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Boredom: A Lively History

peter toohey
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In the first book to argue for the benefits of boredom, Peter Toohey dispels the myth that it's simply a childish emotion or an existential malaise like Jean-Paul Sartre's nausea. He shows how boredom is, in fact, one of our most common and constructive emotions and is an essential part of the human experience.

    This informative and entertaining investigation of boredom-what it is and what it isn't, its uses and its dangers-spans more than 3,000 years of history and takes readers through fascinating neurological and psychological theories of emotion, as well as recent scientific investigations, to illustrate its role in our lives. There are Australian aboriginals and bored Romans, Jeffrey Archer and caged cockatoos, Camus and the early Christians, Dürer and Degas. Toohey also explores the important role that boredom plays in popular and highbrow culture and how over the centuries it has proven to be a stimulus for art and literature.

    Toohey shows that boredom is a universal emotion experienced by humans throughout history and he explains its place, and value, in today's world.Boredom: A Lively Historyis vital reading for anyone interested in what goes on when supposedly nothing happens.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17216-4
    Subjects: Psychology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. 1-7)
  5. 1 Putting boredom in its place
    (pp. 8-47)

    What makes something boring? Predictability, monotony and confinement are all key. Any situation that stays the same for too long can be boring. Road trips, gardening and – my own special bête noire – Easter religious services are all fertile sources of boredom. The three of them bedevilled my youth: I had to sit, trapped and wriggling, through the first and third and water the second again and again. A boring person will usually be predictable and repetitive as well, particularly in their speech. Like long-winded lecturers or relatives, the bore’s droning, rheumy intonations don’t seem to go anywhere, or...

  6. 2 Chronic boredom and the company it keeps
    (pp. 48-81)

    The statements to follow can be answered using a 7-point scale – from ‘1’ (highly disagree), to ‘4’ (neutral), to ‘7’ (highly agree).

    1. It is easy for me to concentrate on my activities.

    2. Frequently when I am working I find myself worrying about other things.

    3. Time always seems to be passing slowly.

    4. I often find myself at ‘loose ends’, not knowing what to do.

    5. I am often trapped in situations where I have to do meaningless things.

    6. Having to look at someone’s home movies or travel slides bores me tremendously.

    7. I have projects in mind all the time, things to...

  7. 3 Humans, animals and incarceration
    (pp. 82-106)

    Work is not a problem. I work in a school.

    I teach children.

    I teach them:

    1 Routine

    2 When to keep their mouths shut

    3 How to put up with boredom …

    Joy Stone, a lonely 27-year-old drama teacher who lives near Glasgow, makes this desolate list in Janice Galloway’s 1989 novel on depression,The Trick is to Keep Breathing. Anorexic and clinically depressed, to survive her illness Joy has to learn to deal with the simplest and most inevitable things in life. Boredom is one of them. Children too need to hone their skills while still young. They...

  8. 4 The disease that wasteth at noonday
    (pp. 107-142)

    This passage was written by the early Christian hermit Evagrius in hisOn the Eight Evil Thoughtsand it is probably the earliest detailed account of existential boredom. Acedia, the term for the monkish malaise that is described by Evagrius and many clerics to follow him, is a curious Greek word. It means something like ‘indifference’ or ‘apathy’. In English the term has become accidie. The nickname for this strange condition, as well as for the entity that was supposed to have caused it, is the ‘noonday demon’ or the ‘demon of noontide’ or even the ‘midday fiend’. That nickname...

  9. 5 Does boredom have a history?
    (pp. 143-169)

    The Italian city of Benevento, around 50 kilometres northeast of Naples, has a colourful reputation. Today it is famous for its witches (who used to gather there underneath a walnut tree and dance on the Sabbath) and also for the less attractive Camorra. But in antiquity this Campanian city was much tamer. In those days it was called Good Fortune or, in Latin, Beneventum. Despite its promising appellation it was a dull, provincial city. Some of the flavour of the ancientcittàis caught in this inscription, carved in stone and unearthed in the nineteenth century:

    For Tanonius Marcellinus, a...

  10. 6 The long march back to boredom
    (pp. 170-190)

    Mervyn King knows where boredom’s proper place is. This was in October 2008 in the midst of the credit crunch. As the governor of the Bank of England, he entreated financiers to be more patient: ‘I have said many times that successful monetary policy would appear rather boring,’ he stated. ‘So let me extend an invitation to the banking industry to join me in promoting the idea that a little more boredom would be no bad thing. The long march back to boredom and stability starts tonight in Leeds.’

    Boredom is a normal, useful, and an incredibly common part of...

  11. Readings
    (pp. 191-204)
  12. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 205-205)
  13. Index
    (pp. 206-212)