Saturday, June 1, 2013

"Whatever happened to time?"

Welcome June, the sixth month of the year. However, we won't officially mark the middle of the year until noon on 1 July. How time flies! Time flies when you're busy, which is why being overly busy is no good. I don't believe in killing time, but in savoring it. Frantically running from one thing to another is no way to savor time. Sadly, these days, most people don't understand that because if they hold still, time becomes a heavy burden, the weight of existence begins to fall, which causes you to struggle to get out from under it.

The above is a metaphor, of course, but one that makes the point about the necessity and even importance of having nothing to do, nothing that "needs" doing. It was the philosopher Martin Heidegger who gave boredom its most thorough treatment. The text of his lecture The Fundamental Concept of Metaphysics, which he delivered during the 1929/30 semester at the University of Freiburg, having been selected for the professorship of his teacher Edmund Husserl, whom he would later treat shamefully as a result of his becoming Rector of Freiburg University and enforcing Nazi laws against Jews teaching in universities, he analyzed boredom extensively.

Heidegger insisted that "being bored" forces the human being to confront life's big and inevitable questions, the ones about meaning and purpose, or, stated negatively, as Heidegger was won to do, meaninglessness and purposelessness. Either way, "boredom" produces what can be called "existential anxiety," or "existential angst," what I called above "the weight of existence." Here's how Heidegger puts it in What Is Metaphysics?: "Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This boredom reveals being as a whole."

Perhaps it is Schopenhauer who employs boredom to make the salient point and issues us the provocation we need: "...for if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfill and satisfy us."

Here is precisely where Giussani comes in. Hearkening back to something I posed back in September 2011, Despair arises "from the images of appearing" that do not appear, taken from page 73 of his book The Religious Sense, where he takes aim at Theodor Adorno's concept of "the ambivalence of sadness." Adorno asserts that what keeps us alive is being able to renew our sense of false hope. He insists, as Giussani states it, that all we can do is "patiently redraw new approaches to and images of the ambivalence of sadness: the truth is not separable from the obsession that salvation emerge from the images of appearing without appearing." I am not going to rehash my previous post. It's not that long and so I encourage those who are interested to it read for themselves.

This reflection would not be complete without sharing that it was the boredom I experienced as an introverted young man in my teens and into my early twenties, especially during the summer as a teenager, that led me to recognize my own longing, to experience for myself the weight of existence, and to begin to engage reality at this level. It is hard work, a work most of us would rather avoid, which explains why we gravitate so easily to distractions and seek, to paraphrase words made famous by Neil Postman, to amuse ourselves to death. We do this whenever we find ourselves "killing time." An idle mind is, indeed, the devil's workshop, which is why "being bored" can serve as a provocation. Perhaps it is seeing boredom as a provocation and responding positively that turns it into solitude.

I was led by various ways and means to the One who says to me, in the depths of my heart, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light" (Matt. 11:28-30), which is why, when I feel close to despair, I can simply say, "Jesus, I trust in You."

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