Boredom amuses only its critics. They struggle against their own lassitude to keep their indignation up to date. Theodor Adorno: “The teams of modern sport, whose interaction is so precisely regulated that no member has any doubt about his role, and which provide a reserve for every player, have their exact counterpart in the sexual teams of Juliette, which employ every moment usefully, neglect no human orifice, and carry out every function. Intensive, purposeful activity prevails in spirit in every branch of mass culture, while the inadequately initiated spectator cannot divine the difference in the combinations, or the meaning of variations, by the arbitrarily determined rules.”* In gamespace, porno, like sport, now has its star pitchers and hitters, specialists for every position, and the inadequately initiated spectator once again cannot divine the difference in the combinations, or the meaning of variations, by the arbitrarily determined rules. But it is the same too with critical theory, which becomes formally indistinguishable from pornography. This pornography of the concept is a mere subset of gamespace, a hypocritical theory, with different specialists, playing by different rules — equally worthy of de Sade.
A spectacle taunts America — the spectacle of its own boredom. “This specter of boredom, an exquisitely beautiful young man who yawns and walks around with a butterfly net to catch goldfish. He carries in his pocket a pedometer, a pair of nail scissors, a pack of cards, and all sorts of games based on optical illusions. He reads aloud the wording on posters and signs. He knows the newspapers by heart. He tells stories that nobody laughs at. He passes a hand of shadows over his eyes… punctuating his words with a terrible expletive: What’s the good? He cannot see a knob on an electric dial without turning it, a house without visiting it, a threshold without crossing it, a book without buying it. What’s the good? All without curiosity or pleasure but simply because one has to do something, and because here we are all the same, after all. And what was this ALL which swells up in the voice that pronounces it?”* The Surrealist poet Louis Aragon provides the answer, as well as the question: nothing. Boredom is nothing, nothingness, the faintest touch of the void. In boredom you open toward something that does not open in return. It leaves nothing but indifference, neither one nor the other, the grunge of time, the lint that sticks to all things digital.
As that inconsolable philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer writes: “Work, worry, toil and trouble are indeed the lot of almost all men their whole life long. And yet if every desire were satisfied as soon as it arose how would men occupy their lives, how would they pass the time? Imagine this race transported to [an A]topia where everything grows of its own accord and turkeys fly around ready-roasted, where lovers find one another without any delay and keep one another without any difficulty: in such a place some men would die of boredom or hang themselves….”.* As this topology of fun and games spreads and congeals, carving out magic kingdoms indifferent to work and suffering, it carries within it the strange ectoplasm that both drives it and can overturn it — boredom. In our fantasmic America, a digital logistics sends turkeys flying around the highways ready-roasted. They come home to roost in the frozen foods section. Lovers meet with fleeting ease on the internet, and afterwards rank and rate their encounters, according to arbitrarily determined rules. And many do, indeed, die of boredom. Even if they don’t know it. The reserve armies of the bored zombie the earth, fiddling with their cellphones, checking their watches. Boredom is the meter of history.
If history is an endless list of things that should not have happened; boredom is what refuses not to happen. History distracts itself with heroic fables about the struggle to wrest freedom from necessity. Such is civilization, not to mention Civilization III. History has so much less to say about the decisive moment when freedom from necessity actually arrives. Neither civilization, nor Civilization III, knows what to do at the end, except perhaps dream of a sequel that is more of the same. John Berger: “Necessity produces both tragedy and comedy. It is what you kiss and bang your head against.” Without necessity, the storyline falters. Buzzcocks: “I’m living in this movie, but it doesn’t move me.” What might be the content of this positive freedom, not freedom from but freedom to? At such times, there is nothing but boredom, the sticky lingering with nothingness itself. This is the moment of danger. Cyril Connolly: “The boredom of Sunday afternoon, which drove de Quincey to smoke opium, also gave birth to Surrealism: hours propitious for making bombs.”*
“On the whole a society always produces more than is necessary for its survival; it has a surplus at its disposal. It is precisely the use it makes of this surplus that determines it.”* So writes the rogue Surrealist Georges Bataille. This surplus may be gathered up and dispersed in spiritual quests or in making life over as a work of art. It can be squandered on bombs. Or it can be invested along the lines of strategic expansion or economic accumulation. This investment, this laying down of new lines, building from topic to topography to topology, only increases the surplus, and postpones and multiplies the problem: What to do with the idle capacities of a people? What to do with energies that so easily spill over into riot or revolt? What’s the good? Boredom is the ambivalent gift of the surplus. Boredom arises out of the absence of necessity, of a yes, a no, a straight line. Boredom demands new necessities, and if not granted them — produces its own. History is a struggle to wrest necessity from boredom. In this restless age, there’s nothing they won’t do to raise the standard of boredom under the flag of necessity. Constant revolutionizing of seduction, uninterrupted disturbance of all consumer relations, everlasting uncertainty and distraction, distinguish the military entertainment complex from all earlier powers. It must stay one step ahead of boredom, with which it deludes and with which it colludes.