On Boredom

For a little while now, Sinthome at Larval Subjects has been posting excerpts from Spinoza, sometimes with annotations. I’ve been merely a lurker for these, but I’ve appreciated them, in part because they’ve reminded me of the debts I owe Spinoza.

A White Bear, over at Is There No Sin In It?, has continued her wonderful series of revisionist definitions of words with a post on boredom, following her posts on pornography and decadence. I’m going to tackle the subject briefly here, a little in the style of Spinoza, and perhaps write more on boredom later. Honestly, A White Bear’s creative and persistent emphasis on the definition of words has led me to wonder whether “word events,” symposiums, might emerge as a complement to book events.

AWB’s definition centers on boring artworks, such as films by Michelangelo Antonioni. Actually, she’s not bored by films like L’Avventura, finding them “hypnotic” and “seductive,” and neither am I. As far as I can tell, Antonioni is atmospheric, much like Henry James in his later novels. Sometimes, this kind of art is called “plotless” because the plot is focused, subtler…more fleeting, more quiet.

There are two kinds of atmospheric art: there’s minimalism, and there’s impressionism. Minimalism reacts against modernity by trying to batter down the walls surrounding consciousness. It repeats itself until it is heard, if it is a piece of music, almost like a beeping alarm clock; it secedes violently from the endless series of figuration, if it is an abstract painting. It is the natural child of movements like surrealism, because it is associative for the audience. Rothko’s reds, the tones of an Aphex Twin record, or the harsh voids in Robbe-Grillet, are gradually pearled over by memory and thought.

Impressionistic works, like L’Avventura or Hermann Broch’s The Death of Virgil, substitute imagery for narrative; the ideological content may be the same, but our experience differs. They are equivalent to those showerheads that strain the water through what looks like a broad chrome sunflower, instead of spitting it out a nozzle.


Something that bores me is something that, without doing permanent injury, constrains me without compensation. By compensation, I specifically mean the satisfaction of an appetite: a physical appetite, or the abstract desire for increased power of action.

I could say more, but not without taking a certain ironic risk.

Have a good night. -JK

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