“In 1989 Joseph Brodsky gave a commencement address at Dartmouth College on the subject of boredom that has a higher truth quotient than any such address I have ever heard (or, for that matter, have myself given). Brodsky told the 1,100 Dartmouth graduates that, although they may have had some splendid samples of boredom supplied by their teachers, these would be as nothing compared with what awaits them in the years ahead. Neither originality nor inventiveness on their part will suffice to defeat the endless repetition that life will serve up to them, as it has served up to us all. Evading boredom, he pointed out, is a full-time job, entailing endless change—of jobs, geography, wives and lovers, interests—and in the end a self-defeating one. Brodksy therefore advises: “When hit by boredom, go for it. Let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom.”
The lesson boredom teaches, according to Brodsky, is that of one’s own insignificance, an insignificance brought about by one’s own finitude. We are all here a short while, and then—poof!—gone and, sooner or later, usually sooner, forgotten. Boredom “puts your existence into perspective, the net result of which is precision and humility.” Brodsky advised the students to try “to stay passionate,” for passion, whatever its object, is the closest thing to a remedy for boredom. But about one’s insignificance boredom does not deceive. Brodsky, who served 18 months of hard labor in the Soviet Union and had to have known what true boredom is, closes by telling the students that “if you find this gloomy, you don’t know what gloom is.”
“Boredom,” as Peter Toohey writes, “is a normal, useful, and incredibly common part of human experience.” Boredom is also part of the human condition, always has been, and, if we are lucky, always will be.
Live with it.”
—Joseph Epstein on boredom. His whole piece is long but worth checking out.