Monday, April 08, 2019

Young—school age—boy at home for summer vacation: “Momma, I’m bored.”

[The ‘title’ of the post does not assume that only mothers or women are caregivers (e.g., home during the summer because they don’t work, etc.). In other words, one can re-write this sentence in any number of ways so long as it contains the child expressing his (genuine?) feeling of boredom.] 

In ordinary states of boredom the child returns to the possibility of his own desire. That boredom is actually a precarious process in which the child is, as it were, both waiting for something and looking for something, in which hope is being secretly negotiated; and in this sense boredom is akin to free-floating attention. In the muffled, sometimes irritable confusion of boredom the child is reaching to a recurrent sense of emptiness out of which his real desire can crystallize. [….] The childs boredom starts as a regular crisis in the childs developing capacity to be alone of the presence of the mother. In other words, the capacity to be bored can be a developmental achievement for the child. [….] Is it not, indeed revealing, what the childs boredom evokes in the adult? Heard as a demand, sometimes as an accusation of failure or disappointment, it is rarely agreed to, simply acknowledged. How often, in fact, the child’s boredom is met by that most perplexing form of disapproval. The adults wish to distract himas though the adults have decided that the childs life must, or seem to be, endlessly interesting [or even entertaining!]. It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take the time to find what interests him. Boredom is integral to the process of taking ones time. 

While the childs boredom is often recognized as an incapacity, it is usually denied as an opportunity. 

If the bored child cannot sufficiently hold the mood, or use the adult as an unimpinging auxiliary ego, there is a premature flight from uncertainty, the familiar orgy of promiscuous agreements …. — Adam Phillips, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life (Harvard University Press, 1993): 69-70.

The refusal here to moralize the experience of boredom while appreciating its developmental value or purpose(s) is refreshing (in the case of adults, however, such moralization may be warranted). It reminded me—assuming the veracity of the recollection—of similar scenarios from my childhood during hot and often humid summers in Irving, Texas. The few occasions in which I had the temerity to express my feelings of boredom to my mother she said curtly something along the lines of: “That’s not my problem.” While that response either angered or puzzled me at the time, it now seems rather appropriate, even if she may, indeed, likely did not have in mind “simple acknowledgement” or according me, as it were, space for “waiting and looking” or “taking my time.”  

In a future post I will share what some philosophers (and perhaps a few non-philosophers) have said about boredom.


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