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The Dead Art of Being Bored

If sleep is the apogee of physical relaxation, boredom is the apogee of mental relaxation. Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustle in the leaves drives him away. His nesting places—activities that are intimately associated with boredom—are already extinct in the city and are declining in the country as well. — Walter Benjamin, The Storyteller

Boredom and the art of being bored have long been lost from the city.  One of the most temperamental of life’s many faces, boredom can be shattered by the rustle of the most invisible breath. Rumbling trains and gurgling motorbikes. Humming street lights displaying chatty girls in neon tights. Homeless men wishing their lives did not trickle so fast and so loudly. Posh apartments where the ultrasonic screeching of silence is driving childless mothers to sophisticated madness.

The city is such a noisy place.

Is this what we in the city remember of the figure of the waiting man?  A man sitting on a bench at the platform with nothing but the tapping of his newly polished shoe to conjure the train? A lover waiting for the beloved under the tree by the cemetery? A farmer waiting for the long wait before the harvest to end? A fisherman coasting home down a river that wished it were a stream? No.

Because nowadays, it is life who hurries up and down the world for us. The seasons come and go in a hurry for us. There are reports of the globe spinning faster on its axis for us. The icecaps are melting because they too have caught on with the frenzy to live only for us.

I sometimes try really hard to get bored the same way I try to say my prayers, try to not eat meat, try to drink coffee decaf, try to have sex only when it feels right, try to take wheat whole and tasteless, try to make my laughter the proof of my happiness. I never succeed.

Someone said the other day that boredom left the city and flew with broken wings to the country. But it seems more likely that it fled to the past where people still sit around the spinning wheel and welcome to their lonely verandas boredom, who weave in their dreams thousand year old stories that had to be ruined so that our cities could be built.

Photo Credit: Jack Delano, 1914.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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  1. Boye 2010/09/01 at 23:23 #

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