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Heidegger and the Problem of Boredom

I will try to outline in this article the main functions of the problem of boredom in Heidegger’s thought. My area of investigation is the phenomenology of affectivity developed between Being and Time and the course held in 1929-1930, The Fundamental
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   Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, Vol. 41, No. 1, January 2010 HEIDEGGER AND THE PROBLEM OF BOREDOM CRISTIAN CIOCANI will try to outline in this article the main functions of the problem of boredom in Heidegger’s thought. 1 My area of investigation is thephenomenology of affectivity developed between  Being and Time 2 and thecourse held in 1929-1930, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics 3 . Mysuggestion is that boredom is called to cover a certain dualistic schematism inthe phenomenology of affectivity of  Being and Time : between fear and anxiety,ontical and ontological, existenziell and existenzial , inauthentic and authentic.I will argue that, by means of the three forms of boredom, Heidegger proposeda more elastic image of the affective life, in order to sustain in a more groundedmanner the passage from inauthenticity to authenticity. First, I will discuss the place of affects in  Being and Time , emphasising inthe first place the concepts of  Befindlichkeit and Stimmung , and then the topicsof fear and anxiety. In this frame, I will subsequently situate the appearance of boredom (related to anxiety) in “What Is Metaphysics?”. Finally, I will discussthe three forms of boredom analysed in The Fundamental Concepts of  Metaphysics , regarding their structural constitutive moments.  Affectivity in “Being and Time” One can ask: What is Heidegger’s specific contribution to thephenomenological debate concerning affectivity? A first, preliminary answercould run: if before him affectivity –our emotions, feelings, and affectivedispositions –has been investigated from a psychological, epistemological,axiological or ethical perspective, Heidegger commutes the discussion to an ontological level. He thereby confers to affectivity –seen as an  Existenzial –atranscendental-apriorical statute. Heidegger is not interested in tracing a map,whether complete or less so, for the diverse moods one may find oneself in.Even less is he interested in a phenomenological analysis of the various feelingsthat we experience throughout our lives. Rather, what Heidegger is interestedin is the ontological condition grounding the possibility of affectivity in generalin so far as affectivity discloses a holistic meaning of human existence as such.Hence, if up to then affectivity had been the object of a regionalphenomenology –concerned with a determinate dimension of humanexistence –Heidegger confers to this problem, especially through the theme of anxiety, a centrality without precedent and an intrinsically disclosive functionas far as the totality of human being is concerned. Thus, according to Heidegger,prior to developing a psychology of affects –whereby our affects arethematically subsumed to the generic rubric of psychic phenomena, constituting64  the third class, after representation and will (SZ 139), moods must beinvestigated in their fundamental capacity of ontological disclosure. In fact,what matters first is not this or that affect, but rather the being-affected as suchin its ontological condition of possibility.Heidegger’s discussion of affectivity is structured by two basic concepts:  Befindlichkeit  and Stimmung : ‘the state of finding oneself’ and ‘the affectivedisposition’. This conceptual duality reflects the double side of affectivity: theontological and the ontical one.  Befindlichkeit  4 is the ontological term for whatis, in an ontical sense, the mood, Stimmung . However, the conceptual relationbetween  Befindlichkeit  and Stimmung remains in a certain sense ambiguous or,to say the least, it is not univocally determined. Heidegger talks sometimes inways suggesting a simple relation of equality between the two, writing‘  Befindlichkeit  ( Stimmung )’ as if the cleavage of meaning between ontologicaland ontical level did not pose any problem. 5 The two terms seem to cover thesame phenomenal area, albeit, semantically, each one of them has its properspecificity. About fear, for instance, Heidegger says both that it is a mode of thestate of finding oneself ( ein Modus der Befindlichkeit  ) 6 and also a state of findingoneself as such ( die Furcht als Befindlichkeit  (SZ 18), die Befindlichkeit der Furcht  (SZ 141). Anxiety is called most of the times a  Befindlichkeit  , but thereis at least one occurrence in which anxiety is designated as “a modus of the stateof finding oneself” (SZ 187). We also find four instances (SZ 344) in whichanxiety is called an affective disposition, a Stimmung . Moreover, there are usesof the two terms in the sense of Grundbefindlichkeit and Grundstimmung . In Sein und Zeit  , only anxiety is considered a Grundbefindlichkeit  (fundamentalstate of finding oneself). 7 The term Grundstimmung (“fundamental affectivedisposition”) appears only one time (SZ 310) and designates the “unshakable joy” ( die gerüstete Freude ), joining the anxiety that we experience whenconfronted with the possibility of individualization. 8 These indications are usefulfor a comprehensive understanding of Heidegger’s thought. Only a carefulanalysis of the vocabulary used in describing these phenomena could clarify forus whether and to what extent Heidegger proposes a specific hierarchy orarchitectonical stratification within the field of affectivity. (Let’s note thatboredom will be considered in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics a Grundstimmung , a fundamental affective disposition.) However, the presumptive identity between  Befindlichkeit  and Stimmung cannot ultimately be maintained. It is in much more agreement withHeidegger’s intentions, I believe, to say that an affect is considered a state of finding oneself (  Befindlichkeit  ) only when its ontological meaning is at stake; Stimmung (the affective disposition), on the other hand, refers to an onticalapproach of affects. A series of textual passages pleads in favour of the viewthat  Befindlichkeit  is, in a strict sense, a fundamental structure pertaining to thebeing-constitution of  Dasein , designating  Dasein ’s generic affectivity, an65  existential structure, which has aprioric precedence and transcendental pre-eminence over its possible ontical concretizations, that is, the possible concrete Stimmungen . As ontological-transcendental structure,  Befindlichkeit  would thusbe the condition of possibility also for joy and sadness, for fear, dread, terror orhorror, for courage and fearlessness, for anxiety and boredom, for disgust,resentment, frustration, shame and ‘aversion to live’, etc. All these, as various Stimmungen , are modes of the essential and unique state of finding oneself (  Befindlichkeit  ), constituting the concrete-existentiell parti cularisations of theontological-existential state of finding oneself.What is important in this context is that among various concrete and particular Stimmungen , some of them are considered to be fundamental or basic, either as Grundbefindlichkeit  (as fundamental state of finding oneself) or as Grundstimmung (as fundamental affective disposition). How does Heidegger discriminate betweenfundamental and non-fundamental moods? His implicit answer is that some affects(as anxiety, joy or boredom) disclose the totality of  Dasein ’s being, while othersreveal only some partial aspects of it. The former are ‘fundamental’ precisely inso far as they let the wholeness of our being emerge into the light. (We will see thatthe theme of totality is of primordial importance for the understanding of theHeideggerian phenomenology of affective disposition. 9 )In  Being and Time , Heidegger analyses two affective dispositions: fear (in§ 30) and anxiety (in § 40). It is precisely in the interval between these twoaffective phenomena of fear and anxiety, that we can situate the analysis of boredom as it appears in “What Is Metaphysics?” (1929) and in the lecturecourse of Winter 1929-1930, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. Of thetwo moods, fear is the first one discussed. However, we may ask, why didHeidegger choose to discuss fear and not some other affective disposition? Whynot joy, or love, or enthusiasm, why not wonder or amazement? Why not shame,or panic, or resentment? Why not nostalgia or melancholy? What sort of pre-eminence does fear enjoy in relation to other feelings? On what basis should wechoose this feeling and not some other? Isn’t this choice an arbitrary one? Of course, Heidegger is interested to unveil the structure of anxiety and its capacityof revealing the totality of  Dasein ’s being. But, in order to be able to clarify thestructure of anxiety, Heidegger prefers to start by approaching a neighbouringand more easy-describable mood, namely fear. Fear appears in  Being and Time only to prepare the ground upon which a clearer and richer exposure of thestructure and existential-ontological force of anxiety can possibly emerge.Anxiety, in turn, is chosen precisely because it constitutes an ‘experience’ inwhich the wholeness of  Dasein ’s being is given. This kind of givenness is finallythe only manner in which this very idea of totality can be attested to, legitimatedand founded in its possibility upon a phenomenal ground.There are some conceptual parameters that intervene both in the analysis of fear and of anxiety. The first parameterconcerns the manner of appearance of 66  each mood and is structured by two concepts: that in the face of which therespective mood becomes manifest ( das Wovor  ), and that about which the moodaffects ( das Worum ). These structural moments of mood modify their respectivemeanings according to the second conceptual parameter: their definiteness or indefiniteness (  Bestimmtheit  or Unbestimmtheit  ). Fear is a mood that emergesin the face of something definite, a menacing entity within-the-world, one thatis approaching me in a threatening way, one that menaces from a definitedirection and with definite perils. Anxiety, on the other hand, emerges in theface of ‘something’ indefinite and assails ‘something’ equally indefinite,namely, the being-in-the-world of  Dasein as such. What is at issue is not anentity, not something concrete, but a non-entity, something distinct and differentfrom any entity whatsoever. In other words, the ‘intentionality’ of anxiety isnot focussed on something determinate. The third parameterconcerns the powerof revelation pertaining to each mood. Fear reveals that entity in the face of which we experience fear, the fearsome, which is only an entity within-the-world, one that has an only ontical status: that truck that comes speedy towardme, this earthquake that is shaking my house, that man that is threatening meviolently. Anxiety, on the other hand, coming from nowhere and yet beingeverywhere, manifests its power in relation to the worldhood of the world andto being in the world as such. Finally, the forth conceptual parameter refers to  Dasein ’s authenticity or inauthenticity: fear is an inauthentic mood, whileanxiety is the mark of authenticity as such.There is then a kind of implicit (and maybe much too rigid) dualism thatcharacterizes Heidegger’s phenomenology of moods in Sein und Zeit  . One isontical –the other is ontological; one is existenziell –the other is existenzial ; oneis definite –the other is indefinite; one is inauthentic –the other is authentic. Itmay very well be the case that this inflexible dualism was exactly the reason thatprompted Heidegger to propose, in writings following his Sein und Zeit  , a moreelastic and richer image of affective life. Heidegger’s new proposal enters thescene by means of his ample description of the three architectonically stratifiedforms of boredom. Heidegger himself must have come to realize that invokingonly the strict duality of fear and anxiety, the passage from inauthenticity toauthenticity seems to be somewhat too abrupt, something like a big,inexplicable leap –without a bridge and without ground. The affectivedisposition of boredom, with the threefold articulation of its forms, appears tobe meant to play an intermediary role –the bridge –between these two mannersof human existing: inauthenticity and authenticity. The Phenomenology of Boredom Even if the phenomenon of boredom does not appear explicitly in Sein und  Zeit  , Heidegger mentions some moods that are closely related to it: “the pallid,evenly balanced lack of mood [ Ungestimmtheit  ]”, “the undisturbed equanimity67  [ der ungestörte Gleichmut  ]”, “the inhibited ill-humour [ der gehemmte Mißmut  ]”, “the unpleasantness [ Verstimmung ]”, “the satiety with itself [ Überdruß ]” in which the being of  Dasein “has become manifest as aburden”. 10 The first apparition of boredom occurs in “What Is Metaphysics?”, theconference held on the 24th of July, 1929. But here we still do not find athematic discussion of the nature and structure of boredom, of the manner inwhich it discharges and of its diverse modalizations, but rather only a brief indication of this problem, in a context that focuses on the revealing power of anxiety. Anxiety, in turn, is not invoked here in the same way as it was in Seinund Zeit  , namely as existential operator concerning the analytic of  Dasein . In“What Is Metaphysics?” Heidegger is rather attempting to go beyond the strictexistential level (  Dasein ’s analytic) in order to reach an approach focused on theontological difference as such. In order to elucidate what metaphysics is andwhat its specific object is, Heidegger discusses the relation between particularsciences (which have as their specific object this or that determined region of entities) and metaphysics, whose object is that which is different from everyentity. The accentuation of this difference helps Heidegger to pose the questionconcerning the nothing (  Nichts ). For, Heidegger says, if “the nothing itself is tobe questioned as we have been questioning it, then it must be given beforehand.We must be able to encounter it. Where shall we seek the nothing? Where willwe find the nothing?” 11 It is precisely anxiety that will be invoked as the moodenabling for us the disclosure of the nothing as such, as that which is differentfrom any entity.If the nothing is the complete negation of the totality of entities, such totalitymust be previously given, in order for its negation to be possible, since, as weare told, it is through the negation of the totality of entities that the “nothingitself” becomes manifest. However, the totality of entities cannot be grasped if we are imagining it in an intellectual way or if we are conceiving it in aspeculative manner. The totality of entities gives itself  only in the way that we,as human beings, find ourselves in the middle of the entity as a whole( Sichbefinden inmitten des Seienden im Ganzen ). This idea of “finding oneself”points toward the semantic area of what, in Sein und Zeit, Heidegger called theexistential of  Befindlichkeit  . The entity as a whole (or the totality of entities)gives itself in this manner of ‘being situated’ in the midst of it. And hereintervenes boredom: Even and precisely when we are not actually busy with things or ourselves, this ‘as a whole’ [ imGanzen ] overcomes us for example in genuine boredom. Boredom is still distant when it isthis book or that play, that business or this idleness, that drags on. It irrupts when ‘one is bored’[ es einem langweilig ist  ]. Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of ourexistence like a muffling fog, removes all things and human beings and oneself along with theminto a remarkable indifference [ merkwürdige Gleichgültigkeit  ]. This boredom reveals being asa whole. 12 68
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