April 9th, 2012 / 6:44 pm
Craft Notes & Random

I am enthusiastic about boredom

My friend Maya told me about this guy who tried to hit on her by making fun of her weight and then kicking her under the table.

I said, ‘That’s an interesting strategy, I always wondered if a strategy like that would work.’

Then I thought about my own strategy, which generally involves waiting for something to happen and not forcing things on the other person.

I felt like my strategy was fucking stupid and just as terrible as that other guy’s.

‘You probably don’t let girls you like know,’ Maya said. ‘Body language. Prolonged eye contact. Girls probably can’t tell the difference between you liking them and you being friendly.’

I said, ‘That’s true.’

Later, I tried the eye contact thing, but then it just looked like I was trying to make the other person explode from a short distance.

It was a powerful moment.

The next day, I stared at my laptop alone. ‘Surfing the web’ felt not that exciting and kind of shitty and made me yearn for a more extreme verb to use on the internet. ‘Stabbing the web,’ I don’t know.

My point is that I am not that good at human intimacy, which means I usually have time to myself. I am bored a lot, but I also feel like my boredom is a valuable asset.

I think of my boredom as a kind of manure for the brain. It seems generative to me, in the same way manure can fertilize plants.

With text, you can do stuff like a character who’s thinking about chips and make that enthralling somehow. If you can work with boredom as a subject matter, then you can work with a lot of things, I feel.

I think videogames aren’t boring enough.

I don’t like how ‘bored’ novels in which more or less nothing happens are often described as, ‘plotless.’ A lack of events, to me, is not an absence of events. The lack is the event itself.

The summary of a book like Person by Sam Pink would be something like: A person wanders around Chicago feeling alternately depressed and ecstatic.

The person has no name, no sense of self, no description and no ambition at all to be someone or do anything. Nothing happens, but the deeper idea being expressed is that of a superfluous man.

I feel like a superfluous man all the time.

In that sense, you could probably connect Person to stuff like Oblomov or À Rebours or The Bathroom.

The oldest ‘bored’ book that I am aware of is probably Journey around my room by Xavier de Maistre. The author was arrested after a duel in Turin in 1790 and confined to his bedroom for 6 weeks. Instead of just waiting around, de Maistre decided to go on a kind of travel fantasy around his room and then wrote about it. What the book seems to express is that it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, as long as you’re doing it with enough intensity, or something.

At one point in the book, a woman, alarmed by the noise coming from de Maistre’s room, sends her husband to investigate. The man, expecting a medium-sized group, finds de Maistre alone in his room, feels surprised and confused, then asks de Maistre to keep it down a little. Too caught up in his own weird little fantasy, de Maistre replies to the man something random and crazy-sounding, in a style the book describes as, ‘the language of the bards.’

I liked that part.

I really want to read Boredom: A Lively History.

Other books I can think of that seem, to me, like they’ve emerged from a place of boredom: This Is Not A Novel by David Markson, Book of Disquiet by Pessoa, Whatever by Michel Houellebecq, maybe The Canal by Lee Rourke, Selected Unpublished Blog Posts by Megan Boyle, maybe Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem, maybe Twilight Of The Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg, maybe The Box Man by Kobo Abe, Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison.

How do you feel about bored books? Do you identify with them? Thirty years from now, will there be some sort of undergrad english lit class on the literature of boredom from the early 2000s and beyond? Do movies like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, in which boredom, for the characters, also seems impossible, make you feel completely insane?

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  1. Helen

      I found a book on the theory of boredom in an English lit section at the library.
      I could not read more than a page. It was like the boring power of the text made me lose the will/ability to read.
      Boredom can be a powerful force of repulsion. 

  2. Spenser Davis

      the idea of an entire story about boredom doesn’t really interest me, but it seems a lot of contemporary lit at least appeals to the boredom we all feel, despite the deluge of information. boredom, ironically, makes the characters do (or not do) something

      i.e. Leaving the Atocha Station, The Fallback Plan

  3. Douglas Haddow

      “I think videogames aren’t boring enough.”

      Try playing them with the television turned off, I find that usually helps with the lack of boredom.

  4. Stephen Dierks

      Sweet. Like this post and glad ur contributing here, Guillaume. 

      Nice job with the links, for further reading ha

      i like many “plotless” or “episodic” novels, including several you mention, and am interested in boredom

      “the pale king,” which i have not yet read, is concerned with boredom

      i am interested in the disconnect i often feel between my body/physical reality/actions performed every day and my mind/consciousness/my attention/my “personal reality”.. i am often bored/unconcerned with concrete reality, and cul-de-sac’d in thought, but there’s a longing in there somewhere and imagination somewhat still

  5. Anonymous

       Me too!

  6. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      I like bored books so long as the narrator thinks about the interesting things. Like Notes from Underground, to me that is like the most bored novel, but it’s wonderful because even the narrator might be physically bored, he spends a lot of this down time thinking, so you get to read about his misery and thoughts on misery and shit.

      I like action, too, though. I guess what it boils down to is if the body isn’t racing, then the mind has to.

  7. Vomithelmet McGee

      Yeaaaaaaaaaah it is horrible how much I identify with this, writing to myself on various social networking sites all day long. Whenever I am about to do something that I would actually enjoy I get afraid that it will either embarrass me or hurt someone else. Most books seem like bored people to me. This makes me think of the manga & anime the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in which Haruhi is the exact opposite of this. (She is also a sort of god but that’s beside the point)

  8. deadgod

      story about boredom
      story about being bored
      story about boring person(s)
      story with events leading to and/or indicating no conclusion, moral, affect
      story with only the event of description

      story with action, personality, sensation that reader doesn’t care about

  9. Anonymous

      I don’t even know what “boredom” means these days, since people use it to describe a million different things. And I don’t understand the too-easy association between rendering characters in small, ordinary moments and “boredom”–if you are a serious writer, I would hope that you wouldn’t need to rely on overly-dramatic action to write interesting material. Finally, I have to admit that I’ve become annoyed with this notion that the Internet has somehow introduced disassociation and disconnectedness into American culture. If that’s the case, then Bartleby the Scrivener was surfing the net. The Internet isn’t as interesting or profound as some of you make it out to be.

  10. Anonymous

      What a beautiful post! videogames not boring enough = brilliant. A seminal boredom text has gotta be Exley’s A Fan’s Notes.

  11. Anonymous

      I love this post! videogames not boring enough = brilliant. Exley’s A FAN’S NOTES has gotta be a seminal boredom text. …oh, what about VOX, and THE MEZZANINE, and A BOX OF MATCHES by Nicholson Baker–books abt “nothing”

  12. iairmaxshoes.com

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