Mike Powell has an abolsutely fascinating post up
, drawing links between some excellent writing I'd already encountered (the first three links) and a bunch I hadn't (the rest).
There's a hell of a lot there, but I think the two elements I seize onto the firmest are the art/life continuum (because, obviously, it's not a dichotomy) and the idea of boredom. I think Mike gets Eno precisely right when he talks of Eno's "non-musician" stance as being not about some sort of DIY thing but "there is no this to speak of that can be reasonably separated from just kinda existing" - I am as much a sucker for the gallery as anyone, but if art only existed there we'd all be in trouble. I do think (if I'm reading him right) Mike is if anything being a bit too negative when he talks about the "two societal boxes" we fall into; the problem isn't that we're restricted to one or the other, but that we always think of it that way
. The fact that the dichotomy doesn't actually reflect how life is lived by people is unfortunate, and thinking about things on those terms is going to be a little deforming, yes, but the fact is that art (especially music, and Eno's/Mike's point on the analogy of food and music is an apposite one) at a certain level or vantage point blurs into "just kinda existing".
Which leads, for me as for Mike, into boredom. I can't remember if I blogged the k-punk entry Mike mentions (I do try not to blog every single entry there), but I was quite struck by this part of the post. Both what Mike mentions, and some surrounding issues (I'm not going to get into the political side of it too much, although Mark on Capital Realism is always thought provoking):[T]he state I'm referring to is constituted not by an inability to get pleasure so much as it by an inability to do anything else except pursue pleasure. There is a sense that 'something is missing' - but no appreciation that this mysterious, missing enjoyment can only be accessed beyond the pleasure principle.
There is a sense, of course, in which reading is boring. Upon first encounter, philosophical or literary writing which is genuninely new will be frustrating and difficult. But that is true of the acquisition of any skill - learning to play a musical instrument, for instance, is demanding before it is enjoyable... Some students want Nietzsche in the same way that they want a hamburger; they fail to grasp - and the logic of the consumer system encourages this misapprehension - that the indigestibility, the difficulty
Between that last ellipsis and where I continue the quotation is the part that Mike excerpted. One of the best/most fascinating things in Mike's post, I think, is how he goes on to explore the way in which boredom (or rather, what society calls boredom) can be a good thing. But I think that is distinctly different from a depressive hedonic (the type of person from the above quotation) being removed from the system of stimuli modern life makes possible. I'm not saying Mike shouldn't have quoted Mark, more pointing out that having boredom go from the relatively nightmarish conception of the above to Mike's interesting Warhol/Eno conception is so short a time is giving me conceptual whiplash. These are two different things, and we need two different words, I think; Mike starts his account with "Being truly bored is being enough at peace with something" and it doesn't matter where that sentence is going, the idea of being at peace with something is opposed to the above conception of boredom as a kind of low-grade withdrawal coupled with the shortened attention-span/difficulty threshold to find reading not so much boring as impossible.
In a later post
, Mark points to some posts by Dominic Fox that advocate a kind of "militant dysphoria" or "New Puritanism" aimed at reversing or combatting the above. It sounds a little scary, but especially the first post is excellent food for thought. And although I'm thinking of art, not sex, I do look around my apartment and wonder why I have all these things even as I seem unable to stop buying new books and music, even as I'm planning out what to buy next. The digital age means that I rarely buy an album before I have heard it and decide I like it enough to hear it again and again; but why do I feel compelled to actually own these records (pragmatic considerations of hard drive space aside; and I do feel a slight sense of relief every time I delete an album I've bought or one I've given up on off of my hard drive, one that has nothing to do with the law), and what does that have to do with both kinds of boredom?
Things are different enough now that even a poor(ish) student like myself has access to a dizzying array of media, and has been noted by many, the problem now is stemming or controlling or focusing the tide. Because if you don't, how soon until you succumb to depressive hedonia? And if you're going to do so, how imperative is it that you learn to be bored
The other night I had the sudden urge (apropos, as far as I could tell, of nothing) to throw out/give away all of my books except a small arbitrary number, and to only from that day forward own that many books. The idea being partially that with libraries and modern technology you can still read as much as you like, but who needs to own anything except the most important (to themselves) works? It strikes me now, as I'm still considering whether following through on this plan is something I want to do, that it never occurred to me for even a second to do the same with my CDs, and maybe that's something I want to think about.
(aaaaand we're far enough astray that I think I'll just stop here, although this is the sort of thing I wish I could sit down with Mike over a drink and really get into)