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Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754


Time-stilled space-slowed: how boredom matters

Ben Anderson
Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Winter Street, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK
Received 22 May 2003; received in revised form 3 February 2004

This paper aims to fold the increased attention to issues of materiality in social and cultural geography into the more recent
attunement to questions of affect. The vehicle for this aim is a discussion of the complex ways in which boredom, and bodies bored,
compose time–space. Somewhat surprisingly, and in stark contrast to its experiential ubiquity, boredom has rarely been discussed
within the social sciences. The paper therefore performs a geography of how boredom matters by way of a series of examples of the
taking place of boredom drawn from research on music and everyday life. Rather than discuss boredom through the critical concepts
that underpin the thesis of disenchantment, such as alienation or anomie, I argue that boredom takes place as a suspension of a body’s
capacities to affect and be affected forged through an incapacity in habit. Through this discussion I argue that the ‘new materialisms’
that increasingly populate social and cultural geography struggle to discern the affectivity of profane social-life and, importantly,
cannot conceive of the risk of depletion that boredom, via its connection to meaninglessness and indifference, exemplifies. However,
attuning to the movement-from that always accompanies boredom discloses the immanent presence of intensities that on-go even as
boredom stills and slows time–space. Based on the ambiguity of boredom that results, the conclusion draws on the ‘not-yet’ mate-
rialism of Ernst Bloch [The Principle of Hope (vols. 1–3) (N. Plaice, S. Plaice, P. Knight, Trans.), Blackwell, Oxford, 1986] to disclose
an image of process-matter that draws on Bennett’s [The Enchantment of Modern Life. Attachments, Crossings and Ethics, Princeton
University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2001] concept of an ‘enchanted materialism’ but retains a sense of process as incorporating
both plentitude and depletion. The basis to this form of affective materialism is the event of hope.
Ó 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Boredom; Affect; Affective materialism; Hope; Music; Matter

Boredom itself represents the death of meaning, of 1. How does boredom matter?
interest. It is an experience (however dimly under-
stood as such) of the emptiness that lurks at the Does boredom matter? To be bored, or perhaps
heart of human existence, an emptiness into which more importantly to potentially/probably be bored, has
each moment fades, into which all finite things become part of the common-place experiential fabric,
pass away. the affective texture, of Modern everyday life (see
(Raposa, 1999, p. 60) Barbalet, 1999; Klapp, 1986; Spacks, 1995). Conse-
quently, there is no longer anything surprising, aston-
Hope is a spring: it is the leaping of a gulf. ishing or wonderful about the often unacknowledged,
(Marcel, 1965, p. 86) and certainly unevenly distributed, experience of being
bored. Despite the word ‘boredom’ only coming into
use to describe a psychological state in the middle of
the nineteenth century, life is now conducted in the
shadow of an assumption of boredom as a social/cul-
tural given (Spacks, 1995). However, simultaneously,
boredom does not matter. Its banality has long ren-
E-mail address: benjaminjanderson@yahoo.co.uk (B. Anderson). dered it comparatively immaterial. In comparison to
0016-7185/$ - see front matter Ó 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
740 B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754

the grandness of ennui, for example, boredom acts to also weaves into its story of materiality a wider discus-
trivialize a disenchanted world in which, sadly and sion of the diverse energies of boredom. 1 The first
consequently, nothing matters (see Kuhn, 1976). Given section focuses upon how the contemporary over-
this ambiguity, that runs throughout this paper, I aim abundant presence of boredom has, hitherto, been
to attune to the slightly different, but not unrelated, explained as evidence of a lack of animation in con-
question of how ephemeralities such as boredom mat- temporary social–cultural life. Boredom becomes one
ter. Given in part the invigorating energies of a mul- particular manifestation of a set of materialized social
titude of ‘new materialisms’ (see this volume and Pels structures formed into the thesis of the disenchantment
et al., 2002), in a range of recent writings on the cul- of the world. Eschewing the determination that follows
tural turn there is a growing feeling that it is time to this rendition of ‘the material’, the following section,
‘tack back’ from a focus on signification to a renewed through the description of a number of events in one
questioning of ‘the materiality of matter’ (see Jackson, household, describes in practical terms how bored
2000; Lees, 2002; Philo, 2000). In this literature ques- bodies are composed. Here, in time–space stilling and
tions of the affective colouring of social-spatial life slowing, we encounter a corporeal trace of one of the
have, however, either been forgotten or discussed etymological routes of boredom as reiterative action. 2
erroneously in the terms of one side of a divide in Drawing on a form of ‘relational materialism’, I argue
which ‘matter’ stands as the ‘real’, ‘grounded’ or that boredom emerges from a breakdown, or incapacity,
‘physical’ opposite. Philo (2000, p. 33), for example, in the framing action of habit. The limit to equating
eludes ‘‘texts, signs, symbols, psyches, desires, fears, matter with a realm of co-present artefacts is, however,
and imaginings’’ in his category of the immaterial. how boredom as a form of ill-being effects time–space.
Matters such as boredom have, therefore, begun to In the following section I discuss the meaninglessness
take on significance via a separate attunement to and indifference that are often assumed to stem from
questions of the ‘‘affective modalities of association’’ boredom. Here I argue that boredom discloses how life
(Whatmore, 2002, p. 5). Recent work has begun to can be at risk of lessening. I go on to argue in the fol-
extend, and deepen, engagement with different modal- lowing section that this places in question the assump-
ities of the non-rational in order to disclose how tion of plentitude, or liveliness, in the aforementioned
emotions, feelings and mood work to compose the emerging renditions of a ‘lyric’ or ‘enchanted’ materi-
vagaries of social-spatial life (see Anderson and Smith, alism in non-representational theory. The final section
2001; Davidson, 2003; Dewsbury, 2003; McCormack, discloses the presence of different movements-from
2003). The separation between matter and the non-ra- boredom, such as joy, hope and despair, in order to
tional is now, therefore, somewhat intuitive. It is as- begin to develop an empirically informed conception of
sumed that immaterialities do not matter. There are, matter as ‘not-yet become’ (Bloch, 1986). Through the
however, numerous problems with this separation: not movement of example, and in relation to the other ‘new
least that it repeats a categorical distinction between materialisms’, the paper discloses the beginnings of what
matter and those capacities taken to form part of the
enlivening ‘ideal’ dimension of life and thought (see for
alternatives to this split Bennett, 2001; Massumi, The empirical stories, and the broader sensing of boredom, are
2002b). developed from in-depth case study research into music and daily
domestic life with seventeen lower-middle class households. The
This division has, however, begun to be re-drawn in research involved a series of qualitative research methods including
the development of a new ‘aesthetically disposed’ sense group and individual interviews, research diaries, periods of observant
of materiality in the body of work known as non-rep- participation in each of the homes (Thrift, 2000a) and more experi-
resentational theory (see Thrift, 2004a,b). Thrift (2004a, mental ‘listening-with’ methods. The three empirical ‘events’ are all
p. 124) argues that this has three main components: first, from the same family. All names are anonymised at their request.
Given the myriad foci of the research on which this paper is based,
imagination is extended into matter, second, a ‘lyric’ broadly on affect and music consumption, this is far from a
sense of materiality is formed around the affect of comprehensive or exhaustive treatment of the topic ‘boredom’. It
wonder and, third, the resulting picture of materiality is aims, instead, to fabricate a tentative narrative of boredom as a means
based on the neo-baroque sense that ‘‘the world is to think through how concepts of matter and materiality currently take
contingent and complex, a space for opportunities and place. It does this by extending out from the aforementioned empirical
research into a wider, deliberately speculative, discussion of bore-
events’’. In this paper I aim to contribute to this new dom(s) diverse social-spatial energies. The paper is therefore meant to
sense of matter by folding the renewed concern with the be a starting point for a geography of boredom, that would
intensities of affect directly into the heart of a figuration supplement recent work on emotions such as anxiety, fear and
of the materiality of matter. The vehicle for this is a case confidence.
study of how boredom takes place based on in-depth The word does not appear to have a clear etymology. It is linked to
both the French bourre, meaning padding and the reiterative action of
research into music and everyday life, conducted over a drill, to bore. Spacks (1995) argues that the verb ‘to bore’ arose in
the course of eighteen months with seventeen lower English after 1750. The first citation as noun, boredom, is not until
middle class households in Sheffield, UK. The paper 1864.
B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754 741

I have termed an affective materialism. This is a mate- the nature of matter is dulled. Fredric Jameson (1988),
rialism that thinks through how a quasi-idealist/quasi- commenting upon Weber, argues that boredom is the
corporeal dimension of affect is internal, rather than in psychological substrate of one particular historical mo-
supplement or opposition, to materiality. Somewhat ment in the world’s demagification. Emerging after rage,
counter-intuitively, it is based on attuning to the diverse but before anxiety, in boredom one ‘‘assumes, naturally
energies of boredom through the affective supplement of enough, that all life is thus empty’’ (Jameson, 1988, p.
hope. Hope expresses a relation-with the world that, in 187). In this sense boredom is assumed to be a ration-
contrast to boredom, embeds us directly in the ongoing alist, materialist, malady bound up with the elaboration
processual modalities of matter. The spark, or glimmer, of the staple ‘villains’ of Modernity. The most striking
of hope works beyond what is actual as ‘‘a continuous example of this process is in how boredom exists as an
movement toward the superlative, the sublime’’ (Lu- index of a profound ‘subjective malaise’ in the writings
dema et al., 1997, p. 1037). But this is a movement that on modernity and city life by Simmel, Adorno and
must always incorporate the risk of disappointment for, Kracauer. Boredom is figured as a prophetic condition
as Bloch (1986) is continually at pains to point out, hope that reveals a set of ‘facts’ about the psychic and emo-
contains a hazard since it only ever discloses what ‘‘may tional toil the deficit of meaning extracts on individuals
become possible in the future’’ (Hudson, 1983, p. 105 (see Goodstein, 2004).
emphasis added). The thesis of disenchantment, despite holding an
intuitive hold over contemporary social and cultural
theory, has, however, recently been challenged on the
2. Boredom and disenchanted matter grounds that the story of Modernity it tells is predicated
on ‘‘a vast saga of historical rupture, fatal destiny,
Explanations for the contemporary over-abundant irreversible good or bad fortune’’ (Latour, 1993, p. 48).
presence of boredom under modernity/post-modernity Put simply, contrary to the guiding assumption that
typically begin from an intuitive association with a no- haunts each of the above explanations for boredom,
tion of either alienation or anomie (see Barbalet, 1999; ‘‘the magic has not gone away’’ (Thrift, 2000c, p. 236).
Healey, 1984; Klapp, 1986). 3 Four main neo-weberian Rather than repeat the terms of the critique of this thesis
explanations are commonly given that link the thesis of (see Bennett, 2001; Thrift, 2000c), here I want to focus
disenchantment to the rise of boredom as a uniquely on how this story of the ‘context’ of boredom is tellable
modern phenomena combining, in Sean Healey’s (1984, only through a precise articulation of a type of materi-
p. 89) words, ‘‘intense, desperate, agonized, undirected alism. First, ‘the material’ in its positive definition be-
irritation alternating with a sullen, morose, lowering comes equivalent to a set of named social structures/
lethargy and an utterly exasperated violence’’. First, the theoretical constructs that stand in an uneasy co-rela-
increase in boredom is assumed to stem from the process tion of determination to a defined ‘cultural’ realm. To
of secularization: ‘‘the growing metaphysical void at the perform a ‘materialist analysis’ is therefore to postulate,
heart of Western civilization’’ (Healey, 1984, p. 87). albeit in ways that vary, a ‘‘social structure that is sit-
Second, and related, the growth in boredom is argued to uated beyond culture and that functions as the ultimate
stem from modern forms of individuation that have led foundation of human action’’ (Reckwitz, 2002, p. 197).
to the rise of a possessive, calculable, individualism (see Each of the social–cultural processes named above
Spacks, 1995). Third, boredom is determined by the thereafter become the ‘real’, yet strangely transcendent,
changing conditions of leisure, and a concurrent right to determinate form of ‘the material’. This account of ‘the
happiness, in late-modern societies (see Klapp, 1986). material’ remembers a much longer tradition of struc-
Finally, boredom is argued to have emerged in response turalist and historical materialist work, that articulate
to the rise of standardized, standardizing, organizations ‘the material’ as a founding pre-discursive space stand-
of time–space (see Highmore, 2002). In each case a set of ing before, and determining, ‘in the last instance’, a
familiar conceptual–empirical stories, respectively secu- realm of culture. It is important to stress the effects this
larization, individualism, leisure and bureaucratization, has on the profane experiential dramatics of boredom.
are offered as explanations for the existence of boredom. Boredom, by necessity, becomes a secondary epiphe-
Boredom, once explained, has therefore become a nomena that stands on the side of the explained as a
symptom of the ‘imprint of meaninglessness’ that char- feeling, a matter of no consequence, to be explained as a
acterizes the disenchantment of the material world. It ‘social construction’ of a set of named conditions.
insists in a rationalized, intellectualized, world in which Ironically, therefore, in offering a materialist analysis for
a phenomena such as boredom no space is given for
boredom to effect since ‘‘the materiality of matter, its
It is worth noting that the complex terms ‘alienation’ and ‘anomie’
both have contested histories. Boredom is generally assumed to be one
palpability and its physical insistence, is rendered
element of what are both wider structural–experiential categories (see unspeakable and unthinkable’’ (Kirby, 1997, p. 108).
Barbalet, 1999). This is the second, hidden, understanding of materiality:
742 B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754

as a blank that has had ‘‘all life stolen from under it’’ We begin what could be a different tale of bore-
(Bennett, 2001, p. 80). The matter of the world, the dom with a story of music and everyday domestic
bored body that sighs or yawns, must stand as an origin life. Andy is in the kitchen of the house he shares
point waiting to be ‘socially constructed’ (see Barad, with his family. He cuts carrots in preparation
1998; Cheah, 1996; Fraser, 2002). for an evening meal after returning home from
work. He writes in a diary entry:

Not a lot happened today. Only time listened was

3. Becoming bored when I was making dinner. Was quite. . . I guess
bored, a bit restless, as it wasn’t really exciting
The result is a world of dead matter reduced to ‘‘the cooking, just chopping. Decided to put on a CD.
status of victims of grand theft who have been stripped I guess it was about half past five, everyone else
of their capacities and powers’’ (Bennett, 2001, p. 80). was busy doing homework. Put on, listened to that
Therefore attending to how boredom matters must in- a bit but it was mostly background to take my
volve eschewing the alchemy of explanation, that makes mind off things a bit, didn’t take much notice of it.
real but not fleshy a set of transcendent social structures. (Diary Extract: Andy 11.12.01)
Embedded within each of the above explanations for the
‘construction’ of boredom, under certain Modern social Barthes (1990, p. 25) stresses that boredom, rather
and physiological conditions, is an assumption of the than being a spontaneous response to something exter-
experiential uniqueness of ‘modern’ boredom in com- nal, ‘‘supposes a whole indirect production’’. The
parison to other ways of being in the past considered background bodily feeling that Andy names as boredom
akin to boredom, for example sloth, melancholy, acedia, is first and foremost a more or less precarious effect
or ennui. Boredom is experienced by a human subject formed in concert with the elaboration of a much wider
alone and occurs when something outside oneself holds relational field. Being ‘‘I guess bored, a bit restless’’ exists
a series of attributes or properties that are in themselves only from within an everyday life that includes, most
considered ‘boring’. For Spacks (1995, p. 8) modern immediately, the habitual action of chopping carrots as
boredom therefore confirms a late-modern ‘‘participa- food preparation: ‘‘not really exciting cooking’’. It ex-
tion in a culture of narcissism’’. She argues that the tends to the repetition of what he later terms a ‘‘quick
recognition of a right not to be bored, and an obligation dinner’’ within his, and the families’, day to day domestic
not to bore, only came about in the nineteenth century life. It also touches upon the formation of a set of bodily
at the same time as a concern with the quality of inner habits solidified over the course of being at home in the
experience and a notion of individual rights. Due to its same house for the past twenty eight years: a way of
deadening rendition of materiality the disenchantment orientating around the intimate space of the kitchen.
tale cannot tell us anything about the mechanism by The settling of boredom over this domestic scene, in this
which boredom takes place i.e. how bodies, and time– case, heralds the common link between re-occurrence, as
space, become bored. I want to, therefore, now draw one form of repetition, and the boring of bodies. From
upon the ‘relational materialism’ associated with certain the research on music this was commonly expressed in
articulations of actor-network theory in order to de- both the use of music within situations where actions
scribe, at least initially, how bored time–space is com- were repeated and the capacity that new music had to
posed in and through ensembles of practices that quickly become ‘boring’ after being incorporated into
stabilize, momentarily, a ‘‘world of heterogeneous hy- the routine of daily lives. Andy remarks later during our
brids’’ (Bingham and Thrift, 2000, p. 287). 4 Perhaps conversation ‘‘I kind of do it every day, that’s why I need
here, in questions of composition, we encounter the first the music on’’. 5 More specifically, the dulling case of
glimmer of hope by turning from the determinism that chopping carrots ‘‘every day’’, speaks to how it is
infuses ‘structuralist’ accounts to the materially hetero- through the enframing actions of habit that forms of re-
geneous process of how boredom settles in a ‘‘full and occurrence are occasionally translated into ephemeral
complicated (folded) world’’ (Bingham and Thrift, 2000, feelings of boredom. The precise nature of this connec-
p. 292). tion depends, however, on the approach taken to the
question of how habit structures action. One school of
thought has ‘suspected’ what Beckett (1931) named as
This section draws on several of the main percepts of the body of
work that has been known as ‘actor-network theory’. Throughout this
section there is a hesitation over the danger of hypostatizing actor- It is perhaps because it captures the paradox of re-occurrence,
network theory as a ‘thing’ with a stable form. Rather than stable everything changing and yet everything remaining the same, that the
object to be evaluated, it therefore provides the beginning of a different deadening routine of the assembly line is a frequent analogy of the
tale of how boredom ‘takes place’. experience of boredom (see Langbauer, 1993).
B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754 743

the ‘‘dull inviolability’’ of habit to be the cause for quently, although actor-network theory is able to speak
boredom (see Csikszentmihalyi, 1977). Alternatively, a of how boredom is produced ’in’ context, it is unable to
more ambivalent attitude that spreads back to Witt- witness how matters such as boredom enable the
genstein and Heidegger, views habits as enabling; ‘‘sets ongoing creation of new, barely sensed, orderings (see
of techniques for on-going coping of and within given Thrift, 2000a). It is therefore to the ongoing effects of
forms of life’’ (Harrison, 2000, p. 512). Drawing on this boredom, in addition to its composition, that this paper
latter literature, it is important to stress that the link is now diverts into.
far from invariant since everyday domestic practices, to
be able to be performed successfully, necessarily incor-
porate a habitual dimension without boredom settling
4. The lessening in boredom
(Barbalet, 1999). 6 Moreover, in the above example of
Andy preparing dinner, boredom comes about not when
Boredom is an example of a malady based on the
practices are habitual but, by contrast, when the ‘for-
elongation of the now-time of the present that ‘‘makes
getting’ intrinsic to habit has been momentarily inca-
everything more hidden, makes days not only grey but
pacitated. It is the unraveling of habit, a sudden
uniform’’ (Benjamin, 1999, D 1a, 9). The immediate
realization of the again of ‘‘just chopping’’, that is passed
bodily effect of boredom, that emerges in concert with
through to enable boredom to settle. The ‘hidden’ effects
the incapacity in habit, is one in which time–space does
of habit are momentarily disrupted so that repetition is
not move: it fails to pass (see Waugh, 1976). Time–space
thereafter felt as a ‘bare’ reiterative dulling presence in-
creates, and is created through, mechanisms of stilling
and slowing. Mechanisms of stilling and slowing occur
The exact nature of the incapacity, it should be noted,
primarily through an impeded sense of proprioception:
depends upon how the disruption of habit is produced
hearing music that bores is felt, before it is named, in a
with, and through, its entanglement in a more extensive
change in the sense of movement. 7 Boredom therefore
set of relations (see Raposa, 1999). The account of the
contradicts the pervasive ‘‘narrative of speed up’’ that
settling, or condensation, of boredom through a ‘rela-
insists ‘‘we live in a speeded-up world––a ‘faster’, ‘more
tional materialism’ discloses boredom, initially, as al-
mobile’ world’’ (Crang and Thrift, 2000, p. 18). In
ways-already an effect of how a whole manner of
contrast to the pervasive re-valuation of background
heterogeneous ‘bits and pieces’ are held, and kept, to-
forms of slow-time that are currently ongoing life lessens
gether. The settling of boredom is therefore one effect of
in the stilling–slowing diminishments of boredom (see
a breakdown in the relatively durable network that en-
Thrift, 2000b). Two main effects are assumed to feed
ables home-space. The material of the world, a carrot or
forward from and spin back into the stilling–slowing
knife, is both ‘included’ and an ‘effect’ in this account of
grip of bored time–space. First, meaninglessness. Sec-
boredom. Matter becomes equivalent to a realm of co-
ond, indifference.
mingled artefacts (Latour, 1993). However, the limits of
such an account of matter, as a relational effect, is pre-
To sense the lessening of boredom we divert into a
cisely the affectivity of boredom. For, as is now well
second example of boredom taking place. Beth is
commented upon, in its account of matter as equivalent
16 and was just taking her GCSE’s at the time of
to a realm of ‘artefacts’ that are relationally constituted
talking. Here she describes in an interview listening
co-components of practice, work from within the La-
to music whilst doing work in her bedroom on the
tourian tradition of a ‘materialist semiotics’ has only
same evening as Andy was cutting carrots at about
rarely attuned to ‘‘the more corporeal configuration of
the same time. This was one of the main times
energies and elements particularized in the experiential
fabric of diverse living beings’’ (Whatmore, 2002, p. 36).
The technical inflection of actor-network theory’s infra-
language, and its focus on those competencies that have
formed the limits of Modern rationality (will, discretion,
force etc.), has meant that a focus on ‘‘the effectivity of For the benefit of this paper the term ‘proprioception’ is used to
(quasi)objects’’ has too often forgotten the ‘‘affectivity refer to the body’s sense of movement. Massumi (2002b, p. 58/59)
describes how it functions in the following terms: it registers ‘‘as
of (body) subjects’’ (Whatmore, 2002, p. 161). Conse- conditions of movement what the skin internalizes as qualities: the
hardness of the floor underfoot as one looks into a mirror becomes a
resistance enabling station and movement; the softness of a cat’s fur
becomes a lubricant for the motion of the hand. Proprioception
translates the exertions and ease of the body’s encounters with objects
Several ‘popular’ examples of the link between habit and boredom into a muscular memory of relationality. This is the cumulative
exist. For example, relationship guidance services report that one cause memory of skill, habit, posture’’. For more on the connection between
of long-term relationship breakdown is reported feelings of boredom styles of listening/hearing and the sense of movement see Anderson
(see Spacks, 1995). (2004b).
744 B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754

when she listened to music, and she had a clear terms that indicate the immanence of a certain vitality:
understanding of what sort of music was appropri- interesting, exciting, amusing, captivating, enthralling,
ate for homework. entrancing, fascinating (Winter, 2002). Both effects
provide a witness to the intracorporeal ethics of
Beth: Yeah. . .I’d just got home from school. . .I becoming bored. Care, and generosity, in particular
was like hurggh can’t be bothered to do any work, lessen as the waning of affect leads directly into an
but I had to cos I had loads on, so I had to. . .just it indifference that ‘‘envelops beings as a whole’’ (He-
was answering some tests, just ten questions or idegger, 1995, p. 138). Heidegger (1995, p. 67) aptly
something, so I started doing it but I just got SO describes boredom as ‘‘that which makes all things and
bored, they weren’t very hard and it was all things other human beings and myself fuse into a colourless
I’d done before. I was just bored, but I just indifference’’.
couldn’t really concentrate on them, so I put on Boredom’s greyness indicates a certain, usually
some music while I was doing my work. indeterminate, quality that is time–space (Caygill, 1998).
The term ‘affect’, as developed through Deleuze’s (1988)
B: What was it, the music I mean? reading of Spinoza, best enables us to sense the imma-
nent, banal, quality of time–space that boredom lessens.
Beth: It was S Club 7, quite happy. . .you can just Affect is equivalent to a ‘background’, lived, (in)corpo-
go along to it. . .I was just going along with it. real, faith: ‘‘the feeling of life itself, the sense of being’’
More happier than I was, it did just make me feel (Damasio, 1994, p. 150). Boredom, since it is a malady
more happy whilst I was doing the homework, of and in intensity, therefore:
changed the way I felt about it. I sung along to
it sometimes and then got on with my work. belongs to neither the subject nor the object of any
encounter but to the movements and variations of
B: Were you still bored. . . whilst it was on? intensity (as potential to affect and be affected)
that constitutes a ceaselessly oscillating fore-
Beth: No I sort of, sort of forgot that I was having ground/background, or, better, an immanent
to do homework. . . I was doing. . .you can’t be ‘plane’ (i.e. this is an in-between with a consistency
bored to that song anyway. all of its own).
(Interview: Beth 12.12.01) (Seigworth, 2000, p. 232)

Boredom, as an interruption of the energetic of Since boredom discloses a malady in the circulation
interest, acts as a barrier against the formation of certain of intensity it is not self-identical with an experiencing
relations with aspects of immediate experience as it subject. Before the utterance ‘I’m bored’ can occur,
‘‘absorbs ever more material into the maw of meaning- boredom already exists as an indistinct hue that envel-
lessness’’ (Spacks, 1995, p. 56). Schoolwork becomes, in ops the ‘bits and pieces’ that compose time–space and
Beth’s words, ‘‘just ten questions or something’’. 8 thereafter, through the sense of proprioception, lessens
Meaninglessness feeds-back to lessen the affective qual- the immanent vitality of our ‘‘background bodily feel-
ity of a stilled–slowed everyday life. Time–space takes ing’’ (Damasio, 1994, p. 150). Here it is worth coupling
place with an absence of animation: the waning of the above discussion of the lessening of an immanent
liveliness that is taken to be an index of disenchantment. vitality, the sense of almost-not-quite life that is carried
To hear this quality sense the legion of terms that de- out in grey, with talk of the failure of this ‘more’ to take
scribe the quasi-corporeal configuring effects of bodies place. Boring music, for example, was described using
bored: lifeless, lethargic, monotonous, mundane, stale, various terms: ‘‘it lacks soul’’, ‘‘it’s got no passion’’,
tedious, tiresome. The opposite of boredom are those ‘‘there’s just something not there’’. 9 Each approximates
talk of an extra, a surplus, that insists in different cate-
gories of music, for example music felt to be a favourite,
music that is laced with memory or even music that is
intensely disliked (Anderson, 2004a). Even though the
However, experience can be meaningless without it necessarily also
object may be considered to be functionally perfect a
being bound up with the elaboration of boredom. Philip Fisher writes, certain indeterminate quality is thereafter considered to
for example, of how the class of experience we name as wonder be missing that enables boredom to be felt as a malady
involves a comparable component of ‘meaninglessness’: ‘‘the moment
of pure presence within wonder lies in the object’s difference and
uniqueness being so striking to the mind that it does not remind us of
anything and we find ourselves delaying in its presence for a time in
which the mind does not move on by association to something else’’ Comments taken from a discussion the family described in this
(Fisher, 1998, p. 131). paper had about ‘boring music’ during a joint interview.
B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754 745

that ‘‘hangs above and gradually settles over the present alism’’ is therefore based on an onto-story in which,
moment’’ (Benjamin, 1999, D 12, 8). 10 following Deleuze, ‘‘the process of becoming goes on
and on and on. It is not finite’’ (Bennett, 2001, p. 165):
It is this broad account of matter, and the ‘non-rep-
resentational’ sources it draws upon, that has been ex-
5. The plentitude of matter? tended implicitly and explicitly into recent work that has
sketched the beginnings of a geography of embodied
Describing the effects of bodies bored, and the sense practice based around ideas, and ideals, of performance
of bored time–space, enables us to begin to attune to the (see for example Dewsbury et al., 2002; McCormack,
circulations and distributions of affect. It therefore also 2002; Thrift, 1996, 2000a, 2004a,b; Wylie, 2002). 11 The
potentially opens up the Spinozian problematic of how starting point has been a renewed appreciation that the
an incorporeal dimension is comported into matter. This world consists of an infinite, motile, capacity for all
moves us into a tradition of ‘‘immanent naturalism’’ manner of becomings. In comparison to the non-dy-
(Connolly, 1999) that assumes an animation, a becom- namic focus of what Thrift and Dewsbury (2000) name
ing otherwise, in ‘‘matter per se rather than the matter of as ‘dead geographies’, this new materialism has been
humanity alone’’ (Bennett, 2001, p. 166). Stretching crouched in a quasi-vitalist re-affirmation of the figure
back to Epicurean discussions of primordia, this work of ‘life’ as ‘‘a mutant, undisciplined creativity that is
attempts to side step the problem of equating matter worked out through the properties of existence’’ (Amin
with either a transcendent structure or a realm of arte- and Thrift, 2002, p. 95). The emerging disclosure of a
facts. Neither figure of matter can conceive of the dyna- world that is rich is therefore based on the Epicurean
mism of passionate bodied time–space outside of ‘‘the faith that the matter of the world is necessarily and
negativity associated with the vicissitudes of (human) inevitably generative via accidents, swerves and leaps.
signification and iteration’’ (Cheah, 1996, p. 119). The Dewsbury et al. (2002, p. 437) themetize this under-
most sustained drawing together of these literatures standing in their assumption that the world is excessive:
has been Jane Bennett’s (2001, p. 1) joyful elaboration of ‘‘the world does not resolve or come to rest’’. 12 Recent
an ‘enchanted materialism’ that aims to disclose ‘‘a work has focused the assumption of generation into two
contemporary world sprinkled with natural and cultural main interconnected directions. First, that the minutiae
sites that have the power to ‘enchant’’’. Her enchant- of embodied practices, as the generic social thing com-
ment tale is premised on a series of encounters staged posed out of affects and precepts, are productive of sense
between the bio-philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari (see Harrison, 2000; Wylie, 2002). The attention to the
and pre-modern Epicurean philosophies of a baroque emergence of bodies bored in section two, and the
material substance. The combination enables Bennett content of the following section, exemplify the com-
(2001, p. 104) to disclose a constant iterative generation monalties this paper has with this aspect of this litera-
as ‘internal’ to a matter that therefore ‘‘surprises, dis- ture. Second, and following on, attention is thereafter
turbs, charms and swerves’’. The result is a materialism focused in particular on the conditions for the produc-
that remembers the liveliness of matter rather than re- tion of the new (see Dewsbury, 2000; Harrison, 2000).
duce the capacity for liveliness back down into a set of The new is always coming-to-be since, as Dewsbury
human faculties (the imagination, will etc.). Thus ‘‘all et al. (2002, p. 428) stress, there is ‘‘always something
material things, natural and artifactual, already engage exceptional, somebody else; an accursed share, a dan-
in a fascinating array of lively and motile morphings’’ gerous supplement, a restless spirit, another example to
(Bennett, 2001, p. 87). The image of matter assumed is be given’’. The force of the worlds becoming otherwise
one of an almost unlimited plentitude that stems from has therefore recently been formalized by Thrift (2000a)
the unsettled, unsettling, ‘richness’ of matter in this as ‘the push’ and by Massumi (2002a), in a different but
world (see Thrift, 2004a). Bennett’s ‘‘enchanted materi- related context, as ‘the flash’. From this literature a
language of emergence is emergent that remembers to
Benjamin (1999, D2a, 1) likens boredom to a ‘‘warm grey fabric’’.
His discussion of boredom occurs mostly in the convolute entitled
‘‘Boredom, Eternal Return’’ from the Arcades Project. In this There is a danger here of assuming a singular, fixed, entity named
assemblage boredom is discussed in meteorological terms as an effect ‘non-representational theory’ (see (Thrift, 1996, 2000a, 2004a,b). For
of ‘‘this world of mist, this cloud world’’ (D1, 1). It subsequently this reason I have mixed it together with Connolly’s (1999) discussion
becomes equivalent to dust, rain showers, and fog and is interlinked of an ‘immanent naturalism’ and Bennett’s (2001) discussion of an
with the relation between the bourgeois and ‘‘cosmic forces’’. In a wry ‘enchanted materialism’. All three seem to share the same roots and
comment he states ‘‘nothing bores the ordinary man more than the routes in developing animated concepts of matter and materiality.
cosmos. Hence, for him, the deepest connection between weather and Routes that I hope this paper is also immersed in.
boredom’’ (D1, 3). Benjamin here equates boredom with different See the use of the borrowed operators ‘overdetermination’ in
modes of uncertainty (see Fioretos, 1999). Scattered remarks on Rose (2002), ‘event’ in Dewsbury (2000), ‘flesh’ in Wylie (2002) that all
boredom can also be found in his essays on Baudelaire and Leskov (see gesture in different ways towards this principle of generation. The
Benjamin, 1969). operator the ‘not-yet’ also, in part, shares this same function.
746 B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754

keep hold of the indeterminate openness of the world; individual or group who proclaims boredom may be
‘‘its potential and its performative being (becoming)’’ considered to have failed to adequately comprehend the
(Harrison, 2000, p. 514). Rather than reduce the matter world. This is how boredom has been interpreted in
of the world to a network effect the aim is to take seri- relation to the threat of ‘acedia’ diminishing devotional
ously the injunction to let ‘‘matter be matter. . . in irre- spiritual practice, for example (Raposa, 1999). 15 How-
ducible specificity and infinite connection’’ (Massumi, ever, to view boredom as a forced or willful failure of
2002b, p. 39). interpretation, ultimately recreates a distinction between
How, though, to understand the lessening that matter and a transfiguring symbolic realm. Conse-
accompanies boredom if the world is cast as an ‘‘emer- quently, in a reversal of the assumption of plentitude,
gent eventuality’’? (Dewsbury et al., 2002, p. 439). the drabness of being-in-relation when bored has been
Boredom takes place, settles, precisely when an imper- assumed to reveal the presence of an infinite nothing-
ceptible extra, the ‘more’, does not occur under a con- ness, mortality, at the heart of the matter of the world:
dition of reiterative ‘bare’ repetition. Instead, as ‘‘boredom waits for death’’ (Johann Hebel in Benjamin,
discussed above, in boredom a stalling is felt that weighs 1999, D: 101). Kierkegaard (1963, p. 232), most notably,
down time–space: ‘‘the bored person has plenty of writes that boredom ‘‘rests upon the nothingness that
nothing’’ (Raposa, 1999, p. 42 emphasis added). If it is winds its way through existence; its giddiness, like that
assumed that an ‘‘abundance is painted into the material which comes from gazing down into an infinite abyss, is
world’’ (Bennett, 2001, p. 87), it is difficult to undertake infinite’’. Boredom, along with anxiety, is articulated as
an account of the diminishment, or lessening, of life. an authentic index of finitude. He wails, in the same
Boredom has involved less meaning, less interest, less essay, that ‘‘boredom is demonic pantheism’’ since in-
difference. The liveliness of life can never fundamentally stead of fullness it is ‘‘based on emptiness’’ (1963: 231/
be at risk, as it is in a certain way in boredom and other 232). Heidegger (1949, p. 364), in a similar vein, writes
forms of ill-being such as fear, anxiety or despair (see of how ‘profound’ boredom drifts ‘‘hither and thither in
Bachelard, 2000). 13 In the implicit and explicit focus on the abysses of existence like a mute fog’’. Boredom
matter as ever-more within this literature, a sort of over- thereafter becomes a sign of the ‘‘emptiness into which
personal power that keeps on exceeding beyond in new each moment fades, into which all finite things pass
becomings, life can never by negated or destroyed. We away’’ (Raposa, 1999, p. 60).
cannot adequately witness the lesson of boredom: that
the world might lessen through ‘‘loss, depletion, mor-
tality, omission’’ (Connor, 1999, p. 12). The stilling and 6. Excess and finitude
slowing of boredom is therefore intensely problematic to
a materialism based on an assumption that, although Equating boredom with a being-towards nothingness
the world is forged through temporary alliances, a translates the lessening of boredom into an ontology of
generative animation is nevertheless ‘internal’ to the despair that elevates the finitude of human being-as-
matter of a ‘rich’ neo-baroque world. consciousness to the status of an ontological postulate.
To subsequently attend to the undoubted lessening of It is therefore more productive, hopeful even, to begin
boredom we have to invoke some form of mechanism, from the contrasting neo-Epicurean principle of the
or technique, to account-for how we do not feel richness of the material world that I have argued ani-
enchantment, or gratitude, in our encounters with the mates non-representational theory (see Thrift, 2004a).
world i.e. how, and why, boredom insists and exists as a How, though, to include an understanding that life can
failure to sense the plentitude of a predicated material potentially be, in Bloch’s (1986) words, ‘in hazard’
substance. The onset of boredom can be considered to without centering a quasi-humanist notion of the fini-
be authentic socially since it supplies an affective rec- tude of existence? The movement into the materiality of
ognition of the futility of being in this world. 14 Or the affect suggests the beginnings of a materialism whereby
one would describe the relational composition of bored
time–space but also, and simultaneously, follow the a-
My point here is not to criticize enjoyment, or celebration, as a signifying intensities that swerve and spiral around
mode of engaging the world. With Bennett (2001, p. 131), I am
boredom. If we attend-to the materiality of the move-
convinced each can ‘‘aid in the project of cultivating a stance of
presumptive generosity’’. Rather it is to think through one problem
that stems from assuming that the world necessarily takes place in a In Christian theology, and in contrast to Bennett’s (2001)
state of plentitude. This is not, however, the same as saying that it ‘enchanted materialism’, it is vital to state that matter is enchanted
never takes place in plentitude (hence the section ‘to joy’). On the role primarily as a trace of a transcendent being. The result is an
of plentitude in non-representational theory see Thrift (2004b). assumption of a teleology to matter. This assumption has, arguably,
This was the option taken up by those artistic subcultures, such as been extended to post-enlightenment scientific concepts of material
the Dandies, that made a virtue of ‘being bored’ as a mark of a disdain substance. Consequently, that a form of transcendence, or some sense
for the present. For a discussion of different places boredom holds in of teleology, is needed to speak of matter as animated is still implicitly
the artistic practices of the Dandies see Spacks (1995). assumed.
B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754 747

ments before and after boredom, rather than only the manifold finite beings’’ (Brown and Stenner, 2001, p.
movement to boredom, boredom is disclosed as pro- 89).
foundly enabling of a will-to-connect differently. Evi-
dence for this movement is internal to both of the
6.1. . . .to joy
examples this paper has diverted into. It is also exists
more broadly in the way that boredom is often hypos-
Bodies bored, and bored time–space, are not static
tatized as a cause for a heterogeneous range of social/
or fixed. There has, for example, long been a somewhat
cultural practices. 16 The literature on urban crime, for
obscured, and perhaps unsettling, connection between
example, frequently names boredom as a ‘causal factor’
boredom and a movement to joy that opens up stilled–
for drug use, graffiti, and low level neighbourhood dis-
slowed time–space to ‘‘the so little thought-out, fore-
order. These are assumed to be alleviative, quasi-com-
most segment. . . of animated, utopianly open matter’’
pensatory, points of rupture in the taken-for-granted
(Bloch, 1986, p. 200). One example here is that disin-
order of social-spatial life (see Barbalet, 1999). Kier-
terest, and detachment, although intimate with bodies
kegaard (1963, p. 227), despite his equation between
bored as discussed above, have also long been pro-
boredom and finitude, muses that it is:
moted as somoaesthetic practices that enable a height-
ened aesthetic discernment of the beautiful, sublime or
strange that boredom, so still and static, should
even wondrous (see Brodsky, 1995). This is particularly
have such a power to set things in motion. The ef-
so in certain practices of contemplative music listening.
fect that boredom exercises is altogether magical,
Something akin to boredom has also long acted as both
except that it is not one of attraction but of repul-
a threat and, importantly, a catalyser of spiritual re-
birth in various forms of Christian and Eastern reli-
gious practices (Raposa, 1999). In the mystic practice
This section glances at three movements whereby the
of the ‘dark night of the soul’, for example, boredom
intensities that occur alongside boredom cross over
has acted as the prelude to a renewed spiritual joy (see
thresholds of indeterminacy to momentarily re-config-
James (1982) on the ‘sick soul’ and ‘conversion’). Bar-
ure time–space i.e. effect the affective quality of ‘‘life in
thes (1990, p. 25) hints at the tendencies that are inti-
all its sticky and slack human/nonhuman, inorganic,
mate to matters such as boredom when he stresses that,
incorporeal, phenomenal/epiphenomenal, and banal/in-
since it always more excessive than itself, ‘‘boredom is
tense everydayness’’ (Seigworth, 2000, p. 256). I focus
not far from bliss: it is bliss seen from the shores of
here on joy, hope and despair. Despite the constraints of
presenting them in linear form the three movements are
The joy that touches bodies bored is not a state
not cumulative, teleological or comprehensive. The one
possessed but stems from a body becoming active (see
assumption is that the movement that is internal to
Brown and Stenner, 2001). 17 It does not, therefore,
boredom can not-yet be known because it is always
function on conventional axes of either happy/sad or
entangled within the risk of a return-to the lessening of
pleasant/unpleasant (Massumi, 2002c). Joy, as a re-
life. Once considered in processual terms ‘‘the uncer-
newed inhabitation of the body’s potential capacities
tainty of the outcome remains’’ (Bloch, 1986, p. 112).
that counters the lessening of boredom, may be pri-
Rather than consider boredom to be a forced, or willful,
marily felt as an intense disruption, or discontinuity, in
failure to interpret the world in line with a material
time–space. For example, joy moves into rupture in
presence we can instead consider how matters such as
those circumstances where a point of suspension, bore-
boredom are always ‘not-yet become’ (Bloch, 1986).
dom, dissipates suddenly into new connections that
For, as with the composition of bored time–space, the
transgress, or even destroy, the durable repeated social-
movement-from that always accompanies boredom, and
spatial orderings that form boredom. This imperative
is thus internal to it, is itself dependent upon the inde-
was translated into genres of music, specifically punk,
terminacy of how boredom, or more precisely bore-
that worked with the explosiveness that follows the dead
doms, are formed as processual ‘‘orderings of the
time of boredom (see Marcuse, 2001). It has also passed
relational field made up in the encounter between
into forms of action as a rationale for the explosion of

16 17
Just a customary review of the literature on boredom in It is worth stressing that joy has been considered to be a virtue in
physiology demonstrates how the condition is hypothesized, often in the tradition that Connolly (1999) refers to as an ‘‘immanent
problematic terms, as the cause for a heterogeneous range of actions: naturalism’’. Taking their cue from Spinoza’s devaluation of the sad
low levels of educational attainment, educational drop out, army passions in favour of the wisdom of becoming-active, writers such as
mistakes, driver errors, heavy machinery, and fatal accidents (see Nietzsche hold onto joy as the source for an alternative ethics not
Winter, 2002). based around any form of ‘transcendent morality’.
748 B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754

utopian political change that aim to transfigure the Marie: It was just. . .one of those boring, boring
‘now’ of time/space. The Situationaliste Internationale, journeys that I’ve done what feels like a million
for example, translated the Marxist concern with alien- times before, dropping off Ruth to athletics and
ation into a series of creative urban practices based on then driving back the same way. Sorry sounds like
one injunction: ‘not to be bored’ (see Vaneigem, 1983). I’m complaining. . .I guess I was slightly irri-
In each case paying attention to boredom, rather than tated. . .I can’t really describe it.
dwelling in a disinterested exemption as above, acts as
the pre-cursor to a point of captivating utopian rupture: B: Don’t worry about it
the move towards a ‘‘better way of being’’ (Levitas,
1990, p. 8). The issue of a rupture, or explosion, attunes Marie: Yeah. . .I, I decided to put on a brilliant
therefore to how, even in boredom, ‘‘discontinuities or album by Eric Clapton, and that took my mind
disjunctions (are) integral to the movement of lived of things, I just. . .it was weird I felt like I almost
experience’’ (Game, 1997, p. 121). had to, the silence was weird. I don’t normally
mind it but I found it uncomfortable, I guess doing
6.2. . . .to hope nothing after a really hard day at work and having
to sit there driving again.
Bored time–space can be enlivened by the force of a (Interview: Marie 12.12.01)
new connection that quickens the move towards the
new, thus disclosing ‘‘the spark that reaches out be- Each of the acts Marie hints at, ranging from an
yond the surrounding emptiness’’ (Bloch, 1986, p. 160). initial act of attention, through choice and into listening
Developing a figure of matter based on the disturbance to a ‘‘brilliant album by Eric Clapton’’, enable a change
of joy would therefore aim to ‘‘reinstate exaltation, in the ‘‘uncomfortable’’ ambience of ‘‘doing nothing’’.
enchantment and derangement back into materialism’’ Listening-to-get-through, in this manner, folds into a
(Thrift, 2004a, p. 123). But is joy too excessive when whole series of corporeal techniques that accompany the
juxtaposed with the dulling diminishments of boredom? dulling embrace of boredom. Think of how often a
The movement to the not-yet that takes place as part fidget, sigh or yawn accompanies boredom. Or the
of bored time–space often involves a much more subtle prevalence of daydreaming in bored time–space (see
re-alignment of the ephemeral insignificancies of daily Petro, 1995). Seemingly inconsequential, each performs
life via acts of diversion, distraction or discernment. a restlessness of pre-cognitive attention that manifests
For example, boredom may be countered by a simple the tension of boredom. In each case they indicate how a
act of turning on or off a song, switching channels on diffuse wandering, not only as a point of excess, is
the television or finding that attention has suddenly integral to a movement-from boredom.
wandered. Examples of this can be read from both of Highmore (2002) notes how it is possible to under-
the ‘empirical’ examples above. From the talk of stand such ‘invisible’ actions as tactical in form. The
boredom at home it appeared to be relatively rare that example Highmore (2002) uses is Robert Linhart’s
the dullness of boredom passed through the sensory auto-biographical account of working on a factory
registers of shock, explosiveness or wonder. This indi- assembly line. Linhart writes of how his body refused
cates that boredom is now felt as much as potentiality, to ‘‘get used to making the same movements in the
or possibility, as actuality and is therefore associ- same way in the same period of time’’ (Linhart, 1981:
ated with a whole series of non-cognitive ‘coping 17 cited in Highmore, 2002, p. 160). In a similar
mechanisms’. It is, moreover, simultaneously a theo- manner to how forms of restlessness accompany the
retical point. For otherwise we would need to postu- lessening of boredom:
late a mechanism to explain why boredom was
not always accompanied by a movement through the ‘‘. . .life kicks in and resists. The organism resists.
excess of joy i.e. by invoking some notion of repres- The muscles resist. The nerves resist. Something
sion. in the body and the head, braces itself against rep-
etition and nothingness. Life shows itself in more
To sense this form of movement we touch a third rapid movements, an arm lowered at the wrong
example from the research on music and everyday time, a slower step, a second’s irregularity, an awk-
life. Marie, Andy’s partner and Beth’s mother, ward gesture, getting ahead, slipping back, tactics
complained of a striking absence of time as she at the station’’.
struggled with the demands of her family and full (Linhart, 1981: 17 cited in Highmore, 2002, p.
time career. The one time she actually talked about 160)
boredom was whilst driving. She writes of a trip
back from taking her other daughter, Ruth, to Through its use as a counterpoint to boredom, music-
sports practice. as-listened functions on two different planes that exem-
B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754 749

plify, in a heightened fashion perhaps, the mechanism by through spiritual rebirth or political change for exam-
which ‘life kicks in’ alongside boredom. First, and most ple, boredom is not left or even transgressed. Hopeful
importantly given my arguments regarding the plane on acts, in contrast, enable one to get-through routines or
which boredom effects, music listened-to functions as a practices that have to be repeated. The key here, in a
means of re-animating a felt sense of background return to the third section, is that these techniques
vitality via a re-inhabitation of more potential (see accompany situations of repetition that can be re-
Anderson, 2004b). Marie listens to an album that is turned-to but without the incapacity in habit. To re-
‘‘brilliant’’ that she is then ‘‘enthralled in’’. Music when turn to Marie, she speaks of the primary effect of her
attended to only secondarily provides an alternative set use of music: ‘‘. . . so I can do it again next week without
of parameters for the conduct of conduct (see DeNora, tearing my hair out’’.
2000). It therefore induces an actualization in the form
of a qualitatively different set of affections. Bodies relax
as particular music affords a different rhythm, for 6.3. . . .to despair
The use of music in this way, as an interruption or Disclosing the movement to hope suggests a figure
cut that works to re-transmit an intensified potential to of matter as hope-full: ‘‘more, or other, than what was
affect and be affected, links ‘background listening’ expected, even if what had been expected was. . . dis-
practices to both other media practices and a host of satisfaction itself’’ (Jameson, 1971, p. 151). The swerves
image-expression events (see Anderson, 2004a; Mass- of hope and the ruptures of joy are paradoxically
umi, 2002b). Other classic examples include the break present as tendencies within bodies bored. Forms of
as a technique of affective alleviation in the context of despair are, however, also intimate with boredom.
routine, purposeless, factory work (see Klapp, 1986). It Prolonged boredom is frequently narrated in main-
can therefore be seen as an intensification of the stream medical discourse as either a pre-cursor to or
wanders of attention, fidget or daydream that come- secondary symptom-of depression (see Phillips, 1993).
about with boredom and fold into a qualitative change Often a distinction is drawn between ‘simple boredom’
in bored time–space. Each may be categorized, with a and ‘deep boredom’. Heidegger (1995, p. 92) writes of
trace of hyperbole, as ethical pre-cognitive ‘corporeal how in this latter intensified form of boredom ‘‘we
techniques’ that register a concern for the body in ac- ourselves’’ are bored. Boredom itself ‘‘radiates out’’ in
tion and consequently act to make the present moment, a manner that produces a disconnection from life. In
the ‘now’ of lived experience, habitual once-again. The comparison to being bored with something or some-
corporeal terrain on which this occurs is again pro- body specific, ‘deep’ boredom refers, ironically, to an
prioception: attention moves, fingers tap on a table, intensified boredom that, as it lingers as a vague mood,
eyes roll, our breathing quickens as we sigh or stretches deforms bodies into the doom of depression. Terms
as we yawn. The implication is that the aforementioned interlinked with boredom have long held a connection
use of music, as a means of coping with the potential to depression. Raposa (1999) argues that this occurs in
existence of boredom, resonates with and even ampli- medieval thinking about tristtia, French thought on
fies the intensities that on-go beneath boredom, whilst ennui and renaissance debates around melancholy.
at the same time countering the diminishment of the Each malady holds a family resemblance to boredom.
body’s capacities that characterize actual bodies bored. All speak to the different ways in which despair cuts
Perhaps one irony of this use of music to smooth is the move toward the ‘not-yet’. Frequently, boredom is
therefore that boredom, as it is forestalled or remedied, no longer a fleeting diminishment but instead trans-
is moved-from before it drifts into disruptive outbursts forms into a deepened, elongated, quashing of effective
of joy or rupture. People can once more dwell without action. The passing from boredom to despair is one
the visceral sensing of tension that I argued charac- that involves an intensification of the stall of boredom
terizes the restlessness of boredom. Boredom comes to into the cut of absolute, asocial, distance (Barbalet,
exist as an index of mild dissatisfaction that provides, 1999).
first and foremost, the impetus to enter into different
relations i.e. it takes place as a form of affectively
based imperative to something-else where that move- 6.4. . . .boredom as suspension
ment is possible. There is therefore a weak hope for a
not-yet elsewhere or elsewhen internal to boredom. Forms of non-being do, therefore, come to underpin
Each of these acts function to push the body into space-time so that occasionally ‘life’ is dead, dulled or
different relations that smooth, instead of confront, the depleted (cf. Thrift and Dewsbury, 2000). The move-
felt reality of antagonistic, diminishing, relations of ment to despair, for example, is integral to the risk of
sadness. In stark contrast to the ruptures of joy, as felt becoming bored. But, as I argued in the section ‘to
750 B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754

joy’, boredom is also intimate with traces of that which together under a type of relation that embodies the
is paradoxically ‘not-yet’. A materialism cannot only paradox that ‘‘something expected does not occur’’
be based on despair because even ‘‘in the negative there (Fenichel, 1953). 18 It takes place ‘‘when our power of
are also constructs of the unconstructable,. . .there are acting is diminished or blocked’’ through incapacities
unbearable moments of wonder’’ (Ernst Bloch in in habit (Deleuze, 1988). 19 Boredom can be defined as
Bronner, 1997, p. 14/15). The three sections, and the a corporeal witness, felt through both the restlessness
disjunctures between them, have exemplified how of a visceral sensibility and a stilling of our proprio-
bodies bored matter in-between the pure white of ceptive sense of movement, to a momentary suspension
matter as plentitude and the absent black of matter as of, and in, the transitive autonomies of a banal,
blank. How boredom connects to what is ‘not-yet’, the immanent, plane of intensity. Only secondarily is it
smudging of hope and despair for example, cannot be cleaved into an individual ‘emotion’ (I’m bored) and/or
rendered so easily in such stark terms. Figuring matter a property of something-else (It’s boring). Instead
as not-yet begins, therefore, from attuning to how boredom is a malady of the manner in which, in
tendencies and latencies are internal to the matter of intensity, we sense relations bodily ‘‘in themselves’’.
both bodies bored and bored time/space as ‘‘futureness: Beginning from ‘the relation’ offers a different form of
pure futurity’’ (Massumi, 2002b, p. 15). Boredom is definition to those that argue boredom is ‘really’ a
‘‘only explicable in terms of the fact that something is different emotional state i.e. ‘‘psychic anorexia’’ (Hea-
‘not-yet’. It is not-yet what it needs to be and not-yet ley, 1984, p. 60), ‘‘the emotional feeling of anxiety that
what it can be’’ (Hudson, 1983, p. 89). To think of an activity or situation holds no significance for them’’
lessening and plentitude as occurring in process to- (Barbalet, 1999, p. 632/633), ‘‘repressed anger’’ (Phil-
gether, rather than separately, perhaps we need to lips, 1993). The term suspension carries two resonances.
think with the uncertainty of grey as the basis to a First, suspension heralds the idea of a break with a pre/
figure of matter. Grey itself embodies the same para- post state that is ‘‘an exemption from ordinary condi-
dox as boredom. It mixes nothing (white) and the sum tions’’ (Crary, 1999, p. 10). Second, at the same time,
of everything (black) (Fioretos, 1999). Focusing upon the idea of suspension resonates with a tension that
joy, hope and despair as generic movements (and there stems from the aforementioned break i.e. suspension as
are as many others as forms of connection) demon- ‘‘a cancellation or an interruption’’ (Crary, 1999, p.
strates the multitude of ways in which nothing, the 10). This tension is felt in the restless, visceral, frus-
abyss of boredom that existentialists write of, acts as tration that accompanies the event-hood of bore-
presence and absence within the materiality of the dom and leads into a series of disjunctive movements
world. Instead of seeing nothing as a point of lack, or (into joy, hope or despair). Boredom, as suspension,
an indication of the finitude of being, Game and perhaps exemplifies how life must be thought of as
Metcalfe (2002) endow nothing with the generative at risk, or in hazard, even as one attunes to ‘‘the
force of the ‘in-between’ that precedes and exceeds coming-to-be, the badly formed, the seemingly incon-
divisions of subject and object. Speaking to the afore- sequential, the ephemerally felt’’ (Dewsbury et al.,
mentioned manner in which ‘fugitive energies’ (Con- 2002, p. 439).
nolly, 2002) are ongoing even as boredom stills and
slows they stress that:

Nothing, then, is a hinge in our everyday lives. It

flips us, as an optical illusion does, between differ-
ent worlds and states of being, and in doing so it This quote comes from Fenichel’s (1953) classic essay The
teaches us how to hold paradox: to know nothing Psychology of Boredom. In this paper I have used the idea of
suspension in a manner that extracts it from the physcoanalytic frame
as mystery, without seeking solution; to hold its within which Fenichel originally classified it and instead equates the
infinite meanings, without trying to squeeze them tension of boredom with a suspension of affect/intensity i.e. in very
into a oneness. If I can hold paradox, I learn that crude terms what I hope to have stressed is that boredom is of the
everything rests on nothing. material world from the beginning of its formation. Later in the same
(Game and Metcalfe, 2002, p. 50) essay Fenichel goes on to elaborate on this definition of boredom:
‘‘Boredom must be a state of instinctual tension in which the
instinctual aims are repressed but in which the tension as such is felt;
Nothing is here described as both empty and full: and therefore one turns to the external world for help in the struggle in
‘‘emptiful’’ (Game and Metcalfe, 2002, p. 47). Uncer- repression. The person who is bored can be compared to someone who
tainty is therefore of an experimental world ‘‘kept open has forgotten a name and inquires about it from others’’ (292).
by the presence of futuristic properties within it’’ Deleuze (1988, p. 97) explains the use of the term ‘power’ in a
manner that connects it back to questions of affective capacity: ‘‘all
(Hudson, 1983, p. 92). Take, for example, how bore- power is inseparable from a capacity for being affected, and this
dom matters. Boredom emerges once a materially capacity for being affected is constantly and necessarily filled by
heterogeneous collection of bits and pieces are held affections that realize it’’.
B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754 751

7. Conclusion: hope and an affective materialism alienation or anomie. Boredom hurries on an as-yet
indeterminate newness, albeit in different ways as it is
. . .boredom is the threshold. forged out of encounters, in a world disclosed as taking
(Benjamin, 1999, D2, 7) place in neither black nor white, that is neither absence
nor plentitude, but only in shades of grey. Conse-
Hope is understood and championed as a pulsat- quently, even in boredom, ‘‘what appears to be stilled
ing latency of possibility contained in the unity life is still life: teaming, swarming and bursting with
of the immanent and transcendent. becomings of every persuasion’’ (Doel, 2003, p. 162).
(Giroux and McLaren, 1997, p. 157) This process includes, however, the risk of a lessening
of life embodied, sadly, in the movement to despair that
There is a paradox at the heart of a paper that has on a somewhat despondent note I ended section six
written on boredom as a complex co-present feature of with.
everyday life. To write claims interest. To read demands, By refusing to materialize ‘critical’ concepts, or epo-
at least initially, that one is interested by what has been chal accounts of the disenchantment of Modernity, to
written. But to claim interest, or to demand to be instead follow the self-disjunctive movement of those
interested, on behalf of the topic of boredom entails two intensities beneath actual boredom, this paper has aimed
risks. Either interest stalls or, perhaps worse, absorbed to write boredom through a secular principle of hope: ‘‘a
in the energetics of interest we lose hold of the memory of the future’’ (Marcel, 1951, p. 53). Hope is an
tediousness, banality, and frustration with which bore- affective supplement that begins from an embedded trust
dom dulls time–space. Too easily we may forget that in/for the world. Bloch (1986) argues that hope is the
boredom is a form of sadness, in Spinoza’s terms, that virtue of the not-yet because it acts as ‘‘the functionary
diminishes the intensive quality of life. By glancing at a of what has never been, of the possible New’’ (Bloch,
number of empirical examples I aim to have at least kept 1986, p. 6). Hope also embodies a risk that is absent
hold of this paradox for a moment or two whilst from an optimistic stance. Emergence may not emerge
remembering that, as Barthes (1990, p. 25) is at pains to because hope, and the act of hoping, incorporate a
stress, ‘‘we do not escape boredom. . . with a gesture of break with the past that means hope is inevitably
impatience or rejection’’. Through these glances I have uncertain. Hope fades. It can be disappointed. To use
constructed a provisional narrative of the composition hope as a supplement is not, therefore, simply a case of
of boredom i.e. the beginnings of a material geography being optimistic rather than pessimistic about the un-
of the verb boring. Boredom takes place when a whole doubted over-abundant presence of boredom in con-
series of bits and pieces are ‘held together’ under a type temporary time–space. Instead the figure of hope
of relation that discloses a situation of reiterative ‘bare’ presupposes both an image of matter based on the
repetition. By thereafter attuning to the colour of movement of affect and a specific materialism that at-
boredom, its greyness, it becomes a malady of a body’s tunes to ‘‘the where we might be able to go and what
capacity to affect and be affected. It therefore takes place we might be able to do in every present situation’’
on the in-between dimension of a background feeling, (Massumi, 2002c, p. 212). This affective materialism has
affect, that is ‘‘a kind of faith in the world that is simply emerged through the detour I have staged into four in-
the hope that it continue. . . it is not a hope that has a terlinked images of ‘matter’: as equivalent to a delin-
particular content or end point––it’s a desire for more eated social structure, a constitutive blank, a realm of
life, or for more to life’’ (Massumi, 2002c, p. 242 co-present objects and an emerging joyful image of
emphasis added). The exact nature of this malady is one plentitude. I have argued that none of these figurations
of a felt suspension of this hope i.e. a stalling in ‘‘our alone, and the materialisms each emerge from, can at-
sense of being’’ (Damasio, 1994, p. 150). It is vital to tend-to the affectivity of matter. Thus far I have argued
stress that boredom is not a ‘thing’, despite my habit of that to attend-to how boredom matters involves retain-
hypostatizing it, but instead one of the ‘‘names given to ing the assumption of relationality in forms of relational
differently assembled euphoric or dysphoric relations’’ materialism, and thereafter working, experimentally,
(Brown and Stenner, 2001, p. 95). In each of the three with the aforementioned assumption of the affectivity of
movements glanced at, despair, hope and joy, I disclosed matter and materiality that populates ‘non-representa-
a paradoxical connection between the restless tension tional theory’. In section five I argued, however, that a
of time–space stilled and slowed and the motion of a materialism based on wonder, or enchantment, whilst
will-to-connect differently that exist as tendencies and doubtless ethically enlivening finds it difficult to attune
latencies within bored time–space and bored bodies. to forms of sadness i.e. diminishments in the bright-
Disclosing the ‘strange magic’ of boredom, to use ness of time–space. My argument was that if life is
Kierkegaard’s (1963, p. 227) wonderful phrase, therefore figured as teeming plentitude it can never be funda-
interferes with the one-to-one correspondence between mentally at risk as it is in relations of dysphoria, such as
boredom and self-consciously ‘critical’ concepts such as boredom.
752 B. Anderson / Geoforum 35 (2004) 739–754

In order to herald a materialism that can draw out tion. Indirectly, through a series of backward and for-
those co-present matters that lessen life such as bore- ward glances, the contours of this materialism are
dom, we must set in motion one of the drifts that I ar- elaborated in the movement-from boredom that sets this
gued can be internal to bored time–space. This goes paper in motion. Here we return, in a roundabout way,
through the aforementioned event of hope and finds to the paradox that I themetised in the introduction to
consistency in the emerging shape of an ‘affective this conclusion: the risk of losing hold of boredom by
materialism’. In this form of materialism it is the being interested.
materiality of matter itself that is necessarily ‘‘full of
propensity towards something, tendency towards
something, latency of something’’ (Bloch, 1986, p. 18).
Rather than being enlivened to act and afford by
something-else, matter itself is ‘not-yet become’ (Bloch,
Thanks to Andy, Beth, Marie (all pseudonyms) and
1986). Matter is therefore doubly processual. Both al-
the other research participants for talking to me about
ways-ever ‘in’ process and defined by the ‘processuality’
boredom and to Peter Jackson and Gill Valentine for
of this movement. This is a deliberately hope-full figure
supervising the thesis from which some of this material
of matter as interrogative based on the syncretic opera-
is drawn. Thanks also to three anonymous referees for a
tor the ‘not-yet’. It is based on a theoretical–empirical
mixture of generous and critical comments and Rachel
practice that conceives of intensities as internal, rather
Colls for helping me clarify the arguments in this paper.
than in supplement or opposition, to a matter that is
Special thanks to Jo and Spencer for having incredibly
always ‘not-yet’. For matter is ‘‘at once intuitive and
low boredom thresholds and being lots of fun because
abstract, mundane and phantasmagorical, real and un-
of it. All remaining errors/omissions are of course my
real’’ (Tiffany, 2000, p. 293 emphasis added). 20 This is
based on the assumption, implicit in the discussion of
boredom in section six, that ‘‘life is always lurking in the
interstices, in what usually escapes description. . .’’
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