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A Philosophy of Boredom [Paperback]

Lars Svendsen
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: £17.95 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

28 Jan 2005
Although boredom is something that we have all suffered from at some point in our lives, and has become one of the central preoccupations of our age, very few of us can explain precisely what it is. In this book, Lars Svendsen examines the nature of boredom, how it originated, its history, how and why it afflicts us, and why we cannot seem to overcome it by any act of will. A diverse and vague phenomenon, described as anything from tame longing without any particular object' (Schopenhauer), a bestial and indefinable affliction' (Dostoevsky), to time's invasion of your world system' (Joseph Brodsky), boredom allows many interpretations. In exploring these, Lars Svendsen brings together observations from philosophy, literature, psychology, theology and popular culture, examining boredom's pre-Romantic manifestations in medieval torpor, philosophies of the subject from Pascal to Nietzsche, and modern related concepts of alienation and transgression, taking in texts by Samuel Beckett, J.G. Ballard, Andy Warhol and many others. A witty and entertaining account that considers a serious issue, it will appeal to anyone who has ever felt bored, and wanted to know why.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books (28 Jan 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861892179
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861892171
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 12.3 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘When an investigation into boredom is done well, as it is in A Philosophy of Boredom…, it is positively gripping' -- TLS

About the Author

Lars Fr. H. Svendsen is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Bergen, Norway. He is the author of many books including Man, Morals and Genes: A Critique of Biologism (2001) and The Philosophy of Evil (2001). The translator, John Irons, was awarded the prestigious NORLA prize in 2007.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The fascination of boredom 6 Feb 2006
A brief but gripping little treatise on boredom. Svendsen identifies two types of it: situational and existential boredom. The former is an emotion, experienced when you are doing something you find tedious, or are unable to find anything to do that interests you; the latter is a mood, verging on an affliction, something that happens to you when you can find no special value in life but don't feel that this is any great cause for actual depression. His cultural range is enormous, going from an obscure novel by a German Romantic to Iggy Pop (who's actually an American romantic, so maybe it's not as enormous as all that). In any case, Svendsen says that boredom is born of Romanticism and provides plenty of evidence to support his argument. I can't comment on how accurate the translation is, but it's certainly elegant; I love in the last sentence Svendsen's marvellously gloomy but casually beautiful description of boredom as "life's own gravity". Once again this publisher has brought out a small masterpiece of genuinely useful European philosophy (check out their "Encyclopaedia of Stupidity").
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Ironia
Svendson discusses the nature of modern boredom, which he distinguishes from the ancient 'Acedia', the forerunner of the modern concept of boredom: the word itself dates from 1760. `Boredom became widespread when traditional structures of meaning disappear.' He also distinguishes the concept from that of mere ennui or world weariness, although I would say that the ennui of the aristocrat who had been everywhere and done everything does resemble that of the modern shopped-out, travelled-out, consumer. However, there is more to it.

Svendsen ranges widely though the history of ideas, taking a phenomenological rather than psychological approach. The book offers both a good introduction to the subject, with plenty of useful references for readers who wish to go deeper, and an apportunity for rusty philosophers to reacquaint themselves with old friends. [I dug out Kierkegaard's Either/Or to read his discussion of boredom.]
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5.0 out of 5 stars A top read! 6 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If you're bored read this then at least you'll find meaning and purpose to your boredom. This contains a history of the ideas around boredom, differing attitudes towards it throughout the ages, some of which linger on today. Svendsen also collates all the thinkers who have had something to say about the subject in this very readable volume.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Is As Satisfying As A Yawn, Though Much More Energizing 9 Sep 2007
By Jarod Kintz - Published on Amazon.com
When one is superficially bored, one can easily distract oneself by making paper airplanes, such as the one that graces the cover of this book. But only when one is profoundly bored can a work of art such as this book be born.

For nearly four hours my eyes were glued to the pages of Svendsen's amazing book, and then finally, after many tears and shrilly screams, I managed to pull them off the paper without ripping the sensitive skin on my eyelids and actually read the book. And what a book it turned out to be!

It's everything you ever wanted to know about boredom and more, even though there are no directions on how to make paper airplanes or origami mustaches, although images of Nietzsche's glorious mustache kept coming to mind and making my upper lip itch as he was discussed in various parts of this book.

You'll be astounded at how Svendsen explores the once dark and mysterious subject of boredom like a spelunker in a cave, and ultimately emerges in the end holding a few stalactites of truth that were formed by the seemingly endless and measured drips of water that make us aware that time is passing, and also how small and insignificant we are in comparison to this cave called life.

This book will change your outlook on boredom, life, and Kierkegaard's inability to grow a mustache (Ok, so maybe not), and it will enlighten you in a way that is both entertaining and entertaining. Did I mention that this book is entertaining? Well it is, so if you are in the mood to think and be dazzled by a modern day philosophical giant, then I suggest you pick up a copy of this book.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Boring material; proceed with caution 1 Aug 2010
By Auke - Published on Amazon.com
First of all, let me admit that I've never read a purely philosophical work before and, aside from some random thoughts on Nietzsche and Plato, I probably know less about philosophy than you do.

That said, I cannot say this is a groundbreaking work which will change the way you look at the world, *however*, I have personally certainly gotten some insights in the way one /can/ (Svendsen tries to be careful not to judge; more on that later) think about the way people handle "existential" boredom. Svendsen starts by trying to give some possible definitions for the boredom he'd like to discuss, which is very interesting already. Part two, Stories of Boredom, I didn't find particularly interesting, although I guess it could all make sense if you've actually read the work Svendsen refers to.

Don't misunderstand the three stars I'm giving this book. It is a book about boredom, and that doesn't make the book very attractive. However, I have very much enjoyed the thoughts in this book while waiting for the bus to arrive and while waiting for my turn at the dentist - ie., when I was bored. If you're studying philosophy already and have read the works Svendsen uses a long time ago, this book may be less interesting than if you're looking for a quick intro to this subject.

Do note that this is not a self-help book. Svendsen gives some thoughts on what existential boredom is, and where it could have originated, but does not in a direct sense give solutions. To quote the preface, "[...] I intend to present less of a cohesive argument, more a series of sketches that will hopefully bring us closer to an understanding of boredom." Although Svendsen promises not to draw any personal conclusions, be warned that the phrases "I believe" and "I do not believe" do appear in various places, and the author has an obvious affection for Nietzsche's view on the matter. Further, Svendsen implicitly suggests distinct social levels in the world, which I would not expect as part of an objective stance.


Part one: The Problem of Boredom
Boredom as a PHilosophical Problem
Boredom and modernity
Boredom and Meaning
Boredom, Work and Leisure
Boredom and Death
Typologies of Boredom
Boredom and Novelty

Part two: Stories of Boredom
Acedia: Pre-modern Boredom
From Pascal to Nietzsche
Romantic Bordem, from William Lovell to American Psycho
On Boredom, Body, Technology and Transgression: Crash
Samuel Beckett and the Impossibility of Personal Meaning
Andy Warhol: Renouncing Personal Meaning

Part three: The Phenomenology of Boredom
On Attunement
Ontology: The Hermeneutics of Boredom

Part four: The Ethics of Boredom
What is an I?
Boredom and Human History
The Experience of Boredom
Boredom and Maturity


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