A Bibliography of Boredom

This afternoon I reread the passage in The Magic Mountain in which Thomas Mann expounds on the nature of boredom.  Lars Svendsen in A Philosophy of Boredom asks, “What is the difference between profound boredom and depression?” concluding that there is considerable overlap.

Thinking about how various thinkers have dealt with boredom led me to scribbling a bibliography for a study on the subject, which I thought I’d share here. All of these works deal to a greater or lesser extent with the concept of boredom:

  1. Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind – Patricia Meyer Spacks
  2. In Praise of Boredom (from On Grief and Reason) – Joseph Brodsky
  3. Boredom is a major preoccupation in much of Herman Melville’s work
  4. Being and Time – Martin Heidegger (on the theme of profound boredom)
  5. The Conquest of Happiness – Bertrand Russell
  6. The themes of boredom and  waiting are dominant in the novels of Marguerite Duras, notably Moderato Cantabile (which is brilliant and you should read anyway.)
  7. The Voyage Out – Virgina Woolf (fascinating exploration of the textual use of boredom)
  8. Experience Without Qualities: Boredom and Modernity – Elizabeth Goodstein
  9. Anatomy of Melancholy – Robert Burton
  10. A Philosophy of Boredom – Lars Svendsen
  11. Boredom: A Lively History – Peter Toohey
  12. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety – Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

I realise there is an extensive literature of the phenomenon of boredom, many of which I have not included. I came cross Lee Rourke’s top 10 books about boredom. Please feel free to add any titles in the comments section.

15 thoughts on “A Bibliography of Boredom

  1. A few more texts to consider: Heidegger’s “The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude,” Convolute D (“Boredom, Eternal Return”) in Walter Benjamin’s “Arcades Project,” and the chapter “Stuplimity” in Sianne Ngai’s “Ugly Feelings.”

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  3. Lee Rourke’s own novel The Canal.

    So much of Kafka.

    So much of Sebald.

    “Genius and Virtue” by Arthur Schopenhauer.

    Poe is probably overlooked as an author who documents boredom in his stories and poems.

    David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King is all about boredom.

    Nanni Balestrini’s novella Sandokan (boredom / crime).

    Georg Büchner’s novella-fragment Lenz.

    • Thanks, Ed, all superb suggestions, particularly Poe who I wouldn’t have thought of as writing on the theme of boredom. Also a reminder to read Sandokan, which I’m pretty sure I have on my shelves.

  4. I was glad to see the Pessoa in the linked list. For me, The Book of Disquiet is one of the best books ever written. However, the Pessoa is more about depression and the state of BEING BORING as opposed to boredom. In fact, when you read the Pessoa, there is a realization that it may be impossible to be bored if you are paying attention.

  5. Here’s two that are mentioned in Peter Englund’s short essay about the history of boredom. I’m not familiar with either.

    Zeltdin’s _Anxiety and Hypocrisy_, the fifth volume of his _A History of French Passions_.
    Argyle’s _The Social Psychology of Leisure_

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    • Another of those titles I keep picking up in bookshops, scanning and then putting down again. I tend to think, quite wrongly I am sure, that Adam Phillips is to psychology what de Botton is to philosophy.

      • That could be, but I don’t know anything about de Botton (aside from the titles of his books). As for Phillips, portions of the, um, Russian edition of On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored that I’ve skimmed seem reasonable. But mainly I remember that when this book appeared in the early ’90s, many old-school, straight-ahead psychologists were delighted to encounter even one public pushback against the ultimately victorious hard-marketing campaign to declare psychoanalysis a science and help make zillionaires out of the pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

        Nevertheless, practically no one who lives in an electrified society is able to experience actual boredom any more, so even writings as recent as 15 years ago are obsolete. Boredom has been eradicated by the social psychosis of 24/7 input: people even sleep with their TVs on and their smartphones next to them! A mere 15 minutes without at least two forms of external noise (magazine, TV, music, video, book, Internet, conversation) triggers cascading anxiety attacks and severe withdrawal symptoms. Very few people can go long enough without distraction to become bored now. Alienation, indeed.

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