I’ve been thinking all weekend about the profound boredom that The Pale King invokes within us.  Specifically, I’ve been thinking about boredom in performance; both in terms of the performance of the bodily habits that boredom inspires and boredom laden in works of performance.

We talked in class about how the experience of reading The Pale King triggered a visceral bodily response for us in a variety of shapes and forms, whether it be depending on social media to distract ourselves, drinking caffeinated beverages, or concocting a methodology of reading that makes the text seem more digestible than otherwise.  The animated response in the body of the reader seems to oppose the implied stagnation of “boredom.”

I was thinking about the categories of kinetic and static art that James Joyce devises in A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man.  Joyce says that kinetic art moves the audience towards an ulterior objective, whereas static art arrests them and encourages them to transcend above excitement.  Joyce renders the former to be improper, and the latter to be the ideal.  I think the “profound boredom” that characterizes The Pale King problematizes Joyce’s polarization between kinetic and static art in that it employs elements of both.  While boredom itself inherently implies a kind of stalemate, a total paralysis and a lack of movement, the boredom that DFW creates seems to inspire a whole range of animation in the audience’s body.  However, the performative behavior of the body that The Pale King triggers is not necessarily in the direction of a loaded, political agenda but rather manifests as literally performative for their own sakes and in their own rights.  Also, the movement of the reader’s body is incited by a desire to combat and subvert the agenda, rather than in accordance with it.  In that it contests Joyce’s distinction between high art and low art, The Pale King fulfills a certain criteria of postmodernism that Jameson elucidates.

I went to the screening of Richard Linklater’s film Before Midnight; a third installment in the series alongside Before Sunrise and Before Sunset starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  The film employs an idiosyncratic mode of framing each moment; the entire film is a sequence of extended shots of people having long-winded conversations before a cinematographically idyllic background.  During some of these lengthy, beautiful shots, I often found myself drifting away from focusing on the content but rather investigating the formal compositional elements.  For example, I grew hyperaware of the syntactical constructions of the seemingly entirely casual and colloquial statements and I found myself following the shifting of the perspective into the horizon in the background as the characters moved forward.  I felt that the kind of heightened awareness of the stylistic elements over the actual subject matter that I adopted while watching Before Midnight paralleled my experience of reading The Pale King.

A performance inspired by Charles Reznikoff’s long-form poem Testimony called Testimonium that attended this weekend was another instance through which I experienced boredom.  Formally, the performance paralleled the dread and drone that is inherent in the legal rhetoric that is inherent in Reznikoff’s original writings.  The persistent and seemingly infinite inane details presented to the audience manifested the role of the text in the performance as an object.  That is, the performance took three distinct approaches towards performing text—recitation of the literal text, movements as dictated by directives, and songs—whose boundaries then were contested and deconstructed, and the boredom that the content inspired heightened my attention to the medium.  Similarly, in The Pale King, at points, the text begins to manifest in the audience’s minds as holding more significance as a medium rather than an explanatory device.  Then, the metanarrative beyond the diegetic world of the text, or, the framing device that envelops the content, emerges naked before the reader’s eyes.

In these instances of boredom that I experienced in these performances this weekend, I found my role as an audience expanding into the role of a co-author alongside the actual creators of the pieces.  By that I mean that the visceral and animated response that I had to the performance ended up feeling like an integral part of the experience as a whole.  Likewise, when I was reading DFW’s work, it felt as though the thought process within me that was provoked by the text served as a counterpart and complementary material to the text itself, and ended up working itself into the larger scheme of experience that I had.  In this sense, the boredom of The Pale King is a productive one by definition, as it forced me to contribute to the manifestation of a kind of a whole.  This kind of plurality of voices and truths is an aspect of Postmodernism that DFW seems to be astutely aware of.

Finally, the boredom that The Pale King inspired in me made me think about the relativity of the concept of boredom.  Since the boredom in DFW’s text was an integral driving force rather than an affect, it seemed like it held a uniquely absolute place in the world.  That is, I think boredom that DFW generates manifests as an ambience in itself, and does not necessarily depend on exterior elements.  I think this dynamic power that DFW’s boredom holds parallel’s Heidegger’s idea of profound boredom; that it has more than enough potential to motivate the reader, as opposed to merely manifest as tedious against something else.


1 thought on “Boredom

  1. There are a couple works of art I’d be curious to know your perspective on, especially in relation to this discussion of boredom. The first is Gus van Sant’s film Gerry, about two friends who take a hike in the desert, get lost, and spend the majority of the rest of the film just wandering. Some critics lauded the film for its ability to evoke the feeling of being lost in a desert, whereas others dismissed it as being hopelessly boring and uneventful. I was introduced to the film via a video review (which I’ll link below). At one point, the reviewer claims that van Sant might be “trying to bore you into nirvana;” our discussions of profound boredom reminded me of that quote. At another point, the reviewer notes that, in his viewing, he was desperate to latch on to something interesting to pay attention to, such as the formal compositional elements you mentioned in your viewing of Before Midnight, but those elements in Gerry were so sparse that the reviewer was essentially grasping at straws. Link:

    The second work is, interestingly enough, a piece of music: the album Flood, by Boris. The album is one extended, 70-minute-long song divided into four tracks. The album takes a few simple riffs and spends the majority of the album repeating those riffs ad nauseam, with very subtle, gradual variation. When I first heard the album, I found myself paying very close attention to those variations, however small they might be, resulting in an almost hypnotic effect.

    What kind of boredom (if at all) do you think these works are trying to evoke, and what work is that boredom supposed to do?

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