Volume 4, Issue 2, Autumn 2018
The Eternal Return of the Other
Benjamin on the Social and Political Effects of Boredom in Modernity
This article investigates the constitutive ties of modernity and the modern subject to the phenomenon of boredom, through its interpretation by Walter Benjamin. The nineteenth century—with Paris as its capital—forms the material for this interpretation, and the fragmentary constellations of quotation and reflection in Convolute D of The Arcades Project present boredom both in its social aspect (the city as protagonist) and as experience. A number of the forms of boredom is thus elaborated: the relation of city dweller to nature and the cosmos, as weather; in its temporal orientation, as waiting; the mechanistic character of the modern world and its subject, as repetition; in the cycles of production and consumption, as the ideological boredom of the ruling class. Among three of Benjamin’s typologies for the bored modern subject—the gambler, the flaneur, and the one who waits—I turn particularly to the experience of the flaneur, the dedicatee of Convolute D. In flaneurie the experience of boredom is accumulated and distributed, and in this way the flaneur is in the city but also constitutes and memorializes it, as boredom. This ambivalent relation to the urban fabric and landscape is also captured in his characteristic observation and exhibition, his consumption without acquisition and without production. After considering some possible antitheses to Benjamin’s types of boredom, I conclude with the reflection that passing over boredom to its opposite would require the overcoming of modern subjectivity itself.