I find this essay interesting concerning the effects and importance of boredom, and am with Priest for many sections, of the essential conceit that a society of ceaseless media must be based on a foundation of boredom; and of boredom’s ability to “bore a hole in us” (37). But in the middle Priest loses me. I don’t know that the experience of boredom is ontologically different now than it was in Cage’s time, and the neo-liberalism in particular has dramatically altered how a subject (a person) experiences boredom. It seems in Priest view, that neo-liberalism has severed boredom’s connection to the sublime, and now is only ever capable of delivering us to a thing called stuplime, a word coined by Ngai (36). The concept of the stuplime is interesting, and I wish I had read in full the Ngai’s essay discussing it, because I get the feeling that the stuplime is being misapplied here. Boredom is anti-capitalist, and has been since Cage’s time. Filling space with minimal cognitive or physical activity rebukes the factory floor model of the west handed down from the industrial revolution. Beyond the initial experiencing of the void of the moment, “the sense of senselessness” boredom returns us to the body, as sensation begins to enlarge, stupliminty, may be one more step towards the pay-off promised by Cage. Maybe Boredom hasn’t changed in an intrinsic way in sixty years, and Priest just isn’t waiting long enough.
It seems that Priest wants to problematize difference. Instead of understanding them as discrete modes, or entryways into boredom, Priest wants us to view boredom in a lineage, as having been mutated over the years by our cultural choices. The section “A less promising boredom” is the biggest offender for me. On page 76, as Priest takes the way artists use boredom as a symptom of depression, as a way to simulate boredom for an audience. In his examination of the work of Christine Ross, Priest begins to confuse depression for boredom. While boredom can be an entry point (or exit point) to depression, depression is not “reaching for nothing in particular” or “a sense of senselessness.” From the way, Priest discusses Ross’ work, she seems to understand the difference. On “how slow time in art suggests the way depression interrupts the hermeneutic impulse of perception and revalorizes the domain of sensory appreciation” (76). My problem is the way he concludes the boredom-depression connection, “In this view, boredom no longer forms a dialectical relationship with intensity that Higgins took its contrast with excitement to mean. Where boredom once served ‘as a means of bringing emphasis to what it interrupts,’ it now functions in this ‘culture of individualized independence’” (77). What I don’t quite understand is not that artist are finding new ways of accessing boredom, which would seem like the type of thing art should be doing, but why this other older type of boredom is no longer available. It’s not like the tyranny of individuality is new.
There were other parts of the essay where Priest seemed to be disagreeing with his own text. I was fascinated by the part on 82 where the piano player Barone describes playing the piece Piano Installations. Barone describes the actual playing of the piece to be so endlessly repetitive that it began to simulate being on “magic mushrooms” and that “nothing made sense” and that his own body was “utterly foreign” (85). And yet, Priest tells us, “The expressions of sublime transduction are clearly absent from his description” (85). Really? Playing this piece of music can induce a psychedelic hallucination, but isn’t sublime? How sublime does the sublime have to be for Priest?
So, I was surprised then, in the final section of the chapter, when Priest quickly takes a lot of what he said back. “Obviously, boredom today is not wholly distinct from the boredom of the 1960s and 1970s; the formal and conceptual similarities, as well as the discursive figures that are used by artists to describe and justify the boring things they do, are more than apparent” (96). I’m with Priest here, and many of the other assertions of this sections, including the necessity of the death of the avant-garde in order to preserve the avant-garde, but, considering that last statement above, I wonder if all of those middle sections were necessary.