Boredom and Uniformity: Leopardi on the Enemy of Pleasure

by Christian Parreno

Uniformity is a sure cause of boredom. Uniformity is boredom, and boredom uniformity. There are many kinds of uniformity. There is also the uniformity produced by continuous variety, and this, too, causes boredom, as I’ve said elsewhere and proved by examples. There is the continuousness of this or that pleasure, whose continuousness is uniformity, and so also boredom, although  its subject is pleasure. Those foolish poets who saw that descriptions in poetry are pleasing and reduced poetry to continuous description have taken away the pleasure, and replaced it with boredom (like the great modern foreign poets they call descriptive). And I have seen people of no literature eagerly read the Aeneid (translated into their language), which seemingly can’t be appreciated by those who are not experts, and throw away the Metamorphoses after the first books, though it seems to be written for those who wish to be entertained with little trouble. You see what Homer says in the person of Menelaus: “There is sufficiency of all things, music, sleep.” etc. The continuing of pleasures (even if they are very different from one another) or of things scarcely different from pleasures is also uniformity, and so boredom, and so the enemy of pleasure. And since happiness consists in pleasure, so continuous pleasure (whatever the pleasure) is by nature harmful to happiness, since it is harmful and destructive of pleasure. Nature has achieved in all ways the happiness of animals. So it had had to keep from animals and forbid them continuous pleasure. (Further, we have often seen how Nature has fought against boredom in all ways possible, and abhors it as the ancients thought it abhorred a vacuum). See how ills come to be necessary to happiness itself, and take on the true and real essence of goods in the general order of nature, especially since indifferent things, that is, those that are neither goods nor ills, are in themselves causes of boredom, as I have shown elsewhere, and, further, do not disrupt pleasure, and so do not destroy uniformity so keenly and fully as ills do, and alone can do. Whereas the convulsions of the elements and other such things that cause suffering and the ill of fear in man, natural or civilized, and likewise in animals, etc., and infirmities and a hundred other ills which living beings cannot avoid, even in the primitive state (although one by one these ills are random, perhaps their type and universality is  not), are recognized as conductive, and in a certain way necessary, to the happiness of living creatures, and so are rightly contained and placed and welcomed in the natural order, which aims in all ways at the said happiness. And that is not only because those ills put the goods into relief, and because one enjoys health more after illness and calm after a storm, but because without those ills goods would not even be good for long, for they would become boring, and not be enjoyed, or felt as goods and pleasures, and since the sensation of pleasure, as truly pleasurable, cannot last long, etc. (7 August 1822)

Leopardi, Giacomo. Zibaldone. London: Macmillan, 2013/1821. 1084-85