Notebook (‘curiosity’)

July 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Suppose then that you began with the proposition that boredom was a kind of pain caused by unused powers, the pain of wasted possibilities or talents, and was accompanied by expectations of the optimum utilisation of capacities. (I try to guard against falling into the social-cience style on these mental occasions.) Nothing actual ever suits pure expectation and such purity of expectation is a great source of tedium. People rich in abilities, in sexual feeling, rich in mind and in invention – all the highly gifted see themselves shunted for decades onto dull sidings, banished exiled nailed up in chicken coops. Imagination has even tried to surmount the problems by forcing boredom itself to yield interest. This insight I owe to Humboldt Von Fleisher, who showed me how it was done by James Joyce, but anyone who reads books can easily find it out for himself. Modern French literature is especially preoccupied with the theme of boredom. Stendhal mentioned it on every page. Flaubert devoted entire books to it, and Baudelaire was its chief poet. What is the reason for this peculiar French sensitivity? Can it be because the ancien regime, fearing another Fronde, created a court that emptied the provinces of talent? Outside the centre, where art philosophy science manners conversation thrived, there was nothing. Under Louis XIV, the upper classes enjoyed a refined society, and, whatever else, people didn’t need to be alone. Cranks like Rousseau made solitude glamorous, but sensible people agreed that it was really terrible. Then in the eighteenth century being in prison began to acquire its modern significance. Think how often Manon and Des Grieux were in jail. And Mirabeau and my own buddy Von Trenck and of course the Marquis de Sade. The intellectual future of Europe was determined by people impregnated with boredom, by the writings of prisoners. Then, in 1789, it was young men from the sticks, provincial lawyers scribblers and orators,m who assaulted and captured the centre of interest. Boredom has more to do with modern political revolution than justice has. In 1917, that boring Lenin who wrote so many boring pamphlets and letters on organisational questions was, briefly, all passion, all radiant interest. The Russian Revolution promised mankind a permanently interesting life. When Trotsky spoke of permanent revolution he really meant permanent interest. … When this brilliant short phase ended, what came next? The most boring society in history. Dowdiness shabbiness dullness dull goods boring buildings boring discomfort boring supervision a dull press dull education boring bureaucracy forced labour perpetual police presence penal presence, boring party congresses, et cetera. What was permanent was the defeat of interest.”


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