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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Spot the difference

Walter Richard Sickert's 'Ennui' (1917-1918)

 

Just as I was wondering what had come over me and why I was feeling so listless, a friend emailed: "I must have caught it from you: I am wondering today if anything is worth doing. There is lots to do, if I was even slightly interested in doing it."

"Depressed state. Talked to a fellow who I was mates with 45 years ago and we talked about all the fun things we used to do. That didn’t help either, as I don’t have those fun things to do any more because times have changed so much we couldn’t do them if we wanted to. Oh well, life." Seems it's catching! ☺

English has many words for the feelings that can arise when a good, hard look at the state of the world seems to reveal only negatives. Hopelessness, despair, depression, discouragement, melancholy, sorrow, worry, disconsolation, distress, anxiety ... there are so many that it would hardly seem necessary to borrow any more from other languages but for my money I like ennui and weltschmerz as they seem to offer that little extra.

Are you tired, so tired of everything about the world and the way it is? Do you proclaim this, with a long, slow sigh, to everyone around you? You’ve got ennui, the echo in us of time tearing itself apart. Do you have sadness in your heart for the world that you have to live in? You’ve got weltschmerz.

Do you feel like Henrí? You're bored! Lars Svendsen, a professor from the Norwegian city of Bergen, has published a whole book on it, A Philosophy of Boredom, in which he cites Dostoevsky who called it a “bestial and indefinable affliction.” Heidegger labelled it a “silent fog”. Kierkegaard pronounced it “the root of all evil”. Boredom: to suffer without suffering.

If Walter Richard Sickert had to repaint his 'Ennui' today, he'd paint something like this:

Can you spot the difference?