Could I interest you in some intense boredom?
In an age of perpetual distraction, have we forgotten how to be bored? Or are we, instead, more bored than ever?
We struggle to take boredom seriously: it seems like such a spoilt, adolescent complaint. We are told repeatedly as children not to admit to boredom because it means we have no inner resources. I conclude now I have no/inner resources, because I am heavy bored, wrote the US poet John Berryman in Dream Song 14. (He received more hate mail for this poem than any other).
But we make a mistake in dismissing or trivialising boredom. It is a devastatingly powerful force. Marriages end from boredom; addictions take hold in boredom; violence thrives on boredom. In some respects, our tireless efforts to evade boredom have shaped the modern world. What powers Facebook, Instagram and Twitter if not the ever-replenishing fuel of our boredom? Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called it “the root of all evil”.
None of us gets through life without coming to know boredom well, though despite this familiarity it is still hard to adequately describe. A hostile emptiness? A listless restlessness? Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s paradoxical “desire for a desire”? Or just that recurrent (and sometimes desperate) anticipatory thought: “When will this be over?”..