July 9, 2012


Boredom is one of the most corrosive and powerful emotions in our lives. It motivates destructive behavior in every quarter: school and learning, personal relationships, work. But it's an inevitable part of existence. We are shackled to the tedious business of living; the grinding repetition of feeding ourselves, dressing ourselves, moving from one locale to another, working, sleeping, and self-maintenance; the tragedy of limited resources and unlimited desires, as the economists put it. Not to mention that of mortality, which limits our time and destroys our capacities in short order.

Storytelling is universal. We speculate that stories help us understand our lives or work out an image of our culture. But maybe storytelling is, first and foremost, a psychologically essential antidote to the powerful effects of boredom. Critics of "escapist" literature (as if there were any other kind) deride it as weakness, but it's more like a means of bearing the unbearable, dispersing over and over again the squirming, uncomfortable yearning that wriggles under the surface of our consciousness—like dreaming, an outlet for the psychic energy that overruns our system.  A means of restoring balance between our outsized brains and our modest reality.

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