"The result of this mental dullness is that inner vacuity and emptiness that is stamped on innumerable faces and also betrays itself in a constant and lively attention to all events in the external world, even the most trivial. This vacuity is the real source of boredom and always craves for external excitement in order to set the mind and spirits in motion through something. Therefore in the choice thereof it is not fastidious, as is testified by the miserable and wretched pastimes to which people have recourse. …The principal result of this inner vacuity is the craze for society, diversion, amusement, and luxury of every kind which lead many to extravagance and so to misery. Nothing protects us so surely from this wrong turning as inner wealth, the wealth of the mind, for the more eminent it becomes, the less room does it leave for boredom. The inexhaustible activity of ideas, their constantly renewed play with the manifold phenomena of the inner and outer worlds, the power and urge always to make different combinations of them, all these put the eminent mind, apart from moments of relaxation, quite beyond the reach of boredom." [Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life]
"At one point in The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty quotes from Claudel’s work Art poétique: “From time to time, a [person] lifts his [or her] head, sniffs, listens, considers, recognizes his [or her] position: he [or she] thinks, he [or she] sighs, and, drawing [a] watch from [his or her] pocket..., looks at the time. Where am I? and, What time is it? such is the inexhaustible question turning from us to the world...”
Merleau-Ponty then comments:
The watch and the map give here only a semblance of an answer: they indicate to us how what we are living is situated in relation to the course of the stars or to the course of a human day, or in relation to places that have a name. But where are these reference events and these landmarks themselves? They refer us to others, and the answer satisfies us only because we do not attend to it, because we think we are “at home.” The question would arise again and indeed would be inexhaustible, almost insane, if we were to ask: but where is the world itself? And why am I myself? How old am I really? Am I really alone to be me? Have I not somewhere a double, a twin? These questions, which the sick [person] puts to himself or [to herself] in a moment of respite—or simply that glance at his [or her] watch, as if it were of great importance that the torment take place at a given inclination of the sun, at such or such hour in the life of the world—expose, at the moment that life is threatened, the underlying movement through which we have installed ourselves in the world and which recommences yet a little more time for itself. (Merleau-Ponty 1968: 103–104).
The torment, then the moment of respite, and the movement whereby we have installed ourselves in the world return us to mood. Mood, Heidegger observes, brings me to a direct encounter with the enigma of my to-be-in-the-world, and mood does so by virtue of disclosing a “how” of the to-be-in-the-world that I am and must be, in a word, of my facticity. Each of the existentialia is a way in which I am my to-be-in-the-world. Heidegger’s word translated as “mood” is Befindlichkeit, to which the specific moods, die Stimmungen, belong. Wie befinden Sie sich? In English we ask: how are you doing? We cannot just be being. There is always a “how.” This is disclosed by way of the turning away from and the turning toward that are intrin- sic to mood. Being and Time provides analyses of both fear and anxiety. Here is the description of the turning away from and the turning toward intrinsic to fear:
"Taking care of things which fears for itself leaps from one thing to the other, because it forgets itself and thus cannot grasp any definite possibility All “possible” possibilities offer themselves, and that means impossible ones, too. He who fears for himself stops at none of these—the “surrounding world” does not disappear—but he encounters it in the mode of no longer knowing his way around in it. This confused making present of the nearest best thing belongs to forgetting oneself in fear. That, for example, the inhabitants of a burning house often “save” the most unimportant things nearby is known. When one has forgotten oneself and makes present a jumble of unattached possibilities, one thus makes possible the confusion that constitutes the nature of the mood of fear." (Heidegger 1996: 314).
In anxiety, unlike fear, what one is anxious in the face of, and what one anxious about, are the same, specifically, the to-be-in-the-world that I am and that I have to be, in a word, my Da-sein, my being-there, itself. Here is the description of the turn- ing toward and the turning away from that characterize anxiety:
"Beings in the surrounding world are no longer relevant. The world in which I exist has sunk into insignificance, and the world thus disclosed can set free only beings that are not relevant. The nothingness of the world in the face of which Angst is anxious does not mean that an absence of innerworldly things objectively present is experienced in Angst. They must be encountered in just such a way that they are of no relevance at all, but can show themselves in a barren mercilessness. However, this means that our heedful awaiting finds nothing in terms of which it could understand itself, it grasps at the nothingness of the world." (Heidegger 1996: 315).
Heidegger makes the point that anxiety is extraordinarily rare. It holds one on the verge of a decisive moment.
In the lecture course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics (Heidegger 1995), dating from several years after Being and Time, Heidegger provides a very extensive analysis of boredom. Unlike anxiety, which is extraordinarily rare, boredom, Heidegger finds, is the prevailing mood of the times. Ultimately, in what Heidegger characterizes as “deep boredom,” one becomes entranced by the temporal horizon per se as this stretches itself out, in effect, as the movement whereby we have installed ourselves in the world recommences, in Merleau-Ponty’s words, yet a little more time for itself. In boredom, time, in effect, passes too slowly. The German word for boredom, Langeweile, says as much. What we do then is to fill in the time in order to pass the time. At one stage of his step by step approach moving from more superficial boredom to “deep boredom,” Heidegger describes how one’s look- ing at one’s watch (the gesture that figures in Merleau-Ponty’s description of a dis-closure of the movement whereby we have installed ourselves in the world) marks a passing of time by filling in the time. It is in such a passing the time in filling in the time that the movement away from and the movement toward characteristic of boredom lie. With such passing the time in filling in the time, what we do, in effect, is to put boredom to sleep. What Heidegger’s analysis aims at is awakening that sense of deep boredom, awakening the mood, as he puts it, and this in anticipation of another prevailing mood.
This movement away from and this movement toward are indicative of selfhood.
Heidegger specifies that in each case the to-be-in-the-world is mine.
Every mood involves both a turning away from and a turning toward. What mood returns me to is my “having-been,” and therefore of the three “temporal ecstasies” of past, present, and future, mood is most closely associated with past. Still, Da-sein, there-being, per se, is primarily futural. My having-been actually comes out of the future, and this pertains to the sense in which, as Da-sein, there- being, I am always ahead of myself. Importantly, having-bee does not pertain to something left behind. I am, as Heidegger puts this, “in the process of having-been.” What this points up is that the movement away from, disclosed by mood, or, as Heidegger also puts it, a “backing away,” is, in fact, the first movement.
In his essay on the topic of aletheia in Heracleitus, Heidegger had made the point directly that what takes place first is the “lethic,” which is to say, the forgetting (Heidegger 1975). As Heidegger understood matters, the predomi- nant mood in the period of Greek thought was one of wonderment, specifically, a wonderment at the gathering coming to presence of beings in the wake of an inau- gurating event, or in other words, at the fact of world. In our time, when the prevailing mode of the philosophy of presence comes from the identification of subjectivity as the hypokeimenon or ground, culminating when Hegel specifies the Absolute precisely as Idea, the obscuring of a precedent forgetting or withdrawal reaches an extreme point. The prevailing mood now becomes one of deep boredom, again, an entrancement with the temporal horizon as this stretches itself out, an entrancement that Heidegger distinguishes from the “captivation” that operates here where differ- ent animals are concerned. In The Fundamental Problems of Metaphysics, Heidegger writes that this means that we have become bored with ourselves. He writes else- where that today, wherever we turn, we find, again and again, only ourselves.
This strongest of moods is the mood that goes unnoticed in the midst of everyday life’s coming and going. In the turning away from and the turning toward of life in the everyday, in it’s everyday character, and how that can return, even when broken into from an outside, there lies a basic memory, in a present, of the forgetting that has always, and still, happens first." [Kenaan and Ferber, Philosophy's Moods]
"It was the effectiveness of intelligence, as a pre-emptive projection, using the past a guide, which liberated the brain's functions to a degree where it would feel ennui, which became the most pressing need of all. This boredom was the result of energy accumulation without a direction nor a motive to relieve the increasing internal pressures. From this first stage, the mind diverted its energies towards surrogate object/objectives, originally meant to function as a method for reproduction. Sheltering and reproduction as a ―right‖ also reproduced organ weaknesses, and mutations that were contrary to survival. The result was degeneration, pressuring the still accumulating aggregate energies towards decadent means of expression. The shift of consciousness towards self-consciousness could only have happened if the external world, and its processes, had become predictable less of a source of anxiety/fear, more predictable in their ordered human state. The price was servitude, and the benefit was an internal escape. Whatever natural processes remained and still required satisfaction through an external source could be diverted towards alternate methods. Creation emerged, as an artistic expression of these internal pressures needing a focus. For the less sophisticated nervous system, the direction was towards an alternate object/objective.
This double-edged sword of intelligence, that bestows superiority but also the burden of demanding constant stimulation to escape tedium, is more pronounced in man, the highest and most successful of all earthly beasts. Man need only spend a fraction of his time and effort on matters of survival but must then find outlets for his leftover intellectual energies.
Play, therefore, has become for man, not only essential but an important participant in his mental and physical well-being. But more than this, play has ceased to be merely entertainment through action and participation and has evolved into a passive voyeuristic pastime where an individual vicariously involves himself in distraction through third parties and through their extraordinary athletic and/or creative abilities. This vicarious, passive distraction and the extent to which mankind indulges in it, appears to be a distinctive characteristic of mankind‘s existence and how it has evolved, in time, to meet, not only mankind‘s natural requirements in a modern civilization, but mostly mankind‘s social and cultural ones. Where play once served as a training function, a productive diversion and a display of excessive virility, it now, in our modern civilized times, has also taken up the role of an indoctrination tool and a pressure release mechanism for man‘s more subversive and socially destructive natural inclinations." [Mf.]
"Socialism dilutes the human spirit by collecting the surplus of human work and then redistributing it evenly back into the system. It inhibits ambition and the natural human drives, creating this artificial social peace, which is really lethargy, and boredom.
All unities, including organic ones, tend towards a state of equilibrium. Equilibrium is always a reference to the desirable balance between the particular emergent concord‘s combined energies at a particular instance in relation to those it is (inter)acting with during the same period – the environmental conditions.
The fact that these energies are continuously fluctuating makes this desirable state of balance an ongoing process where the anticipated is always approximated but never attained. Only organic unities unbalance themselves willfully, in proportion to their will‘s projections of an absolute state of absolute equilibrium – the idea(l) state. Procreation and all forms of creativity are such projections of idealized stability. With each and every birth a new possibility arises, as the new unity possesses different proportions of renewed strengths and weaknesses.
This willful disequilibrium constitutes free-will as it goes against the individual unity‘s desired tendency towards stability and so it is usually a product of excess energies or an excessive assessment of individual energies - sexual madness usually causes an over-estimation of these energies.
In the advent of civilizations, it has been the control and direction of these sexual impulses that has been essential to their internal harmony. We can gauge the balance, or lack of, of every age and every civilization, by the quality and amplification of the projections it produces in its art and in its spiritual symbols. Inflated projections reveal the level of the ongoing state of imbalance in the minds that produce them, because the embellishment of the projection is inversely proportional to the mind‘s actual state; it is the desired in relation to the actual. Therefore when extreme danger is popularly fashionable, this would suggest that the environmental conditions are extremely comfortable; when extreme comfort is popularly fashionable this would suggest that the conditions are those of extreme discomfort.
In our own time the popularity of extreme sports, the glorification of danger, the ubiquity of extreme imagery in the arts, overall risky behavior, sexual promiscuity and hyperbole in all areas of public discourse exposes an underlying state of boredom and a sheltering which is taken for granted, resulting in ennui and disenfranchisement.
Where danger is avoided in natural environments, unless the individual is caught up in the frenzy of sexual madness, in our time peril is sought after, particularly by those who feel less threatened by a world they‘ve been protected from, and who have never experienced the severity of their actions to any degree approaching the enduring.
It is time we return the world to its more brutal past, silencing the adolescent braggart and ending the impulsive fool‘s dancing taunts. It is time to return sensuality to the world. It is time to find graciousness again." [Mf.]
"Sheltering leads to boredom. Life and all its pleasures must now be revved up a notch to make it noticeable and gratifying, approaching the levels one would experience in natural environments where no lines are drawn and no guarantees are made. As a result masculinity, being repressed and contained, exhibits this tendency to inflate itself into extraordinary proportions so as to deal with its declining substance. The male feeling the most repressed and emasculated will be the one which will be most likely to exaggerate what little masculinity it still is permitted to express, and only in the areas and the directions which it is permitted to do so. Mock displays, controlled environments, hyperbole of gesture and appearances, is how modern males deal with their diminishing relevance. They adapt by adopting feminine methods, and feminine mannerisms. Materialism, hedonism, elaborate shows and showing-off, announce the coming of feminization. All is made bigger, more extraordinary, to avoid looking at how small and ordinary it has all become.
Evidently the demands of civilization limit man and his actions and impose an added boredom to the natural one stemming from an overactive mind; the success of our species and the overpopulation this has resulted in has also managed to detach man from direct relationships with his creations, his work and his fellow human beings; it dehumanizes him into an abstraction, a number, a simple consumer statistic.
This manipulation of individualism and natural drives is achieved through many institutions, of which, the entertainment industry is only one. It is not only the subject matter of entertainment but the mode by which it is offered, that plays an important part in how we think, what we think, and why we think it." [Mf.]
"The melancholy of boredom, acedia, grew out of the taedium vitae of ancient times, the ennui of world weariness and despair at life’s tedium. The need to escape from taedium vitae was one of the few permissible reasons for suicide amongst the Romans, recognising the burden of such an emotion. Taedium vitae affected both the body and the mind.The soul’s illness was manifested somatically, in physical unwellness.On the tomb of the Roman Marcus Pomponius Bassulus is an inscription which explains his suicide as a consequence of this physical and psychical affliction: ‘But vexed of anxieties of a hardpressed mind as well as by numerous pains of the body, so that both were extremely disgusting, I procured for myself the death I wished for.’
During the Dark Ages, in the time of the Desert Fathers – the monks that were stationed in the deserts of Egypt – acedia was identified as a spiritual illness. The rigours of asceticism and devotion to prayer made for a very disciplined and isolated life. Living as hermits, they were required to rise at 4am for prayers, and to spend their days in solitude. Evagrius Ponticus, one of the desert monks based in the Desert of Cells, was conflicted over his occasional reluctance to carry out these rigorous and disciplined tasks, and was dogged by a sense of lassitude and psychic exhaustion. In the fourth century John Chrysostom described the plight of a monk suffering from monastic melancholy, with the symptoms of ‘terrifying nightmares, speech disorders, fits, faints, unjustified feelings of hopelessness about his salvation, and being tormented by a prompting to commit suicide.’
Another of the Desert Fathers, John Cassian, described ‘accidie’ as the ‘midday’ or ‘noonday demon’ (or the ‘sixth’ hour as it was to monks), the time when tiredness and heat were at their most intense, manifesting themselves in restlessness, a sense of time dragging, loneliness and idleness. Psalm 91:6 warns against the ‘destruction that wasteth at noonday’. Cures were perseverance, courage, or the redoubling of efforts at prayer, all targeted towards increased spiritual fortitude.
Acedia originally encompassed both sadness and lassitude, or more precisely what Jackson describes as two triads: sorrow-dejection-despair and neglect-idlenessindolence. Acedia was originally used interchangeably with another term, tristitia. Over time acedia took on the negative connotations of despondency, and tristitia the positive ones of noble suffering.
Sloth and laziness persisted as an auxiliary component of melancholy, and became associated with the ‘great ennui’ of modernity, what Schopenhauer saw as the corrosive force of the modern age. This return to the ancient’s sense of taedium vitae appears in Cheyne’s writings on the ‘English malady’, where he identified Luxury and Laziness as the causes of the growth in nervous disorders, particularly melancholia." [Bowring, A Field Guide to Melancholy]
"A Sadean person turns his rage upon things which he can neither control nor violate. Therefore Sade’s pseudo-materialist metaphysics has no scientific basis other than its dynamic force, which produces some random causal consequences. Its basis is also strictly anti-religious. In his revolt against Christianity, Sade dreams of a principle of nature which is the negation of all things Christian. In this dream, there are no gods, and nature itself is the pantheist and counter-Spinozistic evil. Sade’s nature tends to acquire the features of an object of worship, as if Sade himself fought a losing struggle against such an anthropomorphic idea. He wants a dead nature, but nature’s forces also require attention and respect. Sade never quite shakes such a pseudo-teleological interpretation of nature, however hard he tries.
The simplest possible interpretation of Sade is in terms of the concept of nature that makes the world external to the individual. As a pseudo- materialist, Sade would agree that nature as such is eternal and indestructible. But that fact offers him no personal consolation. All things die so that something else may be born. Our souls perish. According to this simple interpretation, only matter and force are real, and that is why they cannot die: under the blind forces of life and death nature just changes.Nature destroys and procreates all the time. In the Sadean view, creation itself is chaotic because it can neither be controlled nor utilized. Whatever is born represents an enigma and even a threat.
Murder and the refusal to procreate are the two great natural vices, so that the act (murder) and its omission (refusal to procreate) are interchangeable. Murder is creative, since it produces a new state of affairs, death, and a corpse. Non- procreation is more negative, because it results in absolute nothingness. Nothing happens, so that omission is directly associated with voidness. Murder creates death, work excrement, and the refusal to procreate an empty slot in the structure of being. There is nothing else to consume but waste, yet it can only be consumed at the cost of repetition, which leads nowhere. Since nature is chaos, no moral directive can be derived from it. Nothing can be learned from confusion. However, it is clear that Sade also gives nature a didactic role.
The relation between nature and Sade’s ethics is the same as that between philosophy and orgiastic pleasure. The heroes start their truth-seeking philosophizing in the best scientific tradition. After getting their ideas straight, they are ready to proceed to crime, which produces mad rage and virtual insanity. Accordingly, the principle of nature is the first stepping-stone on the way to ethics proper. Ultimately, the libertines care about neither the metaphysics of nature nor its permissiveness. They hate it, like they hate philosophy; yet because the heroes confront nature as the symbol of what is negative and chaotic, they cannot alienate themselves from it. They are perverts. Sade moves from an alienated nature towards its immanence within the person: external chaos is represented by sexual climax and discharge. By means of a myth, nature is ultimately defined as transgression. This myth of being defines what libertines are.
The destructive principle is not impossible to understand. Sade needs an overarching view which provides support for his anti-moral and narrative fiction. He achieves this by stipulating that whatever human goals and values there may be, they will ultimately lead to suffering, death, and destruction, and to the multiplication of things. The world is shit – the symbol of uselessness – since nature is a random device, independent of human goals and intentions. One cannot control or even follow nature. Such a principle unifies his metaphysics of materialism, his atheism, his hedonism, his life in prisons, and his theory of the subversive literary style. Everything can be understood from a single point of view, which therefore looks attractive to Sade. At the same time, nature as a general explanatory scheme cannot lead us far into the realm of terror.
The simple and basic principle of nature is either random or causal; therefore it cannot be teleological and value-bound, except deceptively. Nevertheless, Sade derives certain key aspects of his normative ethics from nature, by saying simply that because nature destroys, we should destroy too. But sometimes he refuses to draw this conclusion, asserting instead that if a person understands the meaning of the principle correctly, he can destroy without being destroyed. In this way, the principle offers a justificatory argument for the wicked person, and shows him a way out of the maelstrom of meaningless suffering and death. Moreover, the laws of nature may even be utilized instrumentally for one’s own benefit. Such a far-flung interpretation, which Sade announces repeatedly, indicates that nature has a deeper meaning than a blind materialism may allow.
The principle of nature is deceptive, though. Since natural processes lead to their proper ends, it looks teleological, and this should be taken into account. The world is what it is, and humans must recognize this and live accordingly. The argument continues: human beings are natural creatures, and therefore the principle of nature applies to them. When people live their lives, they behave as highly motivated, destructive, and violent animals. People find the fulfillment of their mature desires in the life led according to the prescriptions of violence. Yet they are nothing but bloodthirsty scavengers who consume whatever dirt emerges from the processes of decay. Nature’s promises are deceptive.
Nature is cruel and the lot of man is tragic, because contrary to what may appear to be the case, nothing allows people to be violent. That would entail the control and exploitation of nature, which they cannot achieve. The violent animal fails to destroy, because nature provides only waste for him to play with. Instead of being what he is, he becomes a scavenger.To consume what is already consumed – shit – is to share what is decomposed and without use or function. This is the essence of circularity. Therefore Sade’s counter-ethical problem is to show that to consume waste is orgiastic. Anyone who can prove this coprologic theorem deserves to be read. Jane Gallop writes about it: “The turd, like the corpse, ought to be left behind in any universal process.”4 A pervert refuses to honor this intuition. He plays with the corpse and consumes the turd. He starts from circularity and proceeds, via repetition, towards self-transcendence, which is the truth of the natural world and therefore also of orgiastic self-destruction.
As a result, two major principles clash in an uncompromising manner: the unpredictability of nature and the prescriptions of wickedness derived from it. According to the first, we must destroy and be destroyed at random. According to the second, we must break all the laws, since this is the sole satisfying thing from a perverse perspective. Whatever principles exist must be broken. Finally, the libertines will enjoy social success, and become wealthy, influential, and famous. In a confusing manner, social success follows from a wicked life plan. Self-destruction is not on the agenda. Destructive nature is deceived by those immoral people who join its forces and avoid their natural fate. Thus the world is inconsistent and not moral at all: it is impossible to formulate anything like a regular principle of nature, since as such it must be immediately broken.
Here there emerges a deeper level of the principle of nature, or a myth of the human essence. A person creates contradictions by violating the norms and laws, and this is his sole satisfying possibility. The project of the wicked life is ultimately expressed in terms of the norms of inconsistency, incoherence, and the absence of personal integrity. A wicked person is required to break even the laws of wickedness and destroy the source of destruction itself. This is his perverse pleasure, and the satisfaction of his own natural character. Since one cannot realize these plans, a scavenging attitude is the result. One consumes whatever happens to be available. However, scavenging is a restless, eternal search-process. It implies lack of power and leads to disappointment and hatred; and begging, in turn, necessitates revenge. To be an avenger one must manipulate a victim, like a predator does, but with a merely negative and self-denying attitude. Yet predation already entails a relative freedom from nature.
The ultimate success is achieved in the artificial world of social life, and established via a civil contract. There one is able to forget hatred, and aim at one’s own controlled pleasure. Nevertheless, a Sadean person always struggles against his nature, which condemns him to passivity; although he, as a libertine, tries to be busy, he cannot avoid the need for apathy – meaning rigor, decisiveness, and calmness – when facing any horror.5 His pleasures are rigid. His atrocities are repetitive. His work is predictable and thus not creative. How can destruction be otherwise? Such is Sade’s ultimate challenge to morality and religious thinking. Can we make sense of such a life, when Sade claims that it is an ideal? My answer will be: only in fiction by means of literary style.
The problem which Sade now faces may be put in the following terms. The principle of nature explains why libertine heroes enjoy their perverse pleasures so readily. Their actions are part of a destructive and meaningless process. They aim at nothing, or at the void. But why should destruction appear as a stimulus to them? And how can they be socially successful in a jungle? Philosophers as they are, they should know that there is nothing to destroy or to gain in the long run. Excluding discharges, all barriers are mere illusions; in nature nothing can be destroyed or achieved. All activity becomes pointless. Though Sade may have an explanation for the perverse pleasure, he cannot account for its occurrence and long-term existence. If barriers existed, their collapse would provide some excitement for people, but nothing resembling such obstacles exists. Everything is just unavailable energy. In order to discover a coherent view, we need to go into the details of Sade’s metaphysics. We can see where a scavenger’s momentary pleasure comes from, if not the reason why the heroes enjoy lasting social success. In other words, if nothing matters, why should one enjoy it, and how can such nothingness lead to social success?
The point must be stressed, however, that the principle of nature says almost nothing about sex. This asexuality of nature is important because nature is the principal metaphysical explanation of pleasure and motivation, and therefore it follows that sex is secondary in importance to death. However, a goal is still needed, so that one cannot drop the term “orgasm,” understood as discharge and orgiastic pleasure, from the Sadean vocabulary. It is really not a sexual term, but more a general expression referring to a natural process, or a primordial release, of which the sexual feeling proper is only a pleasant approximation. Sex may be important, but regardless of its status as the good source of liquid discharge, it cannot express the truth about pleasure to its investigator.The key term for Sade is perversity. Sade is first and foremost interested in murder, both as an action (killing) and as an omission (no procreation); and perversity is primarily related to killing and death, and only secondarily to sex. Sade is not interested in sex if it is associated with love. Only perverse sex interests him, but that is secondary to his interest in destruction. The rhetorical links between death, sex, and discharge, are provided by the language of crime and cruelty.
Metaphysics, the science of the ultimate truth, has no room for anything less than the complex forms of the annihilation of life. A set of nested allusions is involved: the void is confusion, indicating active and passive killing as well as the blind proliferation of life, and all this is both natural and enjoyable. The bitter truth is that it is emptiness alone which drives people towards activity and artificial constructions. They can find true happiness, but only if they can simultaneously reach the void and realize their values. The irony of this plan is our inheritance from Sade’s discussion of the myth of nature, which he takes to be our own essence.
Sade’s fundamental presupposition is that we need to be active. Why are we not complacent, then? Perhaps the sole answer is that by killing God, Sade creates a new god, nature, which is still to be conquered. Even the dead God is an enemy, because nothing can replace Him. The void which He leaves behind haunts Sade and drives him to cross the limits beyond which the void itself waits. He struggles to be active in realizing his negative ends and counter-values. Sade’s ethics and utopian speculations can be understood as a rebellion against nature from within, by means of artificial constructions. Language, pleasure, and society are all results of work whose purpose is to show that the Sadean person is a genuine predator, an active seeker of his own pleasure. The final meaning of nature is, therefore, given in terms of what is artificial in a person. Beyond this is the ultimate non-experience which follows from discharging, or orgiastic pleasure which is nothingness. Therefore nature is but a stepping-stone back to itself.
Murder and sex without procreation are all a person is left with. This cyclic process resembles consumption of waste. Thus nature ensures that man avoids virtue and it puts no constraints on this process. Nature’s attitude is one of indifference. Though the best way to get pleasure is to play the game, one should not think that this alone changes anything. Sadean teachers always emphasize that since nature does not care what we do, human beings are alone in the world and at the mercy of their neighbors, who are all greedy for their private pleasure. The result is their cruelty to one another.
What Madame de Saint-Ange achieves is a partial revenge against cruel nature. The turd is the avenging symbol of male penetration insofar as it promises pleasure through one’s own anus; it also penetrates the recipient’s mouth like a dirty phallus. Here we have one reason why Sade is so excessively interested in excretion, an interest which even Gilbert Lely has trouble accepting in his defense of Sade. The symbolism is the deepest and most disgusting we find in Sade’s works: the revenge of castration and the refusal to return to one’s birthplace by means of the unclean surrogate of penetration. However, all libertines in their natural condition play with waste, and therefore have reasons to be bitter and to contemplate thoughts of revenge.
It may be asked why Sade (or the Pope) does not commit suicide, since nature is perceived to be such a devious guide. The answer is: first, because nature does not require anything from them. Second, their pleasure is the experience of the void, which resembles death. Third, all life is merely metaphoric in relation to nature, which alone is really real. They are already dead.
This last point is particularly important. At the simplest individual level the principle of metaphor entails that all libertines simulate the life of nature by destroying as much as possible. But they, unlike nature, also love, reason, deliberate, unite, and struggle to avoid death. In this way they play a game whose name is nature, and whose rules specify that they know the total isolation of nature. It neither prescribes nor answers questions, and whatever they do has no effect on what is real. The sole alternative is to find the way to ultimate transcendent pleasures through some fictional means – stories, narratives, stage productions. Life, including the society of the Old Regime, becomes a mere play. Sadean heroes have no real hope of being successfully wicked, because they know nature does not care about them. They need substitutes, like the Sadean theater of pain where they enact pleasure." [Timo Airaksinen, The Philosophy of Marquis de Sade]
"The dullard expects to be entertained, and whatever threatens its dull existence is called exactly what it fears is prevalent in their own dullness: ennui. The dullard projects its dullness outward, wanting to turn the different into something it can deal with: the dull.
Boredom is not only its preferred state but a defensive mechanism. They want to be awoken from their lethargy by new, more creatively dull ways. They want excitement when it leads back to boredom. They want the different when it leads back to the usual.
Packaging is what they crave. New and exciting ways to package the same rubbish.
They want dullards stimulating them out of their shared condition with harmless, fantastically, childish ways."
"Has one seen dullards flock to movie theaters and to new book releases? The same rubbish delivered in a different book-cover, and with a different title. They love change, theoretically, because the present, the real, is so distasteful to them, and so unflattering to them and to their lineage; but not just any change will do. For them change is synonymous with good, or tasteful variety. A buffet of edible differences, which all remain edible and digestible. Their stomach, their constitution, is a gauge of what is acceptable and what is not. Though entropy means increasing negativity, in regards to human needs, for the dullard, being that he is a dullard, change can only promise goodness, for anything, but anything, is better than what is, so thinks the naive dullard."
"Dullards want opinions to change, only if this change is superficial, because they think this is open-mindedness, and because they expect reality to be so dynamic that nothing ever holds true for any period of time, unless it is frightening. When it is frightening then they demand that it changes, to get rid of its threat. Then they expect immediate, change, back to the usual, but packaged differently so the appearance of accepting change is retained. For the dullard, their safety-net are these expectations for that which threatens to alter, and by "alter" the dullard means change to harmonize with its own dullness. For a dullard, change is a code word, meaning that what threatens its comfortable ennui must change to adhere to a different variant of his own dullness.
Dullards want change within boundaries."
"Dullards want a more creative way of dealing with their dullness. Change is desirable because it is always within the context of what they consider manageable. What exceeds it will be accused of dullness, or avoided, preferring the harmless kind of repetitive dullness they think is exciting.
They expect the different, in a world of change, because they are trapped in a cocoon of conformity which they both depend upon and despise. Their dullness insists and demands the same. It feels entitled to taste the same in a variety of different ways.
The world is constant change, this is its nature, but they do not simply wish for any-old change, but a particular, by-the-book, sort of change, where the return to the dull usual is also part of the expected, unstated, deal."
"For dullards change is preferable, only if it does not change what they consider fundamental, and self-evident.
They want change, the different, but only when it does not surpass a limit they share with the dullards that surround them.
Sameness is the dullards' narcotic."
"The dull ones usually expect to be serviced, to be taken care of. They want to be given new things, be stimulated in new ways, be inspired by the unique, like a baby would, because they are dull, and empty inside; they are bored with themselves and the world they feel comfortable within. The dull world they reaffirm daily with their dull mind, and expect it to reciprocate in kind.
For these dullards, the unique is not only possible but expected. Better to be vulgar and idiotic than to be boring, when boredom is the world they live, and have immersed themselves within.
All is dull because they are dull and they associate with dullness."
"It is always those who cannot create, cannot write, or paint, or think outside the social and cultural box, the norms, that most complain about the popular forms of creativity, as they experience them, and have access to them. They are the harshest critics, because there is always an element of resentment, of an inferiority complex wanting to avenge itself. But their critical harshness is very particular. They find the repetitive reaffirmation of what they hold dear, and consider self-evident and necessary, as exciting, when it is presented to them in a variety of ways, but are quick to become bored by anything contrary to it. The dullard is easily amused by the same, when it simply reminds him of his sameness, and the dullness this produces, but cannot tolerate anything which reminds him of a difference, because then it becomes annoyingly repetitive. Dullness is only acceptable when it produces that flow of endorphins that help the dullard escape his dullness."
I have a friend who is like this to the extreme. He is not a rich man and wants to spend 5 grand on DVDs (DVDs, pornos, and movies.) How do I help him? He is quite stubborn. After he spends 5 grand he won't have a dime left.
"The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world . . ." [Kingdom Come]
"Children are not oracles, but they ask with persistent regularity the great existential question, "What shall we do now?" Every adult remembers, among many other things, the great ennui of childhood, and every child's life is punctuated by spells of boredom: that state of suspended anticipation in which things are started and nothing begins, the mood of diffuse restlessness which contains that most absurd and paradoxical wish, the wish for a desire.
As psychoanalysis has brought to our attention the passion ate intensity ofthe child's internal world, it has tended to equate significance with intensity and so has rarely found a place, in theory, for all those less vehement, vaguer, often more subtle feelings and moods that much of our lives consist of. It is part ofWinnicott's contribution to have alerted us to the importance, in childhood, of states of relative quiescence, of moods that could never figure, for example, in Melanie Klein's gothic melo drama of emotional development. Although there are several references in the psychoanalytic literature to the project of the boring patient, and fewer to the seemingly common adult fear of being boring, very little has been written about the child's ordinary experience of being bored, a mood that by definition seems to preclude elaborate description. As any child will tell us, it's just having nothing to do. But moods, of course, are points of view.
Clinically one comes across children unable to be bored, and more often, children unable to be anything else. In any discussion of waiting, at least in relation to the child, it makes sense to speak of boredom because the bored child is waiting, unconsciously, for an experience of anticipation. In ordinary states ofboredom the child returns to the possibility ofhis own desire. That boredom is actually a precarious process in which the child is, as it were, both waiting for something and looking for something, in which hope is being secretly negotiated; and in this sense boredom is akin to free-floating attention. In the muffied, sometimes irritable confusion of boredom the child is reaching to a recurrent sense of emptiness out ofwhich his real desire can crystallize. But to begin with, of course, the child needs the adult to hold, and hold to, the experience-that is, to recognize it as such, rather than to sabotage it by distraction. The child's boredom starts as a regular crisis in the child's developing capacity to be alone in the presence of the mother. In other words, the capacity to be bored can be a developmental achievement for the child.
Experiencing a frustrating pause in his usually mobile attention and absorption, the bored child quickly becomes preoccupied by his lack of preoccupation. Not exactly waiting for someone else, he is, as it were, waiting for himself. Neither hopeless nor expectant, neither intent nor resigned, the child is in a dull helplessness of possibility and dismay. In simple terms the child always has two concurrent, overlapping projects: the project of self-sufficiency in which use of, and need for, the other is interpreted, by the child, as a concession; and a project of mutuality that owns up to a dependence. In the banal crisis of boredom, the conflict between the two projects is once again renewed. Is it not, indeed revealing, what the child's boredom evokes in the adults? Heard as a demand, sometimes as an accusation of failure or disappointment, it is rarely agreed to, simply acknowledged. How often, in fact, the child's boredom is met by that most perplexing form ofdisapproval, the adult's wish to distract him-as though the adults have decided that the child's life must be, or be seen to be, endlessly interesting. It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take time to find what interests him. Boredom is integral to the process of taking one's time.
While the child's boredom is often recognized as an incapacity, it is usually denied as an opportunity.
I asked a boy what would happen if he allowed himself to be bored, and he paused for the first time, I think, in the treatment, and said, "I wouldn't know what I was looking forward to," and was, momentarily, quite panic-stricken by this thought.
If the bored child cannot sufficiently hold the mood, or use the adult as an unimpinging auxiliary ego, there is a premature flight from uncertainty, the familiar orgy of promiscuous and disappointing engagements that is also, as it were, a trial action in action, a trying things out. At its worst there is what the adult will come to know, from his repertoire ofdisplacements, as the simulation ofhis desire, which in the child often takes the form of a regressive fabrication ofneed. A boy ofeight referred for being "excessively greedy and always bored, " said to me in the first session, "If I eat everything I won't have to eat any more." This could have meant several things, but for him it meant then that if he could eat everything he would no longer need to be hungry. One magical solution, of course, to the problem of having been tantalized is to have no desire. For this boy greed was, among other things, an attack on the desiring part ofthe self, a wish to get to the end ofhis appetite and finish with it once and for all. Part of the total fantasy of greed is always the attempt to eat up one's own appetite. But for this desolate child greed was a form of self-cure for a malign bore dom that continually placed him on the threshold of an empti ness, a lack, that he couldn't bear; an emptiness in which his own idiosyncratic, unconscious desire lurked as a possibility. When I asked him if he was ever lonely, he said that he was "too bored to be lonely. "
Inability to tolerate empty space limits the amount of space available.
- W. R. Bion, Cogitations
The child is dependent not only on the mother, but also on his desire. Both can be lost and refound. So perhaps boredom is merely the mourning ofeveryday life? "It is really only because we know so well how to explain it, " Freud wrote of mourning, "that this attitude does not seem to us pathological." But the child's boredom is a mood that seems to negate the possibility of explanation. It is itself unexplaining, inarticulate; certainly not pathological but nevertheless somehow unacceptable. Some of the things Freud says in Mourning and Melancholia about the melancholic can easily be said of the bored child. "One feels . . . a loss . . . has occurred, but one cannot see clearly what it is that has been lost, and it is all the more reasonable to suppose that the patient cannot consciously perceive what he has lost either. " What the bored child experiences himself as losing is "something to do" at the moment in which nothing is inviting.
"The inhibition of the melancholic seems puzzling to us, " Freud writes, "because we cannot see what it is that is absorbing him so entirely. " In a sense, the bored child is absorbed by his lack of absorption, and yet he is also preparing for something of which he is unaware, something that will eventually occasion an easy transition or a mild surprise of interest. "In mourning it is the world that has become poor and empty; in melancholia it is the ego itself. " And in boredom, we might add, it is both. The brief but intense boredoms of childhood are reactive to no great loss, but are merely an interruption-after something and before something else. Like all genuine transitional states, their destination is unclear. Certainly when bored as an adult one cannot, in Freud's words, "hide the weakness of one's own nature." But what, we might ask, following Freud's approach in this extraordinary paper, is the work which boredom per forms for the child?
Clearly, for the bored child nothing is "available for the pur poses of self-expression. "Instead of "expectancy and stillness" there is a dreary agitation; instead of "self-confidence and . . . free bodily movement" there is a cramped restlessness. Bore dom, one could say, is the set situation before there is a spatula to be found; or perhaps, more absurdly, a set situation full of spatulas in which the child has to find one that really appeals to him. The bored child, a sprawl of absent possibilities, is looking for something to hold his attention. He is like a man who walks as quickly as possible through a gallery until a pic ture actually arrests his attention, until he is stopped-and at that point, we might add, the transference has taken. For the child to be allowed to have what Winnicott calls "the full course of the experience" the child needs the use of an environment that will suggest things without imposing them; not preempt the actuality of the child's desire by force-feeding, not distract the child by forcing the spatula into his mouth. It is a process, Winnicott is saying, that is easily violated-although I would say that in growing up one needs a certain flair for distraction.
One can ask then, adapting Freud's phrase, What are the individual's preconditions for desire, for letting his feelings develop? What are the situa tions he sets-the occasions he organizes-to make desire pos sible? Boredom, of course, is prehesitation, but in each period of boredom the child returns to these questions.
The ordinary boredom of childhood is the benign version of what gets acted out, or acted out of, in what Winnicott calls the antisocial tendency.5 But as adults boredom returns us to the scene of inquiry, to the poverty of our curiosity, and the simple question, What does one want to do with one's time? What is a brief malaise for the child becomes for the adult a kind of muted risk. After all, who can wait for nothing?
Clov: Do you believe in the life to come?
Hamm: Mine was always that.
- Samuel Beckett, Endgame
In the process of waiting for the mother the child discovers a capacity for representation as a means of deferral. Representation-fantasy-is the medium in which he desires and waits. The child can conceive of himself, as a desiring subject, in her absence, only in the space that comes between them. Optimally, with the cumulative experience ofwaiting for a reliable mother the child will confidently find himself as the source of pos sibilities; and he will be relatively unembittered by his gradual pre-oedipal disillusionment and loss of omnipotence. What Melanie Klein has described as the paranoid-schizoid position6 may be simply an account of the state of mind of an infant who has been made to wait beyond his capacity or tolerance, to the point at which desire is experienced intrapsychically as a threat to the always precarious integrity of the ego.
What Klein does reveal, following Freud, is what could be called the individual's will to substitution, the need for every absence to be a presence. For the infant, in the agonies of waiting indefinitely, the good breast turns into the bad persecuting breast, but is neverthe less present as such in the infant's mind. In Klein's develop mental theory, therefore, the whole notion of waiting is being rethought because, in a sense, the infant is never alone. Without sufficient attentiveness by the mother there is to an excessive degree what Laplanche so starkly describes, in a different con text, as an attack of the drives on the ego; 7 which will become, through projection, a refusal of the eventual presence of the object. It is difficult to enjoy people for whom we have waited too long. And in this familiar situation, which evokes such intensities offeeling, we wait and we try to do something other than waiting, and we often get bored-the boredom ofprotest that is always a screen for rage.
One can, of course, distract oneself only from what one has seen, or imagines one has seen. The defenses, as Freud described them, are forms of recognition, instruments for the compromising of knowledge. We can think of boredom as a defense against waiting, which is, at one remove, an acknowl edgment of the possibility of desire.
In boredom, we can also say, there are two assumptions, two impossible options: there is some thing I desire, and there is nothing I desire. But which of the two assumptions, or beliefs, is disavowed is always ambiguous, and this ambiguity accounts, I think, for the curious paralysis of boredom (it is worth remembering Joyce McDougall's sense of disavowal, that it "implies the notion of 'avowal' followed by a destruction ofmeaning"). In boredom there is the lure of a possible object of desire, and the lure of the escape from desire, of its meaninglessness.
In this context what begins for the child as the object of desire becomes, for the adult, what Christopher Bollas has described as the "transformational object. " Initially the mother, it is "an object that is experientially identified by the infant with the process of the alteration of self experience. " This earliest relationship becomes the precursor of, the paradigm for, "the person's search for an object (a person, place, event, ideology) that promises to transform the self." At the first stage "the mother is not yet identified as an object but is experienced as a process of transformation, and this feature remains in the trace of this object-seeking in adult life, where I believe the object is sought for its function as signifier of the process of transforma tion ofbeing. Thus, in adult life, the quest is not to possess the object; it is sought in order to surrender to it as a process that alters the self. " But just as, for example, we cannot know beforehand which ofthe day's events from what Freud calls the "dream-day" will be used as day-residues in the dream-work, we cannot necessarily know what will serve as a transforma tional object. The fact that anything might serve to transform a person's life has extravagant consequences for the possible shapes of a life, and, of course, for the significance attributed to therapeutic interventions. We are drawn, in fact, to ask a brash question: a madeleine or an analyst? An analysis can at least be arranged. But it cannot, alas, organize epiphanies, or guarantee those processes of transformation-those articulations-that return the future to us through the past.
Proust writes in Swann's Way (1913), "It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves die. " 1 1 The past can also, as we know, be hidden in the transference, and so can appear to be hidden in that material object called the analyst. But can we believe that there is a royal road, so to speak, to the transformational object?
Boredom, I think, protects the individual, makes tolerable for him the impossible experience of waiting for something without knowing what it could be. So the paradox ofthe wait ing that goes on in boredom is that the individual does not know what he was waiting for until he finds it, and that often he does not know that he is waIting. One could, in this sense, speak of the "analytic attitude" as an attentive boredom. With his set of approximations the bored individual is clueless and mildly resentful, involved in a halfhearted, despondent search for something to do that will make a difference.
Clearly, we should speak not of boredom, but of the bore doms, because the notion itselfincludes a multiplicity ofmoods and feelings that resist analysis; and this, we can say, is integral to the function of boredom as a kind of blank condensation of psychic life. In that more ordinary, more fleeting, boredom of the child the waiting is repressed. The more common risk for the adult-less attended to, more set in his ways, than the child-is that the boredom will turn into waiting. That the individual will become "brave enough to let his feelings develop" in the absence ofan object-toward a possible object, as it were-and by doing so commit himself, or rather, entrust himself, to the inevitable elusiveness of that object. For the adult, it seems, boredom needs to be the more permanent sus pended animation of desire. Adulthood, one could say, is when it begins to occur to you that you may not be leading a charmed life." [On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life]