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Afterword: (By) Passing Time (Heidegger on Boredom).  





If for Freud dreams were the ‘royal road’ to the unconscious (and so the ‘truth’ about who we are), then for Heidegger boredom is the royal road to ‘the essence of human time’; and so the Truth about being human. So it is strange then than the actual presence of time in human temporality, the relationship between the present and the past and future are largely bypassed in Heidegger’s discussion of boredom in the Introduction to The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics (appearing belatedly and with a certain degree of redundancy on page 125 of the 1995 translation, the text was first published in German in 1983). The three kinds of boredom introduced here are: ‘time as it drags’, ‘standing time’, and ‘profound boredom’. The examination of which progressively moves us closer to the truth about the ‘essence of time’ (which is then, rather annoyingly, withheld). In the first type of boredom analysed, a potentially illuminating discussion on the relation of clock time to our temporal home page, the eternal present, is avoided in favour of a diagnosis that stops with ‘time as it drags’; whilst in the second and third types of boredom temporality is all but completely evaded, withheld – perhaps because it provides a ready answer to the problems of boredom so raised, but that this answer does not fit Heidegger’s design. Indeed much is made of what is withheld, of feeling withheld from being, of being or feeling ‘withdrawn’ (rendered, in the brave translation by William McNeill and Nicholas Walker, in Martin Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995) as ‘the telling withdrawal of beings themselves’).


If we are ‘withdrawn’ for what ever reason (illness, tiredness, introspection, the lack of will to involve oneself) we are less present, but still in the present, it is less present to us, or present in a different, less intense way. However we are still in the Eternal Present. Only in a different mode; less intense, less immediate; precisely as if mediated. The mediation (but of what… what might come between, and from where) may distance things, but does not necessarily bore. Meditation too de-presences; but is also not at all boring… So it is that degrees of involvement, a question of degree, that is being analysed in Heidegger’s text, not boredom as such (which would be limited to the first kind). In effect two different kinds of experience are being analysed, and then we have the generalisation of the second kind into the third (Heidegger’s strategy is to begin with real boredom and extend the duration to ‘everything’ and ’all time’, through differing degrees – not of boredom, but of involvement…).


If for Heidegger, the cause can not be a particular cause, a matter of ‘psychology’, or ‘transference’, then this is due to a tendentiousness on his part; by ignoring past and future as sources of comparison we evade comparison as cause. Compared to something we did before (the memory of satisfaction), or as compared to the other thing or activity we would prefer (a memory which triggers desire) something is lacking, missing, absent… This explanation also has the advantage that it relies upon time, on human time, our experience of time, temporality, as explanation. The same goes for ‘psychology’ and ‘transference’ as explanations, of course they are insufficient, they require comparison as their ground… (whatever the ‘objective’ causality). The objects themselves are not boring as such; we are (bored), because of comparison (whatever its causality), because of the relation to other times, to the past or to the future … the other unavoidable aspects of our temporality. Clock watching is precisely, a waiting for… influenced, effected by, the future… by anticipation; we think forward but are still here and now, whence …boredom; boredom is the difference between the two… (We look almost in vain for the word ‘future’ in Heidegger’s analysis, or even a proper examination of the role of the past, our final, inescapable point of comparison…).


If in the first kind of boredom, we are bored by waiting (‘time as it drags’), then in the second we are bored by our present situation (‘standing time’) and in the third case, bored by ‘all’ (‘profound boredom’). The first is boredom of future origin (active, as witness our persistent clock watching); the second and third rather indicate a lack of involvement (passive) as due to comparison (although ‘dissatisfaction’ would be a better term to describe the feelings concerned). In case of type two, clearly we would rather do something else or be somewhere else or present things are compared with previous, or expected (actually both) situations, leading to our withdrawal or distance. The third, a general malaise or withdrawal, is probably due to tiredness or psychological/physiological causes, and/or to being compared to previous experience (remembered, and so projected as possible in the now, as expected, but denied, by situation or by tiredness, etc.) as more intense, more satisfying, more denying in terms of the consciousness of the passing of time… As an extrapolation the other of All (all is boring) is an Other (an Absolute Other), a portal to metaphysics and religion (so secular/political or sacred fundamentalisms). Otherwise we have an encounter with our non-conscious (another kind of Other), of bodily functions affecting consciousness… Lack of involvement is hard to break consciously because it is not of conscious origin… When refreshed, involvement returns (and time again is in short supply (does not drag…)).


So if we look closely at the temporal relations involved, or the relationships between the parts of human temporality, then the first type of boredom may be read as a dis-ease of, born of anticipation; clock watching (the relation to clock time is the most important effect here… the filling of the ‘eternal present’ with clock time due to anticipation) a causation which works backwards, coming from the future… waiting. The value of (presence of) a given future event devalues the present, which is consequently taken up with (or taken over by) clock time - to fill the gap….


The second type may then be read as a dis-ease born of comparison; with the past, as with what may be possible, so with both past and future… bored by events that do not measure up (‘nothing compares…’). The value of the past (and future) devalues the present. But the boredom is not yet unbearable, if that then we revert to type I boredom, and so to clock watching in an attempt to end an increasingly excruciating boredom… (we want it to end, this is our intention, made keen by the presence of the future).With increasing discomfort we are no longer in the realm of boredom but of discomfort, or even pain; strategies of avoidance quickly follow.


In the third type Heidegger finally mentions past and future (the analysis of which should have been dominant in the prior two analyses) but only to ignore them and head for general metaphysical shores…a boredom proper to our time(s) … a being bored… by life? Eternal present as less present… in general (mood, psychology… no matter our perception of this mood is the key issue… the ‘whys and wherefores’ come later… ). Perhaps not really boredom, as the others, rather as a malaise of a kind of life or type of life, or indeed, time of life. A dis-ease due to a general comparison to life as it might have been perhaps. So we are back to a general sense of type II (past and future as ‘at bottom’ of the dis-ease); actually an instance of type II proper, as all such moods are finite, present in the Eternal Present for a while only, unless the origin is chemical/physiological or the situation untenable - which would not be boring, but painful. So either the difficulty, discomfort of a situation, turn from dis-ease to discomfort (with a stimulus to respond to, if possible). Or we revert to type I boredom, where we long for an ending, projecting the next event or action as the limit which transforms this boredom into a matter of clock watching (as again, a confrontation between clock time and temporality, at the former invades and ‘takes over’ the later, is the present of the ‘eternal present’). Finally we may look forwards to sleep as a limit to boredom, placing our future hope in the coming of a new day.


The desire for an end to life as the terminus of our existential clock-watching, would be as a result of the fatigues of old age. Alternately it may be due to a projection forward that found the continuation of the present mode of life to be unbearable and so requiring a terminus.


Note the reversion of order as compared to Heidegger. With real boredom, acute boredom, the first type, is the one which the others revert to with the addition of increasing degrees of discomfort (taking the experience from passive withdrawal to active evasion or turning to clock time). The other forms of ‘boredom’ are relatively attenuated and better described as dissatisfaction.


In fact Heidegger stops using time/temporality as key concept when it is no longer going where he wants it to go… as promised in The Concept of Time (First Published in German, 1923) but as famously undeveloped in his work from Being and Time (FPG,1927) to The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics (FPG,1983). The essay On Time and Being (FPG,1972) does suggest a model made up –of temporal ‘ecstases’ with respect to the ‘event of the appropriation’ but, as in the concept ‘the telling withdrawal of beings themselves’, a continuation of the fusion or inversion of the subject/object relation is his main concern. Time in relation to ‘boredom’ is made to do (tendentious) metaphysical work and is not really related back to what it should be related to: human temporality – our actual experience of time. So as a result it completely sidesteps the question of the relationship of the present to past and future in boredom (brought in, in type three, only to be summarily dismissed). So ignoring the relationship of the parts of temporality to themselves (and so of human consciousness to itself…).


Of what does the human experience of time (temporality) consist? If we divide the kinds of time, or better, our relation to it, as three-fold, then we find the following: temporality (our experience, inside our temporality, its qualities) as opposed to clock time (outside of temporality, ‘made to measure’ quantitative) as opposed to eternity (the eternal outside or Eternal Other). These constitute our types, understandings, or experience of time - with the latter case (eternity) as impossible, but necessary (a human illusion, necessary for closed or artificial languages, ideologies and religions, who share this feature… : all try to assert much, global knowledge… all also require extra-global, or all-encompassing categories, universal, immutable… (so ‘as-if’ extra, outside, supplementary etc…)). Unless boredom comes from within our basic experience of temporality itself, from the ‘eternal present’ as one of its modes in relation to ‘past’ or ‘future’, memory or prior causality, and anticipation or intentional effect, where might it come from…? From another relation to self perhaps (what would this be apart from physiology… so deferring the question to science)? So if not originating in the former (the temporal parts), then it must come from a relation (of these, the components of self) to time in its objective aspect, ‘time’ as opposed to ‘temporality’, time as measured time… ‘clock time’ (the other possible relation, the outside of time, is a non-relation, an impossible relation, available to the imagination only). Boredom then is a result either of the mismatch of task or stimulus to the time given, resulting in spare time…time in excess, or a result of a comparison to other experiences, past or future, remembered or desired. As the former we may have a case of excessive gift, too much or spare time, experienced as the burden of time, its awareness unpleasant, resulting in clock watching – the relation to measured time. But so also reinforcing our awareness of our gift of time (in both senses as a gift to us as subjective beings, a gift from the objective realm, as given by our object-hood and as a gift we can bestow on the world). A gift of value; if we so decide.


By definition, the question of ‘boredom’ is a question of either a lack of things to do, or of an over-familiarity with things being done… In the later case we have the effect of desire as physiologically waning with familiarity and predictability producing a sense of being (already) sated and replete (of desire no longer being triggered to the same degree as before, awkward perhaps in some situations, but hardly only to be defined by the negative). In the former question of lack as origin of boredom, it is the relation to the past or the future, the desire of, or for the future and the memory of, or from the past that are the drivers of that sense of lack. So the memory of past experience dulls the present, such that nothing new (in the future, the future as perceived in the now) is to be expected… So in the case of doing nothing, being bored by nothing, the passing of clock time becomes the object of attention… that captures the sense of lack of involvement or distraction (felt as a lack of movement or of non-eventfulness), and so the (relative) absence of past or future (even as they provide the grounds of comparison that stimulate of exacerbate this awareness). In the case of being bored by an action, event or process, the persistence of memory is compared to the present (boredom as a disease of the past, or an effect of desire, or both as one…). Therefore logically there should also be a relation of the present to the future such that the present is this time dulled by a echo of a comparison to a future event whose anticipation or comparison to the present dulls the latter … and so it is, for ‘time in between’, or ‘time before, we do something’, we often feel this lack, this ennui, this lack of full presence which leads to clock watching.


Clock watching as a part of the cause or an effect of this ‘boredom’ is a relation of the present to measured time; the excessive attention to which is due to a lack of (sufficient) presence in the eternal present… It is not full, nor filled by, a sufficient presence, or a present plenitude which would ensure that our consciousness of clock time is voided. Otherwise put we are not fully captivated by the present, not fully involved – where we to be so it would pass all too quickly (‘Oh dear, is that the time, already!’). We have been having fun and time passes fast - actually we are unconscious of it… ‘it’ being our consciousness of its measure, clock time. But measure here is only appropriate for the ordering of our time (of the contents of our temporality, as it itself is one such content); time to make us remember to do things, precisely because we may become so captivated… so clock time is made manifest as list, or diary, or schedule as necessary, necessary to help return us to order, the order of things, events, tasks… the daily grind, from our potential loss in over-involvement or plenitude… But the issue here is not one of clock time as an ordering principle (ordering our ‘room’s’ contents by sequence, so all must pass, in turn, through the ‘eternal present’) but as the consciousness of time passing as acute awareness of clock motion… of the, or so constituting the, slowness of this motion… Whence the ‘long while’ of the German term, Langeweile, a short event or involvement time fitting into a longer time, as measured by clock time, but also a matter of the quality of consciousness that fills that time and prompts the turn to measured time. But it is precisely in the ‘watching the clock’ form of time, which we return to in acute boredom, that the ‘while’ is most ‘lengthened’ (Langeweile)… and our eternal present is most (obsessively) dominated by quantitative clock time. All at the behest of something that has not (yet) arrived or (as past) can never again arrive… So the excessive attention devoted to clock time in the case of boredom may be seen as a symptom of the relationship of the present to its temporal others (as opposed to the other ‘orders of time’ of either measured time, or the absolute Other of the outside of time). Other possible causes, such as low energy levels (self-withdrawal due to tiredness), or the effect of illness, may be related to physiological causes, leaving our experiences in while in that state as their effect on our subjective condition.


Anxiety also produces an acute over-awareness of clock time; however here it is not boredom, but anticipation that is found to be ‘killing’ the involvement in the present, so, paradoxically extending the awareness of the passage of time as slow… indeed acute boredom flips into anxiety at a certain degree, and here the word ‘boredom‘ no longer applies; with a higher degree of anticipation the level of anxiety is no longer a matter of how to pass the time (how to make it ‘speed up’ : the effect of the slowness of the passing of time) but rather acute discomfort at the thought of the non-arrival -or awaited arrival- of an event).


Yet even in the experience of moping or listless-ness (sic), depression and melancholia, the relationship to the other (semi-present) aspects of human, experienced temporality are always there: all are diseases of the past (past devaluing present) or future (anxiety as making the present boring or valueless). When we are ‘bored’ we all suffer from these ‘diseases’ to a limited extent; otherwise put (experientially) these diseases become pathological only when felt in excess of the ‘norm’ found in everyday life, in boredom…. So there seems to be no separate ‘authentic’ or true relationship of the present to the present as ‘boredom’ (of a divided present). If such a division can be found to exist it is always due to the mediation of the other (two) aspects of temporality (the semi-present, but always present, semi presences, we call the past and the future).


And if it is simply a question of tiredness, of exhaustion, illness, or just being over-fed, as cause of the lack of ability to value the present, of the lack of interest in the present (not quite ‘boredom’, as in the latter we are over-invested in our lack of interest -as evinced by our persistent re-turning to clock-time- and not merely incapable of involvement), then at this stage the human animal usually sleeps.


Returning to Heidegger’s three types of boredom: being bored by the (slowness of the) passing of time, and a concomitant filling-up of the present by clock time; being bored by something, by an activity, such that we withdraw, hold ourselves/are held back from it; and ‘profound’ or general boredom (translated into the ‘malaise of our times’): do they not all manifest their boredom as an awareness of the slower and unfulfilling, unfilled, so un-present, passing of time? An un-present presence, or semi-present, we associate with … the past or the future. With their insistence in the present (we remember the call of the future as the cause of type I, and the comparison to other possible experiences, due to memory, to the past, in type II). Otherwise put, the Eternal Present is present (how could it be otherwise, outside of sleep, of unconsciousness) but its contents do not fill it adequately - such that clock time as measure comes to the fore to fill the present…


Clock time (we keep coming back around to this, as if we ourselves were clock watching…). Unwanted time is longer: wanted time shorter… passes ‘slowly’, passes ‘quickly’; otherwise we would be lotus eaters - ‘all joy seeks deepest eternity’ (Nietzsche). Or as witnessed by some moments of musical illusionism: Glen Close playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations, No. 25, or Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa, Part Two (Jarrett, Kramer), both evincing an effect akin to meditation (or even delirium…). And quite another kind of ‘time as it drags’ or ‘in between time’ is now an all pervasive temporal experience in modern society; the time of waiting for our transport to arrive or our arrival by transport: yet use of time is more of an issue here, are we too spoilt, too lazy to do something with this small gift of time (unless waiting for a lover in which case all pales…). But clock-watching is a special, even literal, case of the apparent incursion of quantitative linear time into our felt quality of the Eternal Present (its illusion reinforced, in a ‘now’ that will not shift to where we want it to be…). A tearing of the self as we are suspended between our ‘now’ and our desired future destination. A face to face experience with objective or linear time which comes to fill the gap caused by the tear (a time outside of temporality that we experience within it…) which is illusory: but also real as an actualizing of affect, our feelings at that time - representing best or even exacerbating our sense of boredom…


‘Clock time‘, as a relation from inside the present to clock time, to linear time, to ‘see’, to imagine the whole life of self or other as viewed from without; a useful and unavoidable, even if impossible, thought experiment. A time at once opposed to an imagined ‘outside’, of (a) being out of time, outside of time, lost in eternity: but as also sharing the presupposition of an ‘outside’ available to (imaginable in) the Eternal Present. One ‘outside’, eternity, echoing the Eternal Present in its eternal aspect (we are always within it; ‘it’ is always ‘there’): the other, clock time, an outside as sequence, visually realized string of symbols, also requiring our imagining as of being out of ourselves (as making a picture of ourselves, a process stretched over a time line). Both require an imagining as being out of the folded relationship of presence and semi-presence (present and less present, the past and future); in the case of the Eternal Present of human temporality and (its filling by) the imagining of clock time, the irreversibility or the direction of time is the sole point in common. 


Yet, in the case of ‘general boredom’ the clock is read as irrelevant; all is felt as unsatisfactory - like indigestion or irritability. The temporality of general boredom, we are told, can not be related to the clock and is supposedly without mediation by the past or future; an attempt is made to go beyond the influence of past and future in order to make a big, metaphysical, finding… the ’essence of time’, although what exactly this is, is never revealed as, on Heidegger’s own account, he has reached a ‘limit’. We are left with a kind of structural in-authenticity, which however may be authentic regarding our times (the ‘Fall’) and which requires a cure… (Other offerings of this mystical hiatus include: ‘entrancement’ and a ‘moment of vision’, the latter idea, after Kierkegaard, seem tacked on, and would anyway still require the support of the past and the future). However the question persists, is this apparent lack of mediation at all possible: as we have seen, we always have, are always in (always already in), some kind of relation to the past and future (such that these semi-presences are always semi-present… are always already there, acting as the origin of comparison, or attached to some (buried) physiological ground)? General dissatisfaction has other causes; (as with dreams) recent life, or what it holds out in the future (or better, what it does not hold out, to follow the figure of unfilled-ness) are better candidates for solutions to this problem than the (unsupportable) reach into the beyond for some metaphysical entity.


Indeed ‘the moment of vision’ that ‘ruptures the entrancement of time’ suggested by Heidegger and associated, by him, with Kierkegaard, shadows that of Walter Benjamin’s break into a utopian eternity (the former pair, Christian and Protestant, the latter Judaic forms of messianic time) rhetorically speaking, a Hypotyposis (or interrupting of narrative by vision, of the flow of time by an image, of description of action by a description of a scene). Yet such can only be cogent in the realm of belief, and demanding an enforcement of that belief in others (and the ever larger positing of the pool of evil as the failure of the happy land so promised requires ever more scapegoats). All features of fundamentalist thinking at its most desperate, looking for a ‘way out’, via the rhetoric of eternity. Eternity, mirror of the Eternal Present, picture of the ‘outside’ which our hardwiring requires for the ‘grounding’ of all heavens and utopias; our necessary fiction, if only for the support of values and morals, their (strategic) placing beyond contingency. A way out into religion masquerading as metaphysics (which is perhaps all the latter ever was…). A way out in which the illusion of eternity is taken as real. The effect of which has been a succession of attempts of found the kingdom of heaven on earth; resulting in a succession of hells, of secular as of sacred origin.


The filled frame: filled with… news from elsewhere. A ‘moment of vision’. Something from somewhere else fits into the frame of the Eternal Present. Just as clock time fills in the case of boredom, of waiting for… (the future to arrive). The supposed relation to ‘objective’ time as permitting the ‘thought-experiment’ of the ‘big picture’, or self as viewed from without; time as viewed from without (…without time). So equally illusory, and amounting to the same thing (the impossible position outside of our temporality, outside of the Eternal Present) is the supposed relation to the Other (outside of) time; the God’s eye view from outside of history. Eternity. Illusory: but convincing. Two extremes: linear time as showing the way ‘out’ of the present (even as we are within it) and the belief that we somehow have come to occupy the ‘outside’ of time, have a connection with the Absolute Other, are, in reality, both related fillers for the frame of the Eternal Present - but with what differing effects. And, regarding the human condition, how important. The search for metaphysical essences is much less interesting than the illusions we undergo on the surface of the Eternal Present. But the visions they provide (or that we try to build on their insubstantial foundations) equally ephemeral.


Eternity’s double face; a Janus face looking in and looking out: the concept or image of the outside of time as a grandiose copy of the Eternal Present; the function of putting foundations, axiomatic situations and all a priori statements ‘outside’, as wired into our hardware.


The lesson is that if we are ‘in time’ and ‘of time’ (our subjective sense of temporality) and even constituting time (our objective aspect) then we can not escape from it. The rhetoric of eternity remains such: a minimal requirement for beginnings (universals, values); at its maximum the support for ideologies and religions (the ‘hotline’ to God, or ‘final end’ of History).


The dis-eases of our present being: the diseases of time.









Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2012