This piece was recently on exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as part of the exhibit “From Van Gogh to Kandinsky.” I was struck by how thoroughly modern and contemporary this image feels – it could have been painted yesterday, but was in fact created in 1910 by Ernest Ludwig Kirchner. The curator of the exhibit suggested that the figure is daydreaming, but the notion that comes to my mind in looking at this piece is the notion of boredom. Boredom is a word that comes into its own, with something approximating its present meaning, in the 1840’s. It is a thoroughly modern concept and reality. This painting got me thinking and reading about boredom.
Does boredom express a deeply modern despondency about the lack of meaning in the universe? What is there left to do, after all, when the end result is and will be sheer emptiness and meaninglessness?
Is boredom an expression of the frenetic pace of our particularly modern lives, where we have lost the capacity to sit still for even a moment; in which we have lost the ability to live without distraction and entertainment and titillation?
Are you bored yet?
Would the figure in this painting be any less bored, or any less a representative of our boredom, if she had a smartphone in her hand? Or would that, perhaps, make her the perfect emblem of our boredom? Is our only answer to boredom, more boredom?
Is boredom an expression of our distance from God – our distance from a vision of life that sees Christ at work anywhere and everywhere, speaking and acting, willing to be seen and heard and joined in the work of creation and re-creation?
Is God bored with you?
Are people boring to us because we are so boring? Have we lost the ability to take an interest in others, or to simply dwell alongside others without needing to fill every moment with sound and activity and movement? Is there any escaping our boredom with each other?
Can boredom be answered by anything less than a re-writing of our lives; by a re-imagining of our lives that begins with a refusal of our technologically driven, socially isolated, autonomous selves; that begins with our becoming new selves through a thick set of practices?
Do you really want to give up your boredom?
Can boredom be redeemed or is boredom something that we must simply live through and past and beyond? Or perhaps boredom is the unforgivable sin – a blasphemy against the Spirit, who is always at work, even (especially?) when we sit still and silent and empty?
Is boredom an expression of that oldest of sins, pride. A sin that wants me and my life to be at the center of a whirlwind of activity and conversation – a sin that that finds perfect embodiment in our age, where we finally have the capacity to live at just such a nexus of pointless fullness?
Or is boredom my refusal to be the self that God has given?
Is there an escape from boredom, or has boredom become an inescapable, infinite, negative feedback loop for us; as much as we try to answer our boredom, we rediscover it again? Back again, to our modernly meaningless lives?
Are you bored yet?