Make Up Blog: Boredom Remains the Same

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.


Tag: Fear

The tag: fear brought up posts by vanessatshionyi and mmacg123 which covered Vincent and Marcher respectively and puts the two protagonists into an interesting contrast.


Through the lens of Vincent, Berlant, and the grimace of panic capitalism, Marcher appears to be quite the hero, and really, not a failure at all. Unlike Vincent, Marcher’s secret life is not a “glitch” as Berlant would describe it, but Marcher’s secret life is his real life. For Vincent, neither the life he keeps secret from his family or the life that his family knows is real, there is only bad faith, and it’s hard to locate any part of the movie where Vincent exists at all. Instead Vincent appears in flashes, talking about his yearning to drive, expressing his confusion in the fog, jumping out the window and breaking into a run. But always in motion, never arriving. Existing only liminally, it’s hard to say if Vincent experiences emotions. It’s clear that he doesn’t understand how emotions work for others: but Vincent’s failure also includes his failure at expression. No output, neither from his body or his voice can be trusted. Much of the film’s tension can be traced back to the question of whether Vincent’s static state of escape is a fear reaction or a love of paralysis. It’s unclear to me if Vincent cares about his family at all, or if he cares if they find out about his secret life, and so the viewer watches for clues that such a revelation would be psychically damaging to Vincent: clues that never come. The one character Vincent could be said to love is Jean-Michael, as Jean-Michael is the only character that Vincent attempts to reveal himself to, even though that attempt fails. And Vincent is ungrateful for the help Jean-Michael offers him, which actually activates Vincent’s limited skill set. Jean-Michael gives Vincent work that should suit him, but Vincent recoils at the idea of being useful. He recoils at being not-useful as well. His desires, if it can be said he has any, are hard to map, besides driving.


Marcher, on the other hand, is a visionary. Even though the details of the future are obscure to him, he arrives at the future he desired anyway. Marcher set a goal early in life to one day destroyed by an existential horror, and he succeeds. His fear of it changes over time to become a comfort. Fear becomes his lover. And in loving his fear Marcher transforms it into something dependable, something that gives his life meaning. Vincent doesn’t transform anything in the course of Time Out, and he himself fails to transform. Mmacg123 points out that in his lifetime Marcher fails to risk anything, as he never extends himself outside of himself. It is true that Marcher never extends himself, but in the position that he is in, which is one of danger, changing or improving his life could also be seen as a fearful act. Marcher chooses to remain in danger. On 48-49 of The Beast in the Jungle Marcher discusses with Bartram how living static in fear, embracing the fear-self can be a kind of courage. I think courage is a little too far to describe Marcher but there is kind of altruism of Marcher’s behavior, as he does not project his fear onto others, or use it as an excuse to destroy anyone else.  

Two Kinds of Failure and Cartoons

There appears to be two types of failure for Halberstam: one is incompleteness, and the other is negation. During the less serious portions of the essay Halberstam focuses on the incompleteness. These include the sections on the early Disney cartoons (22), the CGI films of DreamWorks and Pixar (20-21), and also Little Miss Sunshine (5). I appreciate the silly sections of the writing for its attempt to disrupt the pedagogy of essay writing itself in an attempt to display Low Theory in a Low Theory way. Even though the name Low Theory might not be the best, and the admission that it puts itself into opposition with High Theory in a way that’s a little too close to the kind of hierarchical opposition that High Theory would itself espouse (15).


The negation version of failure appears in the section concerning colonialization and subjugation of knowledge, in the way that Foucault urges the resistance of discipline, legitimization and hegemony (10-11). There is something distinctly heavier about this version of failure, something more frightening. Halberstam touches on this again on 23, writing, “I begin by addressing the dark heart of the negativity that failure conjures, and I turn from the happy and productive failures explored in animation to darker territories of failure associated with futility, sterility, emptiness, loss, negative effect in general and modes of unbecoming.” This other form of failure, I guess be called negation, but it also failure as a location, which delineates it from the failure of incompleteness, which finds itself aligned with creativity and possibility. This failure as a location is more permanent, and kind of failure-for-itself.


The section where these two types of failure overlap is in Pirate Cultures (18). The Pirate Culture, an early resistance to the capitalist state, is similar to queer-ness in that it combines the incompleteness of the failure as a journey, with the failure as location-ness of negation. The Pirate is incomplete in that they are falling short of the capitalist idea wealth, but also, they are a negation, in that they represent a parallel form of economy: a criminal economy, from which the pirate can never hope to return. Similarly: queerness represents both a falling sort of sexual and gender demands, which can also be described as Capitalist, and a parallel sexual and gender structure from which one cannot return.


Halberstam’s writing also reminded why I love Daffy Duck. As a child, I disliked Disney cartoons, because of how moralizing they seemed to me, as Halberstam mentions on 22. So as a kid I made a point to watch Loony Tunes over Disney, which in its own way was following the oppositional tendencies of Capitalism, but I felt Looney Tunes represented something drastically different, an embrace of the manic, of illogic, and metaphor over science. Even Bugs Bunny, for all his coolness, represented a kind of laid back violence. But it was Daffy Duck that I liked most of all, and I think it was because of his static state of constant failure. It was his put-upon-ness that appealed to me. And in some ways, you can read a moralistic bent in Daffy, that his greed and avarice would bring about his undoing: it was in that state of being undone that he would reach his most essential state, babbling, bent-billed, mad. And Bugs, who was the author of Daffy’s undoing as often as not, was an anti-hero at best. There were no simple moral plays in Looney Tunes, just un-hinged sub-consciousness, playing out archetypes.