Boredom / Leisure Time

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I’ve just begun reading through The Dialectics of Seeing by Susan Buck-Morss, which is an in-depth examination of Benjamin’s The Arcade’s Project. I haven’t yet had time to read through each page so I’ve begun by looking up “flâneur” in the index and referencing those first.

I found this entry, on Boredom interesting – particularly the part about how sleep being where class differences are crucial. I’ll leave this here without too much comment but I did find myself thinking about the concept of leisure time something that’s for the privileged and a certain class; How does that relate to someone like my friend, Mohamad, who flâneused his way around Berlin for hours and hours each day as an escape from literal container he was given to reside as he awaited an answer about his residency status as well as an escape from the limbo in which he was not allowed to work. True leisure and the right to have it is a privileged thing – certain people who would hear about refugees spending hours doing “nothing” other than wandering the city would call them lazy and complain that they were “abusing the system”. (Not so – the people with refugee status that I met were desperately wanting to work.)

Think of this in relation to people that I know or have known personally – white people with American passports – who take off to Instagram themselves doing nothing but walking and eating (and patting themselves on the back for doing so) in Europe. We are congratulated for our adventure and “self care”, and for our attempts to master the art of “doing nothing”.

I’m going off on a tangent now, but keep these things in mind – or any other thought you may have on the subject, as you read this:


Monotony is nourished by the new.

Hellishly repetitive time – eternal waiting waiting punctuated by a “discontinuous” sequence of “interruptions” – constitutes the particularly modern form of boredom, that in Paris already in the 1840s, “began to be experienced as epidemic.” “France is bored,” announced Lamartine in 1839. Haussmann’s remodeling did not help matters: “These great streets, these great quays, these great buildings, these great sewers, their physiognomy badly copied or badly imagined, […] exhale boredom.” Benjamin comments: “The more that life is regulated administratively, the more people must learn waiting, Games of chance have the great attraction of making people free from waiting.” Endless waiting thus makes the finality of fate seem appealing. Boredom, however, is not escaped easily. It threatens the gambler, the drug user, the flâneur, and the dandy who appear to choose their fate freely, no less than the externally compelled workers at their machines who cannot. Benjamin calls boredom an “index of participation in the collective sleep.” But it is a sleep in which class differences are crucial. If history, far from progressing with the pace of technology, is stuck like a broken record in the present structure of social relations, it is because the workers cannot afford to stop working, any more than the class that lives off this labor can afford to let history go forward. “We are bored when we do not know what we are waiting for.” The upper classes do not know, and do not wish to know, that the objective source of boredom is because history is languishing – and the moment of their own overthrow is delayed. They are addicted to boredom, as they are to remaining asleep. The average man – and the poet – blames boredom on the weather. But for the working class, industrial labor shatters the illusion that nature rather than society is to blame. Benjamin characterizes “factory work as the economic substructure of the idealogical boredom of the upper classes” for whom boredom is merely fashionable, citing Engels (1844) on the condition of the working class in England:

“The gloomy routine of an endless agony of work, in which the identical mechanical process is undergone again and again, is like the task of Sisyphus: The burden of work, like rocks, falls back repeatedly upon the exhausted workers.”

Benjamin distinguishes politically between different social types in terms of their attitude toward boredom: the gambler just killing time, the flâneur who ‘charges time with power like a battery,’ and ‘finally, a third type: he charges time and gives its power out again in changed form – in that of expectation.’

The Dialectics of Seeing by Susan Buck-Morss, p 104-5


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