Disclaimer : It is meant to be light hearted but some people can make heavy weather of it.
There was a time when time was money, and one never had enough of either. But now in the lockdown times, money has become inconsequential and time as valueless as trash. Quite consistent with the global problem of disposal of waste ,time at my disposal poses a similar dilemma : what to do with it? You cannot do what you want to do. But there are occasions you simply have no idea of what you want to do, you have become so alienated from yourself. Boredom! Books do alleviate to a great extent- even in their digital form- but boredom has a habit of seeping in. If the doors and windows are closed, it blows in through the crevices and crannies . Yesterday, I decided to take this bull of boredom by its horns. Encouraged by George Wittgenstein ‘s assurance , “ The way of philosophy lies in showing the fly the way out of the fly bottle”, I picked up 'A Philosophy of Boredom' by Lars Svendsen (it has been with me for quite some time, unread) looking for it to show me the way out of my ennui and high angst, anomie and situational boredom. Was I expecting deliverance at the end of the thin book?(178 pages in its digital form) I was!
The very first line enticed me , “My reason for writing this book was this: I was deeply bored for a while.” I knew I had got my man who was going to lift me straight out of my unhappy situation. “It is usually a blank label applied to everything that fails to grasp one’s interest.” Precisely. As I proceeded further I was able to recognise in other people’s symptoms my own malady, only described better: “boredom...is like some sort of dust. One comes and goes without seeing it, one breathes it in, one eats it, one drinks it, and it is so fine that it doesn’t even scrunch between one’s teeth. But if one stops up for a moment, it settles like a blanket over the face and hands. One has to constantly shake this ash-rain off one.”
Pages after pages I discovered more and more people with whom I shared this community of affliction. Byron summed up the situation for the lockdown generation, “There is little left but to be bored or bore.”
The authority of Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard , with whom I had considerable familiarity on my own, was enlisted. Then I was hauled over the coals- familiar turf again from Pascal to Nietzsche, from Lovell to Beckett . Next followed the categories of boredom. I was beginning to feel that my malady was becoming worse with every page. Mistrust mounted to dismay when I faced the spectre of wading through 'Ontology : The hermeneutics of boredom. ' It shattered my resolution completely. I was fearing for my life now, afraid to catch contagion of these great minds, seriously considering that I should retire to my condition of primitive and native boredom. But as they say, you can only choose your doctor, you cannot choose your medicine. So I soldiered along, ignoring symptoms of allergy and reaction. Like a bitter but promising medicine I kept ingesting until I arrived at the end:
“…. human life is boring? Well, life often is boring. Different people are afflicted by boredom to differing degrees, but it is practically impossible not to be affected by boredom sooner or later. If boredom strikes hard, one is inevitably brought to an existential borderline situation where one has to question the nature of one’s entire existence.” If it is inescapable human condition, it was pointless , the pursuit of this philosophy! I shut the book .I felt as if I had escaped a psychiatrist who tells you that being mad is condition of normalcy and congratulates you on your achieving this blessed sate. For good measure he advises you never to attempt to get out of this situation.
My mind had gone in a state of hum, so I reached for my chest of medicines, looking for antidotes to boredom and allergic reactions to an overdose of wisdom. Thurber is my first physician of choice and I surrendered to him , till sleep overtook me. You have suffered vicariously my fate and deserve a bit of his soothing balm. Or as a night cap
INTERVIEW WITH A LEMMING : James Thurber
The weary scientist, tramping through the mountains of northern Europe in the winter weather dropped his knapsack and prepared to sit on a rock. "Careful, brother," said a voice.
"Sorry," murmured the scientist, noting with some surprise that a lemming which he had been about to sit on had addressed him. "It is a source of considerable astonishment to me," said the scientist, sitting down beside the lemming, "that you are capable of speech."
"You human beings are always astonished," said the lemming, "when any other animal can do anything you can. Yet there are many things animals can do that you cannot, such as stridulate, (of an insect, especially a male cricket or grasshopper) make a shrill sound by rubbing the legs, wings, or other parts of the body together.)
or chirr, (of an insect) make a prolonged low trilling sound.) to name just one. To stridulate, or chirr, one of the minor achievements of the cricket, your species is dependent on the intestines of sheep and the hair of the horse."
"We are a dependent animal," admitted the scientist. "You are an amazing animal," said the lemming.
"We have always considered you rather amazing, too," said the scientist. "You are perhaps the most mysterious of creatures."
"If we are going to indulge in adjectives beginning with 'm,' said the lemming sharply, "let me apply a few to your species--murderous, maladjusted, maleficent and muffle-headed."
"You find our behavior as difficult to understand as we do yours?"
"You, as you would say, said it," said the lemming. "You kill, you mangle, you torture, you imprison, you starve each other. You cover the nurturing earth with cement, you cut down elm trees to put up institutions for people driven insane by the cutting down of elm trees, you--"
"You could go on all night like that," said the scientist, "listing our sins and shames."
"I could go on all night and up to four o'clock tomorrow afternoon," said the lemming. "It just happens that I have made a lifelong study of the self-styled higher animal. Except for one thing, I know all there is to know about you, and a singularly dreary, dolorous and distasteful store of information it is, too, to use only adjectives that begin with 'd.'"
"You say you have made a lifelong study of my species--" began the scientist.
"Indeed I have," broke in the lemming. "I know that you are cruel, cunning and carnivorous, sly, sensual and selfish, greedy, gullible and guileful--"
"Pray don't wear yourself out," said the scientist, quietly. "It may interest you to know that I have made a lifelong study of lemmings, just as you have made a lifelong study of people. Like you I have found but one thing about my subject which I don't understand."
"And what is that?" asked the lemming.
"I don't understand," said the scientist, "why you lemmings all rush down to the sea and drown yourselves."
"How curious," said the lemming. "The one thing I don't understand is why you human beings don't."