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The Boredoms of Late Modernity
Twożywo, Kiedy wreszcie będzie wojna (When there will finally be a war), 2001

Goethe allegedly remarked that “monkeys would be worth considering as humans if they were capable of being bored” (Svendsen 33). As most recent studies devoted to  this ambivalent and paradoxical phenomenon posit a close connection between boredom and modernity, it seems that even if Goethe was wrong and it does not define the human species, the notion of boredom may be instrumental in facilitating a better understanding of the emergence and development of modern selfhood. Predominantly focusing on the historical and philosophical aspects of this affective state, scholars such as Lars Svendsen, Elizabeth Goodstein, or Michael E. Gardiner trace its beginnings, which coincide with the emergence of modernity. As the premodern divine order was displaced by the belief in human progress, earthly happiness, and self-fulfillment, and simultaneously, the feudal economy was dethroned by the Industrial Revolution, alienated labor, and the rise of leisure and mass entertainment, the boring and the interesting became central ideas in the human experience. Referring to the works of key modern thinkers (such as Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Benjamin, and Adorno to cite the most frequently recurring names), critics have analyzed the political, ethical, and phenomenological possibilities of boredom, from its function as a coping mechanism that preventively shuts off affect to a state that may provide existential insight.

Whereas early modernity perceived boredom as related to emptiness (hence horror vacui, for example), paradoxically, today it is more often than not linked to overstimulation. It seems that boredom is the biggest sin one can commit in the 21st century. Allowing oneself to be bored means being unproductive, which in turn shamelessly violates the regime of 24/7 capitalism as defined by Jonathan Crary, a system in which one is not supposed to have the time to resist the impulse of constant activity. However, with the rising popularity of procrastination not as an actual activity, but an image one intends to project to the outside world, a way of appearing interesting to others, it becomes evident that how we spend our time when taking a break from work is of utmost importance. With a plethora of activities to choose from, such as binge-watching one series after another, playing freemium games or following sporting events which seem to be going on almost every day, our idleness is a battlefield for the entertainment industry, whose primary objective, it seems, is to save us from boredom and help us present ourselves as interesting. Faced with such hyperstimulation and information overload, with so many options to pick from, we often find ourselves doing nothing and end up feeling bored as well as boring. On the other hand, many products of the entertainment industry today try so hard to be interesting that they epileptically overwhelm us with hyperstimulating images, evoking the boredom of satiety. Whereas traditionally perceived as the opposite of excess, in such cultural texts, boredom stems precisely from their excessive aesthetics. This aesthetic overkill may take various forms, from the overload of special effects, hyperdynamic pace, extreme vulgarity, to tedious technical perfection. With such a flood of images, one finds oneself longing for the simplicity of the “good old days” when boredom was simply boredom. In this special issue, we would like to contribute to the recently emerged field of boredom studies and extend the existing, predominantly historically- and philosophically-oriented research into another direction. The Boredoms of Late Modernity, a special issue of the European Journal of American Studies aims to examine the experiences of boredom in the time of late modernity from the perspective of cultural studies.

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