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Brodsky on Boredom
August 20, 2009 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Joseph Brodsky: In Praise of Boredom -- from his Dartmouth College commencement address in 1995. " Boredom is your window on the properties of time that one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one's mental equilibrium. It is your window on time's infinity. Once this window opens, don't try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open. For boredom speaks the language of time, and it teaches you the most valuable lesson of your life: the lesson of your utter insignificance. It is valuable to you, as well as to those you are to rub shoulders with. "You are finite," time tells you in the voice of boredom, "and whatever you do is, from my point of view, futile."
posted by vronsky (38 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bored now.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:48 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


/sorry
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:48 AM on August 20, 2009


Betrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:49 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


yawn
posted by lalochezia at 11:50 AM on August 20, 2009


Never apologize for doing Willow. Even evil Willow.
posted by Naberius at 11:53 AM on August 20, 2009


> A substantial part of what lies ahead of you is going to be claimed by boredom. The reason I'd like to talk to you about it today, on this lofty occasion, is that I believe no liberal arts college prepares you for that eventuality.

I respectfully disagree. My four year undergraduate degree, time I spent confined to desks listening to lectures I wasn't very interested in, prepared me quite well for the eventuality of being confined to a desk and doing jobs I'm not very interested in.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:56 AM on August 20, 2009


This awful bear hug is no mistake. Nothing that disturbs you ever is.

That's going on the coffee can they fill with an approximation of my ashes, from whence I go to join the redundant yawns of the diurnal winds along the Pacific. Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:58 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's a great thing to say at a commencement speech.

From time to time I've had the pleasure of teaching Ozymandias to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.

"Mr Notyou? But if even Ozymandias' kingdom can't survive, what about me?"

"Yes, Virginia. What about you?"
posted by notyou at 12:00 PM on August 20, 2009 [11 favorites]


Robert Louis Stevenson's "An Apology for Idlers."
posted by Iridic at 12:07 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


A substantial part of what lies ahead of you is going to be claimed by boredom. The reason I'd like to talk to you about it today, on this lofty occasion, is that I believe no liberal arts college prepares you for that eventuality.

This is hedging on plagiarism of DFW's commencement speech at Kenyon College (I'd link to it, but now that its published, you can't get it free online...grrr...)
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:19 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Never apologize for doing Willow. Even evil Willow.

Indeed, some feel doing Willow would be enjoyable and praiseworthy. Even evil Willow. Especially evil Willow. Rowr.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:20 PM on August 20, 2009


Boredoms.
posted by zoinks at 12:21 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wish I could have back all the minutes and hours I threw away in my wasted youth thinking that nothing was more boring than the experince that I was at that moment experiencing.
posted by blucevalo at 12:22 PM on August 20, 2009


A substantial part of what lies ahead of you is going to be claimed by boredom. The reason I'd like to talk to you about it today, on this lofty occasion, is that I believe no liberal arts college prepares you for that eventuality.

This is hedging on plagiarism of DFW's commencement speech at Kenyon College

Sorry, Kenyon speech from 2005...so perhaps its quite the opposite? (probably just coincidence, but still, two commencement speeches about the inevitable post-collegiate ennui is...true...but sad).

posted by Lutoslawski at 12:22 PM on August 20, 2009


Whenever my kids complain about being bored we tell them to figure it out. Then they ask to play video games and we show them the alternating-days screen time schedule. Then they ask to change the schedule and we again say no and tell them that now we're bored of having this conversation and point them at the coloured pencils.
posted by GuyZero at 12:29 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you're bored, you're boring.
posted by iloveit at 12:31 PM on August 20, 2009


If you're bored, you're boring.

No, if you're bored, you're living.
posted by blucevalo at 12:36 PM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Mr Notyou? But if even Ozymandias' kingdom can't survive, what about me?"

"Yes, Virginia. What about you?"

I am reminded of Updike's Pigeon Feathers --

He dug the hole, in a spot where there were no strawberry plants, before he studied the pigeons. He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog’s hair; for each filament was shaped within the shape of the feather, and the feathers in turn were trimmed to fit a pattern that flowed without error across the bird’s body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides as the feathers now broadened and stiffened to make an edge for flight, now softened and constricted to cup warmth around the mute flesh. And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers played idle designs of color, no two alike, designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him. Yet these birds bred in the millions and were exterminated as pests. Into the fragrant, open earth he dropped one broadly banded in shades of slate blue, and on top of it another, mottled all over with rhythmic patches of lilac and gray. The next was almost wholly white, yet with a salmon glaze at the throat. As he fitted the last two, still pliant, on the top, and stood up, crusty coverings were lifted from him, and with a feminine, slipping sensation along his nerves that seemed to give the air hands, he was robed in this certainty: that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.
posted by vronsky at 12:44 PM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I use times of idleness and boredom to work on my mindfulness. And sleep.

I do agree that coming to grips with the ennui of life is a tough task. I had friends who didn't make it.

I also <3>"For ages, the rich and their sycophants have written in praise of 'honest toil', have praised the simple life, have professed a religion which teaches that the poor are much more likely to go to heaven than the rich, and in general have tried to make manual workers believe that there is some special nobility about altering the position of matter in space, just as men tried to make women believe that they derived some special nobility from their sexual enslavement...

...there is no reason to go on being foolish forever."

Amen, brother.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:56 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Soren Kierkegaard was big on the boredom issue. Just rediscovering him, he's a hoot.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:02 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Boredom is not something that I enjoy. I try my best to avoid it as part of my life experience.

However, I do love idleness. Or, en langue française, oisivité ..my absolute favorite word.
posted by pwedza at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Earlier this afternoon I quickly scanned Brodsky’s speech and dropped some of my trademark education and employment-related ennui. Boredom has always been, much as I wish I could say otherwise, one of the most powerfully negative guiding forces in my life. Hell, one of my earliest (if not the earliest) concrete memories is of being bored (and subsequently angry) during “quiet time” (i.e. an enforced nap) at nursery school. I was bored in public school (I complained about being bored so often that - as a joke - my parents bought me a Garfield button picturing him with his head resting on one paw and the words "I'M BORED" underneath). I was bored in high school. I was bored in university. I am, largely, bored now. So you might say I’ve always had boredom on my mind.

When I went back and re-read the speech in more detail, I went through something akin to four of the five stages of grief:

1. Denial: “Sure, I’m bored now, but someday I won’t be.”
2. Anger: “Goddamn it, I’m so tired of being bored!”
3. Bargaining: “Maybe if I changed…something…”
4. Depression: *sigh*
5. Acceptance: Still working on that one.

I have long since accepted my mortality and insignificance and the futility of my actions (or have I? Perhaps my ongoing discontent is a sign that I haven’t truly done so). What I just can’t work out is how to find the positive side of “the awful bear hug” (and what a marvellous way of putting it that is), or at least make peace with it. I feel like if I managed to crack that I would attain a state of Buddha-like enlightenment.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Life, friends, is boring.
posted by flod at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


To comment on this excellent bit of commencement speechwriting from a less "Cheerios minus piss still equals ugh" angle (though I am totally into that as well) – this finally reminded me to look up something I've been meaning to look up for a long time.

I saw Vonnegut give the commencement speech when my stepbrother graduated from Rice University in 1998, the same year I graduated high school. I was blown away by it, and him, at the time. Here it is.

If this isn't nice, what is???

I've tried to post this several times, with no apparent success. If this basic comment appears 7 times in the thread, sorry bout that.
posted by nosila at 3:51 PM on August 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


he was robed in this certainty: that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.

Alternately, the God that lavishes such craft upon birds - birds thus become worthless - evidently must not mind too much when his painstaking creations come to ruin, inasmuch as he does nothing to prevent it.

Whenever I meditate on "Consider the lilies...or the birds of the field," I'm often struck by how readily the lilies may be crushed underfoot and the birds laid low, evidently without a second thought or glance by the utterly bored heaven and earth around them.
posted by darkstar at 4:11 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Joseph Brodsky sometimes said fatuous things.

I met him once, and he asked what my major was. I said "Botany". "Oh", he said. "What a ladylike thing to study!"

[small wisps of steam still detectable shooting out of my head]
posted by acrasis at 4:16 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Soren Kierkegaard was big on the boredom issue. Just rediscovering him, he's a hoot.

David Foster Wallace also postulated that boredom was a mental/spiritual rigor, especially in the face of mass media's onslaught of stimuli.
posted by zoomorphic at 5:02 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I could favorite vronsky's Updike quote 100 times more, I would.
posted by blucevalo at 5:11 PM on August 20, 2009


"I was bored in public school (I complained about being bored so often that - as a joke - my parents bought me a Garfield button picturing him with his head resting on one paw and the words "I'M BORED" underneath). I was bored in high school. I was bored in university."

The Card Cheat, there are some interesting ideas in the related links in the speech that you might find interesting -- Understanding boredom and the honor in underachievement. (On Gifted Students in School) -- "Plucker and McIntire (1996) examined the behavior of 12 gifted, underchallenged
5th to 9th graders and their teachers' responses to them. Their findings will
resonate with the experiences of many parents and educators. The bored students
responded easily and correctly to teachers' questions although they appeared
inattentive. These students also raised the level of discussion by posing
abstract questions; they disrupted the class with humor; they read their choice
of material (e.g., magazines) or slept during class time. Some teachers noticed
their student's efforts to create challenge or survive the lack of it; others
did not. The classroom dynamics these researchers observed led them to
conclude, "Boredom, treated as both a cause and effect, may be more complex
than previously believed" (p. 13). We agree; boredom is chaotic and dynamic.
The simplistic definitions of boredom that have driven prior research have
provided few insights into this pervasive feature of gifted students' school
experience."
posted by vronsky at 5:16 PM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Me, too, blucevalo. In retrospect, I regret adding my cynical twist to it, afterward.
posted by darkstar at 5:17 PM on August 20, 2009


"There are definite styles of boredom. The Zen tradition in Japan creates a definite style of boredom in its monasteries. Sit, cook, eat. Sit zazen and do your walking meditation and so on. But to an American novice who goes to Japan or takes part in traditional Japanese practice in this country, the message of boredom is not communicated properly. Instead, if I may say so, it turns into a militant appreciation of rigidity, or an aesthetic appreciation of simplicity, rather than actually being bored, which is strange." -- Trungpa Rinpoche, "The Myth of Freedom"
posted by blucevalo at 5:19 PM on August 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


darkstar: No -- I meant to say nothing deprecatory about your comment, and I'm sorry if it came across that way. I actually meant to post my own comment much earlier but Metafilter was acting up. In fact, I found your comment very moving and well-stated.
posted by blucevalo at 5:28 PM on August 20, 2009


I found this speech insightful and assuaging on many levels. I think I've been trying to formulate an AskMe question that this speech kind of addresses. Something like: "how do I become interested in all the boring stuff that people seem to be interested in?" or "how do I learn patience?" Now I don't have to ask it because this speech probably provides the best answer anyone could come up with.

The next time I feel bored, which is like constantly, I shouldn't try to alleviate it or chase the next moment of ecstasy, right? I should wallow in it. I should call out malaise and be like: Malaise, it's me and you. Go time.

But then again, he also talks about how ephemeral things are the most charged with life and fire. And that's true. So maybe I should burn fast and bright? But that goes against what he said up top.... Oh who knows.
posted by That takes balls. at 5:56 PM on August 20, 2009


I found that Walker Percy (via Kierkegaard) was able to take boredom to task quite well, examining it both in complete mortal earnestness, and with a sense of humor and play. I would be curious to know what Brodsky thinks of Walker Percy (surely he is in some way responding to him), and where their ideas seem to overlap.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 5:57 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


frandipious pallifraster
posted by yazi at 6:02 PM on August 20, 2009


Indeed, some feel doing Willow would be enjoyable and praiseworthy. Even evil Willow. Especially evil Willow. Rowr.

Evil Willow, indeed, appeared to believe doing Willow was a worthwhile endeavour.
posted by rodgerd at 8:55 PM on August 20, 2009


Boredom is God's way of telling you that you have precious little intellect/imagination/curiosity.
posted by spock at 9:25 PM on August 20, 2009


I really enjoyed this. Practicing with boredom, I think, is a serious and worthwhile task.
posted by quietalittlewild at 12:48 PM on August 21, 2009


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