Friday, June 10, 2011

`To Be Able to Procure Its Own Entertainments'

Most days, I eat alone in the staff room. Mine is the last scheduled lunch of the day – 1:10 p.m. – and I enjoy the customary quiet. I read, make notes, call my wife. On Thursday, I was joined by two teachers who sat at the far end of the table and recounted loudly and in harrowing detail the plot of the television show they had watched independently the night before. They agreed on little and argued over hair color, chronology, dialogue and the makes of automobiles: “I know a Saab when I see one.” This went on for twenty minutes and both teachers had a grand time.

So did I. To be so unselfconsciously tedious is a gift, one too seldom appreciated, like double-jointedness and whistling in key. My mind is helplessly associative, so everything reminds me of something else, and though the teachers offered me entrée, and I could seamlessly have joined the conversation, even without having watched the show, I remained a spectator. Tedium on this scale, pursued with such gusto, is a spectacle, and perhaps no longer tedium. That’s my point: the boring can be remarkably interesting -- a paradox akin to finding much in the human world tiresome, while possessing almost ironclad immunity against boredom. In the June issue of Commentary, Joseph Epstein is typically amusing on the subject:

“Unrequited love, as Lorenz Hart instructed us, is a bore, but then so are a great many other things: old friends gone somewhat dotty from whom it is too late to disengage, the important social-science-based book of the month, 95 percent of the items on the evening news, discussions about the Internet, arguments against the existence of God, people who overestimate their charm, all talk about wine, New York Times editorials, lengthy lists (like this one), and, not least, oneself.”

One list invites another: “social media,” anything written by a Marxist, Gertrude Stein, fish as pets (not food), the Grateful Dead, David Foster Wallace and John Ashbery, rock lyrics printed as poetry, “bourgeois,” and any talk of sports, politics and e-books. All are boring, none bores me. Dr. Johnson writes in The Rambler #135:

"To be able to procure its own entertainments, and to subsist upon its own stock, is not the prerogative of every mind. There are, indeed, understandings so fertile and comprehensive, that they can always feed reflection with new supplies, and suffer nothing from the preclusion of adventitious amusements; as some cities have within their own walls enclosed ground enough to feed their inhabitants in a siege. But others live only from day to day, and must be constantly enabled, by foreign supplies, to keep out the encroachments of languor and stupidity."

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