes, for Schopenhauer, is the will, then this Nichtigkeit is “the only objective element of time, i.e., that which corresponds to it in the inner nature of things” (ibid)

Consequently, boredom is the correlate of this essential emptiness of conscious experience, something we become aware of once we quit the striving for individual goals and return to the bare model of existence. While boredom is not a byproduct of reason, it is a cognizance of the evanescent quality of all physical goods.

There is an explanation for why the achievements of our individual goals fail to satisfy: our normal/default condition is active suffering, and since pleasure lacks positive existence, the temporary relief of pain results in boredom, which is but merely a lesser form of suffering. In order to escape boredom we institute fresh new goals. Hence, the constant vacillation between pain and boredom where each extreme sends us in a rush toward the other.

Although our constant yearning, striving, struggling is on the face of it futile, it actually achieves a completely different result other than what we hoped for. Even if we do arrive at our goals, they fail to bring us satisfaction, if at all. But during the process, there is a subtle, yet true achievement: the understanding of the futility of our actions. We can perceive and understand the vanity of existence, once the ongoing effort to keep and maintain physical objects turn out to be utterly pointless. Consequently our illusions about the purpose of life is replaced with the shattering truth.

The predominance of boredom only confirms that it is understood. Look at the countenance of virtually every elderly person, Schopenhauer says. It is an expression of disappointment. If the “fundamental characteristic of old age is disillusionment; the illusions which hitherto gave life its charm n spurred us to activity have vanished. We have recognized the vanity and emptiness of all the splendors of the world… We have learnt that there is very little behind most of the things desired and most of the pleasures hoped for; and we have gradually gained an insight into the great poverty n hollowness of our existence. Only when we are seventy do we thoroughly understand the [second] verse of Ecclesiastes.” (Parerga and Paralipomena, p. 494)

Conclusion: for Schopenhauer, boredom is the outcome of the illusions of conscious life.

Nor is this an exit

Bret Easton Ellis realized the apex of his writing genius within his third book, American Psycho, a truly bold attempt at a violent and shocking creation: a young American yuppie Patrick Bateman, whose solipsistic affliction cleverly exposes the putrid underbelly of consumerism. The narrative is limited to the first person, an intimate access to Patrick Bateman’s warped perspective and Ellis skillfully employs this technique to ratchet up the tension in order to convey a successful black comedy. Continue reading Nor is this an exit

Boredom is not boring in itself.

Tony Hancock

I first encountered philosophical boredom in Nietzsche and Sartre during my early years, and didn’t really grasp the significance or magnitude until I read American Psycho. While vacationing in Italy, I read the majority of the Fritzean corpus and came across two important aphorisms regarding boredom: (paraphrased from memory) if the highest creatures are susceptible to boredom, then the infinitely perfect being is also susceptible to infinite boredom. Therefore when god “rested” on the 7th day he was bored with his creation so he sank to the grass and became a snake…. Continue reading Boredom is not boring in itself.