Susan Sontag’s Function of Boredom: Good + Bad
by Christian Parreno
[Arthur] Schopenhauer the first imp[ortant] writer to talk about boredom (in his Essays) — ranks it with ‘pain’ as one of the twin evils of life (pain for have-nots, boredom for haves — it’s a question of affluence).
People say ‘it’s boring’ — as if that were a final standard of appeal, and no work of art had the right to bore us.
But most of the interesting art of our time is boring. Jasper Johns is boring. Beckett is boring, Robbe-Grillet is boring. Etc. Etc.
Maybe art has to be boring, now. (Which obviously doesn’t mean that boring art is necessarily good— obviously.)
We should not expect art to entertain or divert any more. At least, not high art.
Boredom is a function of attention. We are learning new modes of attention — say, favoring the ear more than the eye — but so long as we work within the old attention-frame we find X boring … e.g. listening for sense rather than sound (being too message-oriented). Possibly after repetition of the same single phrase or level of language or image for a long while — in a given written text or piece of music or film, if we become bored, we should ask if we are operating in the right frame of attention. Or — maybe we are operating in one right frame, where we should be operating in two simultaneously, thus halving the load on each (as sense and sound).
Sontag, Susan & Rieff, David (Editor) (2012) As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964 – 1980. New York, USA: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.