[-empyre-] Welcome to May: Boredom: Labor, Use and Time

John Stadler john.paul.stadler at gmail.com
Sat May 9 07:30:22 AEST 2015

Hey Ben,

You asked:

> Does this imply that before modernity all moments of time were filled
> with task-oriented behaviours? Or that there was no conceptualization of
> the difference between task and non-task? Does modernity mark the
> construction of the notion of tasks (as units of activity)?

> What is the relation between boredom and rest? Does boredom always
> involve a task that is momentarily paused, or a lack of task?

I’m speculating here, because the pre-modern period is not an area I
study in great depth, but my sense is that the division is not one
that gets made. I am open to other interpretations, though. This would
be for the period of time in which one was not alienated from one’s
labor. Something like boredom would perhaps have existed under
slightly different form as idleness and been regulated more by an
institution like the church. But with the rise of capitalism, leisure
time comes to be divided out and a concept of boredom can emerge as a
kind of uncertainty for how to fill this time, or as a general
alienation from time itself. I think time is really interesting now,
especially given the blurring of the lines between work and leisure (I
say as I write this from my patio, having just played frisbee with my

This gets perhaps to your point of wanting to know the relation
between boredom and rest. I think that as work comes to colonize the
space of leisure (and vice versa), the imperative toward productivity
comes to police the space of rest, such that, inactivity and behavior
without a clear orientation toward a task becomes viewed pejoratively.
It's non-productive of capital, and so boredom very much is a problem
(I think). But is it just a problem for capitalism?

You also asked:

> What is the role of desensitization here? Does not all pornography
> eventually become boring once experienced sufficient times?

I think pornography viewed enough times absolutely becomes boring, but
I also think that the mass customizability of pornography seems to
want to promise the viewer a more perfect, more unique, more tailored
form of pornography that is always just around the corner, compelling
the viewer to go on this quest for the ever more engaging clip or
film. In this picture, pornography does seem to desensitize us from
the sense of a norm for sex, because it is largely in the business of
producing fantasy. It's sex is supposed to be, on some level,
unrealistic. I think too the general minimization of narrative in
contemporary pornography and the mechanization of sex acts (always
orchestrated in some recognizable permutation) are some explanations,
too, in very mainstream pornography.

I taught a course on pornography last summer to undergraduates,
though, and what became surprising was just how quickly students
lodged the complaint of boredom for pornographic films (the first
screening!) from an era they were unfamiliar with. Of course, viewing
pornography in an academic setting is very different from viewing
pornography privately. Boredom in the instance of the classroom might
also be another way of trying to find a vocabulary for how to speak
about a form of media that we are largely aware of but taught from an
early age not to speak of. Clearly there is a different aim in mind,
where the student were called upon to view the films dispassionately
and with a critical eye, and the consumer has the aim of pleasure in
mind. But I think boredom can exist for both kinds of viewers.

I think boredom within pornography is perhaps more interesting to me,
at this point, where performers seem bored, actions mechanical,
pleasures faked. In cam shows, for instance, performers can sit in a
chair for an hour awaiting tokens from viewers in order to perform
particular sex acts, and this act of waiting (and doing nothing, other
than responding to a thread of comments) is very much part of the
pornographic performance and helps to authenticate it as real (even
while it is coerced by monetary reimbursement in the case of some cam

These are just some passing thoughts. I will need to sit with these
questions longer to give a more thorough answer. Thanks for them,
though. I've really enjoyed reading your responses!


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