The Uses of Boredom

John Banville in the NYRB:

Heidegger once remarked that he was only trying to do in philosophy what Rilke had already achieved in poetry. On page after page of these masterly letters we are given ample instances of the depth of Rilke’s thinking and the philosophical reach of his imagination. In The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics Heidegger dwells at length—how else?—on the central function of boredom as a spur to human action, as a state of purest potential, a kind of affectless waiting as the spirit gathers itself for the leap into deed.

Rilke, anticipating the philosopher by some decades, writes from Borgeby Gård, his refuge in rural Sweden, in a letter to Kappus in August 1904, of the importance of being “solitary and attentive” because “the seemingly uneventful and static moment when our future enters into us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous moment when the future happens to us, as if from outside.” In another passage, that could be from Emerson or William James, he urges Kappus, should he feel there is something sickly in his nature, to consider that “sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from foreign matter,” and the organism, instead of being treated with curatives, should be helped to be sick, “to experience its illness fully and to erupt….”


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