"Care" vs "Deprived of Care:" A Heideggerian Covid and The History of Being

 

"Care" vs "Deprived of Care:" A 


1 CARE vs DEPRIVED OF CARE: Covid and The History of Being

Philosophical Dasein, if it is maintained over the whole of one's life by being understood as the proper

one, is a kind of deathlessness, athanatizein, since the comportment that relates to and

hence apprehends (the way in which the philosopher is-there with) the eternal, the

unchanging, must itself be unchanging, must not stray but tarry with the unchanging, and

 hence in a sense is deathless (without cessation), since what is unchanging admits of no

passing away, "[hjerein resides the peculiar tendency of the accommodation of the

temporality of human Dasein to the eternity ofthe world ... This is the extreme position

to which the Greeks carried human Dasein (Heidegger PS, 122)."


"He who delights in solitude is either a wild beast or a god (Aristotle)"

 

** Martin Heidegger and Medard Boss: "Our patients force us to see the human being in his essential ground because the modem 'neuroses of boredom and meaninglessness' can no longer be drowned out by glossing over or covering up particular symptoms of illness. If one treats those symptoms only, then another symptom will emerge again and again ... They no longer see meaning in their life and ... they have become intolerably bored (Heidegger and Boss, Zollikon Seminar, 160-161)"

We have endured covid isolation for some time now.  Cut off from, separated from our usual context/network of concerns and distractions, feelings of anxiety, depression, and boredom have been coaxed to the surface (“a-letheia”).  This blog post proposes to consider this through the history of Being, though obliquely, since “Being” and “Covid” as such are kept at a distance.  The proposed path here is to examine the negative phenomenon of “Deprived of Care,” and in so doing perhaps illuminate its counter concept, the one we usually operate in, “Care.” 

THE PRINCIPLE OF “Deprived of Care”: Disclosing the hidden acedia

The notion of “difference” is one of the post important in human life, such as when we say of someone that they really made a true “difference” in our life.  Just as “difference” signifies something very special for us, something that sparks our “indifference” toward it means the opposite.  This post looks at indifference as a hidden principle of human life.  Indifference is a very polysemic term, ranging in meaning from simple disinterest, to profound being-deprived-of-care.

The notion of “acedia,” “lack of care” or “indifference,” is very old, and is constructed out of  ἀκηδία, "negligence", ἀ- "lack of" -κηδία "care."  We see it mentioned in Homer’s Iliad (books 14 line 427 and book 24 line ), and in Hesiod’s Theogony (line 453).  Peter Toohey points out that in ancient times it was associated with depression, which makes sense since if one is depressed that implies indifference, and indeed sometimes irritation, with one’s world.  Philosophically, such strong indifference, either as weighed down with listlessness and depression on one end of the spectrum to anxiety/restlessness on the other is philosophically interesting because it helps to isolate and phenomenalize who the human is when she is disconnected from being caught up in the world of her concerns.  Picture, for instance the difference of experience between the “cool” kid enjoying the party and the awkward kid who doesn’t fit in and tries to appear involved by inspecting a plant.

The notion of "lack of care" or "acedia" with the alpha privative and its, for lack of a better term, "withdrawal symptoms," is philosophically interesting because it discloses, in contrast, that the default human condition is "care" as being caught up and involved with people and things in one's world (Dasein), but with things like covid or a monk's isolation there is an interruption in this (Nicht-Da-Sein/Weg-Sein) that discloses what it means "to be human" by isolating the person from their context in which they usually find themselves and operate.  This can be interpreted tragically as a basic stance of a human as "being addicted" to beings and the world, but conversely joyously interpreted as the approach of the thinkers, such as the Greeks learning to overcome their restlessness by attuning themselves in repose to the eternity of the world, or Nietzsche in a letter to Overbeck explaining how focus on his 3rd untimely meditation left him invulnerable to the "cabin fever" afflicting his friends in a rainy cottage.

Acedia (though not always designated by that name) seems in the monastic period to have been understood in at least two, possibly three ways:  

First there was the Evagrian condition—a specific, perhaps mildly depressive illness brought on by an excess of solitude and physical deprivation. This malaise seems not unlike an acute form of frustration (compare Cassian's tristitia). Second there was the state of—what we might term—malicious boredom. This is represented by the Cassianic conception of otiositas. Third there was the formulation of St. John Chrysostomos,'Rutilius Namatianus, and St. Jerome—acedia here was linked with the clinically defined notion of severe melancholia. It also appears probable that Cassian was correct in maintaining that the solitary life-style of the hermit exacerbated the malady. But it is of crucial importance to note that acedia was not confined to the monastery. Monks were not alone in the predisposition to the illness. This is indicated by an aside of St. John Chrysostomos. He states that acedia is a condition also suffered by those living outside monasteries. But for them it was less dangerous (PG 47).

The 4th century monks felt what they saw as the demon of acedia holds an important place in early monastic demonology and proto-psychology. In the late fourth century Evagrius of Pontus, for example, characterizes it as "the most troublesome of all" of the eight genera of evil thoughts. As with those who followed him, Evagrius sees acedia as a temptation, and the great danger lies in giving in to it. The listlessness tempts you away from the works for God. Evagrius' 4th century contemporary the Desert Father John Cassian depicted the apathetic restlessness of acedia, "the noonday demon", in the coenobitic monk:

He looks about anxiously this way and that, and sighs that none of the brethren come to see him, and often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun, as if it was too slow in setting, and so a kind of unreasonable confusion of mind takes possession of him like some foul darkness (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acedia)

Paradoxically, for a monastic, work means resolutely going to community prayers in a routine that is repeated day in and day out. That routine, which from the outside could be seen as mind-numbing, is actually redemptive.  Here is an example:

A 4th century story from The Institutes by John Cassian about Abba Paul, a desert monk who created baskets from palm fronds to pass the days. The transportation to get them to a market would have cost more than he would have made selling them, so he collected and burned the baskets every year. Reading the story made me think about my writing and how at times it seems so futile. I think that most of us want not to be forgotten. We want some remnant of ourselves to remain after we’re gone. We want to know that our lives have mattered, that we have changed the world for the better.

Without even really being aware of it, I’ve bought into the pervasive belief that the “baskets” or physical “product” that we create is the way we leave a lasting legacy. Yet all of our experience shows us that physical things don’t survive forever, and they don’t stay the same. New technology replaces old equipment. New books and new ideas eventually become yellowed and obsolete with age. I love gardening, and I know that a garden takes continual care. I’ve planted a flower bed, tucked all of the plants in place, surrounded them with landscape fabric and mulch, installed edging to keep grass from creeping in, and expected that the garden would stay as it was for years. It doesn’t work that way! The mulch gets washed away, weeds start to poke through here and there, in winter the rabbits sometimes chew the plants down to stubs, and grass eventually moves in from the edge. Nature continually works toward changing, assimilating, re-using, or re-forming everything into something else. (see https://rubyrwilson.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/how-is-writing-like-burning-baskets/)

Counter-measures for acedia existed for the ancient monks. Endurance, patience, a resolute refusal to quit one's cell, insistent prayer, the reading and recitation of psalms, the remembrance of, and meditation on relevant verses from Scripture, keeping to the fore the thought of one's death and heavenly rewards, even the shedding of tears were all felt to be helpful practices. Certainly, anyone who takes seriously their own death and puts it to the front of their life experiences profound meaning in everything they are lucky enough to experience, and “Live like You Were Dying,” like the famous Tim McGraw song suggests.  Above all manual labour was believed to be a most powerful measure against the sin. In spite of the dangers, there were decided benefits to be deprived in an onslaught of acedia. The monk who was capable of withstanding it grew immeasurably in strength.  I think the lesson is in going from care to the anxiety and listlessness of lack of care in these isolating covid times, it is good to remain resolute in our work and appreciate how that nourishes the soul as a mind focusing end in itself.

Exploring further,

Not only an eminent classical scholar, but also a shrewd reader of Freud, the late E.R. Dodds famously characterised the period from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine, as an ‘age of anxiety’ (Dodds 1965).  Had he been describing the late fourth to the early fifth century alone he might have called it an age of boredom, for outbreaks of ‘taedium sive anxietatem cordis’, to use Cassian’s phrase, seem to have reached nigh epidemic proportions in late antique society (Cass. inst. V: 1).  At least among the many monks which inhabited the ‘deserts’ of Egypt, Palestine and Syria.  John Chrysostom calls it an infection (loimos) and a virus (ios), and compares it to a fever (puretos) (cited by Toohey 1990: 346 n. 39).  Moreover, as well as feeling bored, the monks went to great lengths to analyse the nature of their boredom, diagnose it, and formulate remedies to cure it.

The connection between akēdia and kēdos has somewhat been overlooked by scholars but it has a particular bearing in relation to the care of the self where it is manifested in an abandonment of spiritual exercises.  Examples of the use of akēdia indicating a ‘loss of care’ are found in the Hippocratic corpus, in Aeschylus, Hesiod, Homer and later in Cicero.  In its verbal form it is used to signify neglect, in the passive voice ‘uncared for’ (Aesch. PB. 508), and in the active voice ‘without care’ or ‘careless’ (Hes.Th. 489; Hom. Od. 17.319), as well as ‘recklessness’ and ‘torpor from grief or exhaustion’ (Liddle and Scott 1863: 40).  Cicero leaves the word in Greek.  This is significant as he was renowned for his skill as a translator.  And it gives some weight to the view that the full meaning of the term is untranslatable (Cic. Att. 12.45.1; Guillaumont 1971a)[10].  Writing at Tusculum on May 17th BC 45, he replies to Atticus, ‘I am worried about your akēdia, though you say it is nothing (nihil esse)’.  Presumably, it was just a mild attack of boredom.

According to Bardy (1937) akēdia is used frequently in the Septuagint in the sense of negligence or indifference (e.g. Pss. 118/119: 28; Ecclus. 29:5; and Is. 61: 3).  But in addition to the three references he gives, one further example of the use of the noun (Bar.3:1).  However, in its verbal form there are a further five occasions where it is used to convey the meaning ‘to be exhausted’ or ‘weary’ (Pss. 60/61: 3; 101/102: 1[11]; 142/143: 4; Dt. 7: 15; Ecclus. 22: 13); and two where the sense is ‘to be in anguish’ or ‘to grieve’ (Pss. 60/61: 3; Pss. 142/143: 4).  But neither kēdia nor akēdia are found in the New Testament.

Lampe shows clearly the wide range of meanings the word akēdia had during the patristic period (Lampe 1961: 61-2).  Here many of the general senses of the word intersect with one another.  They include physical symptoms such as fatigue and exhaustion (Gr. Nyss. ep 1.10), weariness and inertia (Herm. Vis. 3.11.3; Gr. Naz. carm. 1.2.34.70), as well as anxiety and boredom (Ath. exp. Ps. 60.2f), despair, loss of hope, and sadness (Cyr.ep.76 cited in Lampe).

Called the demon of acedia—also called the noonday demon – it is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all.  He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour and besieges the soul until the eighth hour.  First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long.  Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out of the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour, to look now this way and now that to see if perhaps [one of the brethren appears from his cell].  Then too he instils in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labour.  He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement.  Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred.  This demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities, more readily find work and make a real success of himself.  He goes on to suggest that, after all, it is not the place that is the basis of pleasing the Lord.  God is to be adored everywhere.  He joins to these reflections the memory of his dear ones and of his former way of life.  He depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind’s eye the toil of the ascetic struggle and, as the saying has it, leaves no leaf unturned to induce the monk to forsake his cell and drop out of the fight.  No other demon follows close upon the heels of this one (when he is defeated) but only a state of deep peace and inexpressible joy arise out of this struggle. (Evag. Pr. 12)

In his De octo spiritibus malitiae, Evagrius defines akēdia as a relaxation or loss of the tension necessary for keeping to the ascetic life.  While this may eventually result in the abandonment of askēsis altogether, in its earlier stages he describes the monk having fantasies about a taking a trip somewhere or moving to another location.  And he paints a vivid picture of the ascetic being unable to apply himself to reading:

The eye of the person afflicted with acedia stares at the doors continuously, and his intellect imagines people coming to visit.  The door creaks and he jumps up; he hears a sound, and he leans out the window and does not leave it until he gets stiff from sitting there.  When he reads, the one afflicted with acedia yawns a lot and readily drifts off into sleep; he rubs his eyes and stretches his arms; turning his eyes away from the book, he stares at the wall and again goes back to reading for a while; leafing through the pages, he looks curiously for the end of texts, he counts the folios and calculates the number of gatherings.  Later, he closes the book and puts it under his head and falls asleep, but not a very deep sleep, for hunger then rouses his soul and has him show concern for its needs.

Evag. spir. mal. 14, 15

While anxietas signified a disorder that could range from minor to intermediate severity, or severe depression, in the monastic literature in late antiquity akēdia usually referred to a pathological form of boredom at the milder end of the spectrum of anxietas

Acedia for Evagrius represents a "psychic exhaustion and listlessness." On the face of things it seems probable that acedia was the product of the extreme monotony, the harshness, and the solitude of anchoritic life.  Small wonder that they fell into a state which produced symptoms of dejection, restlessness, dislike of the cell, resentment of fellow monks, a desire to quit the cell to seek salvation elsewhere, and even a rejection of the value of anchoritic practices (PG 40. 1273). Wenzel, perhaps the best commentator on Evagrian acedia, observes that "in the end acedia causes the monk either to give in to physical sleep, which proves unrefreshing or actually dangerous because it opens the door to many other temptations, or to leave his cell and eventually the religious life altogether.

Cassianic describes acedia as a restless dissatisfaction which drives monks from their cells to annoy and harass other monks.  This condition is also referenced in Lucretius 3. 1060-67 and Horace Sat. 2. 7. 28-29, Ep. 1. 8 12, 1. 11. 27 and 1. 14.

Akedia is a compound word. The first part is the prefix a- (’α-), which means “not” and is used exactly like the prefix “un-” in English. The second part is the abstract noun kedia (κηδία), which itself is derived from the more concrete noun kedos (κη̃δος). Kedos means “care for others,” especially the kind of care that you show when someone dies. To have kedos for the dead means that you care so much for the dead person that you wash the body, attend the funeral, and see the remains of the person respectfully buried, even though the person you loved is now dead and gone and will do nothing more for you in this life. Kedia, therefore, is the action of showing kedos. (see https://www.journal-psychoanalysis.eu/%E1%BC%80%CE%BA%CE%B7%CE%B4%CE%AF%CE%B1-and-the-care-of-the-self-a-contribution-to-the-study-of-the-relationship-between-the-tradition-of-spiritual-exercises-and-psychoanalysis/)

In the time of covid, we are living an isolation despite tv, internet, music, etc.  We get distracted by social media, yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. We’re bored, listless, afraid and uncertain.  The wealth of richness of our distractions would have stunned a fourth century monk experiencing acedia, though the symptoms are the same.

 

 TRACING “Deprived of Care” BACK TO THE HISTORY OF THE BEING OF THE GREEKS

The paradigmatic case of care-less homeless wandering in misery for the Greeks was Bellerophon.  Bellerophon, whose malaise is sometimes compared to that of the monachi, is said to have suffered from melancholia (Aristotle, Problemata 30. 1). The usual Greek idea of the soul is the notion of feeding and sating oneself on the luster of the world, unlike thinkers who are a step back from life, not sated by the everyday.  This can be gleaned from the distinction Heraclitus indicates of the comportment of the Best contrasted with the masses who are like well fed cattle, eating a patch of grass, finishing, and then moving on to the next patch/distraction. 

Bellerophon wanted the glorious satiety of the Gods, but denied this, wandered in the desert on horrific self isolation.  In the Iliad Homer writes: 

But when even Bellerophon came to be hated of all the gods, then verily he wandered alone over the Aleian plain, devouring his own soul, and shunning the paths of men; (Iliad, 6. 200). 

We can basically see Bellerophon living as a listless wandering shade, even while he still lived.  The shade, ripped from the context of its life and enjoyments of its body, was basically just left over as eternal restlessness in the face of ultimate monotony.

Pindar contrasts the misery of the homeless wanderings of Bellerophon with the joyous dwelling of the gods: 

“Bellerophon, who wanted to go to the dwelling-places of heaven and the company of Zeus. A thing that is sweet beyond measure is awaited by a most bitter end.” Pindar, Isthmian Odes, vii.44.  

On the Plain of Aleion ("Wandering") in Cilicia, Bellerophon (who had fallen into a thorn bush causing him to become blind) lived out his life in misery, "devouring his own soul," until he died.  Blind Bellerophon basically lived the wandering life of a shade while he was still alive.

Similarly, Sophocles writes Ajax was a prisoner of his own destiny, unable to live sated by natural human boundaries. (Ajax 250).”  Ajax was mocked and rejected by people for his exceptionality.  Sophocles says of Ajax, devouring his lonely heart he sits (613).  People and gold lost their luster for Ajax, (397-99), and so became distanced from man and gods, what Aristotle called estatikos egeneto. 

Bellerophon’s heroic life led him to feel he was beyond ordinary things (Euripiders, 286, 1-2), though he thought becoming an outcast was tantamount to death.  This may have inspired Heraclitus’ reminding word that even at the simple hearth gods come to presence: 

“But when even Bellophron came to be hated by the gods, he wandered all desolated and dismayed on the Aleian path, devouring his own soul and shunning the paths of men.”

Euripides in Bellerophon 287 1-2, the chorus in Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus 1388-91, and Kierkegaard all say life isn’t worth living because the more we strive for the great, the more we become dissatisfied with the ordinary, and it is the human condition to always return to the ordinary.  Bellerophon speaks of a life of suffering, and an awareness of such suffering.  I think Bellerophon chose to avoid the paths of men and suffer to less of a degree in private.

By contrast, we have the passion of Achilles:

“The archetypal warrior in the European tradition is Achilles. He is a naturally ferocious man—a lover of discord, as Agamemnon correctly describes him—who longs above all else for glory on the battlefield. He believes he will attain immortal fame by being foremost in slaughtering enemies. While we are likely to see him as a psychopath, the Greeks saw him as something superhuman, the manifestation of a primal cosmological power. What distinguishes Achilles from other humans is the character of his eros, his love or drive.” See Gillespie (loc 3320)

What distinguishes Achilles from other humans is the character of his eros, his love or drive. Humans as they appear in the Iliad are pulled toward one of the three human goods: power, honor, or pleasure. The story of the Iliad focuses on Achilles’ monomaniacal pursuit of honor, which is contrasted to Agamemnon’s pursuit of power and Paris’ pursuit of sensual pleasure. The warrior, as seen through this lens, is possessed by the desire for honor and driven mad, overcome by rage, when it is denied him. This is no accident. Rage is a particular danger for the warrior because it is rage that makes him ferocious, and that is thus the source of his prowess. In this respect Achilles is quite different than Hector who “learned to be courageous.” One cannot learn to be cruel, hard, or unrelenting without a natural ferocity. Hector thus can never equal Achilles. Such ferocity, however, is a great danger because it can turn into rage with one’s fellows. While the warrior is necessary, he is thus also a constant danger to the community. Indeed, in the Iliad the misdirected ferocity of Achilles is the source of the disaster that shatters the community, bringing “countless ills upon the Achaeans.”  Plutarch in Pyrrhus 13 talks of a nauseous boredom (alus nautiodes), as what Achilles felt when there was ease:

13. At this time, then, when Pyrrhus had been driven back into Epeirus and had given up Macedonia, Fortune put it into his power to enjoy what he had without molestation, to live in peace, and to reign over his own people. But he thought it tedious to the point of nausea if he were not inflicting mischief on others or suffering it at others' hands, and like Achilles could not endure idleness, but ate his heart away.  Remaining there, and pined for war-cry and battle. (Plutarch Pyrrhus 13)

We can imagine restless Achilles particularly suffered death as a shade, since his pursuits were gone.  To be dead was a meaningless and pointless to and fro that is disconnected from the shimmering luster of life people nurse off of.  This is what Pindar meant by “shimmering gold.”  Heraclitus says the masses are like well fed cattle.  Achilles says of the afterlife:

“No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus! By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man—some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive— than rule down here over all the breathless dead.” (Odyssey, Book 11, lines 555–58)

Homer describes the shades as:

Ah me, my child, ill-fated above all men, in no wise does Persephone, the daughter of Zeus, deceive thee, but this is the appointed way with mortals when one dies. For the sinews no longer hold the flesh and the bones together, but the strong might of blazing fire destroys these, as soon as the life leaves the white bones, and the spirit, like a dream, flits away, and hovers to and fro. Odysseus’ mother Odyssey, book 11, 215)

We can only imagine how such a view of the afterlife would have cast a pall over Greek existence.  Analogously, I once knew a woman who became listless and suicidal because she thought she was going to hell because of having an abortion.  Imagine living as a Greek and knowing what your destiny as a mortal was!  Ehrman comments:

One of the overarching points made throughout the scenes that follow is that the afterlife is not life. It is death. Those who have departed life are joyless, bodiless shades, with no possibility of pleasure or vibrancy of any kind. Tiresias calls the underworld “this joyless kingdom of the dead” (Odyssey, Book 11, line 105). Achilles later says that it is “where the senseless, burnt-out wraiths of mortals make their home” (Odyssey, Book 11, line 540). It is the realm of the “breathless dead.” Shades have no bodies, no strength, no knowledge of anything happening in the world above. And—an important point—they are not immortal. The term “immortal” for Homer is synonymous with “divine.” Only gods are immortal. Deceased humans are dead, not alive. (Ehrman)

Given this, we can now begin to isolate a tragic interpretation of Greek life.  Apollo says

“Why should I do battle for the sake of mere mortals!’ exclaims the sun god, ‘mortals, who are as wretched as the leaves on the trees, flourishing at first, enjoying the fruits of the earth, but then, deprived of heart (akerioi), vanishing (Iliad, 21.528-530) … Vanishing how? Akerioi, as … those who are deprived of [heart] (trns David Farell Krell, PAH, Kalypso, 105).”

The point seems to be that Apollo is saying “Why should I do battle for the sake of mere mortals!’ exclaims the sun god, ‘mortals, who are as wretched as the leaves on the trees, flourishing at first, enjoying the fruits of the earth as youths, but then, no longer with their hearts in the goings on of life (akerioi), fade away into old age and monotonous death.”

For instance, Xenophon said Socrates wanted to die so as to avoid the mental and emotional deterioration of old age.  Plato said Socrates last words to Crito was to sacrifice a rooster for Asclepius, implying that the poison was a cure for the disease of life.

To compound this tragic view of life, by the end of Priam & Achilles momentous encounter, they discover their fallible humanity in each other's sorrows, a realization that both king & semi-divine warrior are not shielded against inexorable streams of necessity, or Fates weaving the tragedy inherent in human existence: 

"So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched men live on to bear such torments-the gods live free of sorrows" (Achilles to Priam, Homer, Iliad Bk XXIV)

There is not a single Greek tragedy that does not echo either implicitly or explicitly the admonition of Solon, “Never count a person happy, until dead,” with its twofold connotation: the happiness of human life cannot be judged until the entire span of that life has been lived, and death is to be preferred to the vicissitudes of life. Herodotus, like most Greek writers and artists, takes his philosophy from Homer. In the last book of the Iliad (see MLS, Chapter 19), Priam, the great king of Troy, comes alone as a humble suppliant to the Greek hero Achilles, in order to beg for the body of his son Hector, whom Achilles has killed. In the course of their interview, Achilles who has also suffered much because of the death of his beloved Patroclus, divulges his conclusions about human existence:

“No human action is without chilling grief. For thus the gods have spun out for wretched mortals the fate of living in distress, while they live without care. Two jars sit on the doorsill of Zeus, filled with gifts that he bestows, one jar of evils, the other of blessing. When Zeus who delights in the thunder takes from both and mixes the bad with the good, a human being at one time encounters evil, at another good. But the one to whom Zeus gives only troubles from the jar of sorrows, this one he makes an object of abuse, to be driven by cruel misery over the divine earth.” Iliad, 24

The once great Priam will soon lose everything and meet a horrifying end and Achilles himself is destined to die young. His fatalistic words about the uncertainty of human life are mirrored in the sympathetic humanism of Herodotus and echoed again and again by the Greek dramatists who delight in the interplay of god and fate in human life and the tragic depiction of the mighty fall of those who were once great.  All human happiness and misery depend on a frighteningly unpredictable gods describes the gods of Homer and Herodotus. (see https://global.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780195397703/student/materials/chapter6/commentary/#:~:text=There%20is%20not%20a%20single,to%20be%20preferred%20to%20the)

The history of the Being of the person/polis

The Greeks (tyrants excluded) embraced and celebrated the drive to compete, to be the best, to achieve virtue, excellence, and glory in the eyes of their peers and Gods.

Even in this meaning of the polis as externally recognized action, we see the restlessness, since laude from peers and gods lose their luster (Holderlin says in Bread and Wine that we become accustomed or used to joy), and fresh accolades are required.  

This is ἀρετή.  A citizen’s first duty to his polis was to fight and to die if needed for his country.  Thus the πόλις took on a defensive tendency during the archaic period. As the πόλeις grew prosperous, the meaning of ἀπετή expanded to serving one’s πόλις in all aspects of life, whether defending the πόλις, winning glory for the πόλις in athletic competition, or guiding the πόλις through politics. For the first time most men, as citizens of the πόλις, had a say in whether or not they would go to war and which laws they might pass.  Through ευνομίαxiv, they were now empowered politically, economically, and socially. They all shared the power of a king with each other, meaning they could now all compete for ἀρετή. The playing field was now level.

Only the Gods and νόμοι now ruled a citizen of the πόλeις.  Herodotus claims in the third book of the Histories that ‘Custom (νόμοj) is king of all.’ Demaratus tried to inform Xerxes that the Spartans’ ‘master is the law and they’re far more afraid of it than your men are of you.  The words of Demaratus are misleading. The Greeks did not fear the law in the same sense Xerxes’s troops feared him. The law gave a citizen his power to speak and to be heard. The law guaranteed the citizen his land. Illegal actions could indeed result in punishment from men and gods, but the Greeks loved their laws, the children of their ideals, above all else. Plato and Aristotle reiterate Herodotus when they describe the ideal state as one that controls every detail of a citizen’s life. In the Greek mind, there was no distinction between the state and the citizen.

Herodotus’s views concerning polis culture are summed up in the book five, section 78 of the Histories: “So the Athenians flourished. Now the advantages of everyone having a voice in the political procedure are not restricted just to single instances, but are plain wherever one looks.” For instance, when the Athenians were ruled by tyrants, they were no better at warfare than any of their neighbors, but once they had got rid of the tyrants they became vastly superior. This goes to show that while they were under an oppressive regime they fought below their best because they were working for a master, whereas as free men each individual wanted to achieve something for himself. 

During the Pentekontaetia, Greek intellectual investigation gradually shifted from the community of the πόλις to the individuality of Man.  This shift in thought ultimately yielded dire consequences for Greek πόλις culture. Though the new humanist movement further empowered the Greek individual, opened up new ways of thinking about the world, and gave birth to science and philosophy, it came at the expense of the culture the Greeks held so dear. It warped the most important aspect of the πόλις culture—ἀρετή.

The change in thought began with thinkers like Hippocrates. His empirical study of man’s body signaled a gentle inward turning of the Greek mind.  Hippocrates wanted to better understand how the human body functioned. His works stressed using empirical knowledge rather than mythical explanations. He makes the claim that any clear knowledge of nature cannot be obtained from any source but medicine.  Hippocrates and the physicians pioneered this new way of thinking, and the philosophers pursued empiricism in subsequent decades. The Sophists, however, were the catalyst that changed Greek thought.

The Sophists were professional teachers. They tended to reside in Athens, teaching young nobles many subjects, usually focused on politics and the art of persuasion.  Many of these men were skeptics; Protagoras is quoted as saying ‘There are two contradictory λόγοι about everything.’ Protagoras believed a truly good speaker  could argue persuasively for any side of any argument.

Another important shift came in the new view of νόμοj.  The Sophists began to see the νόμοi as mere conventions that limited man’s potential to achieve ἀρετή. The value of the νόμοi was soon determined by their relevance to contemporary social and political concerns.  More importantly, conceptions of ἀρετή also changed during this period. Before, the term referred to the degree of virtue or perfection achieved through contributions to the community. Now it referred to the degree to which man could achieve honor and success for himself.  While this might be a noble goal for the individual, it proved disastrous for the πόλις culture. The πόλις could not survive as a political entity without its citizens consciously maintaining and supporting it. Relativism and subjectivism had now seeped into the Greek mind. The celebration of the individual coupled with such skepticism about the world proved a very dangerous combination. The effects of these teachings manifested at the end of the Pentekontaetia and continued into the fourth century.

Politicians throughout Greece began to pursue their own personal interests over that of their πόλις. This had, of course, been going on since the start of Greek history, but the magnitude of such actions was now greater. In the seventh and sixth centuries this might have resulted in tyrannical rule; in the fifth century, new ideas led to imperialism.

Before the creation of the Delian league, Greeks fought primarily on land in phalanx formations. The league was also an offensive organization, very different from the defensive posture of the πόλις. Military endeavors had always focused on defending the πόλις, not conquest. Alliances up to this point had been defensive pacts.  The offensive posture of a navy also helped change Athens into a tyrant among states.  As noted above, participation in the archaic πόλις that granted one ἀρετή often meant engaging in defensive military action. However, participation in the new Athenian/Delian culture was based on feeding the money-hungry navy through offensive operations like raiding. Furthermore, the land owning hoplite was too expensive to form the basic unit of a navy, for navies need far more men.  The professionalization of the Athenian navy foreshadowed the same process of land-based forces in the fourth century. Instead of middle and upper class landowners defending their plots, the new soldier was paid a wage by his general. The end result of this was that the ὀπλίτοι lost their social prestige. The new soldier demanded his voice be heard over theirs. Thus, στάσις again began to grip many πόλeις for much of the fourth century. 

Therein lies the tragedy of Greek history, that the first democracy, a potent and vibrant force, used its potency to subjugate its neighbors and weaken the Greek world.  Even Thucydides, a staunch supporter of Athens, argues that the city had begun to grasp at more and more and more.

Influenced by the players within them, who in turn were influenced by the Sophists, the πόλeις sought more power and wealth. Greek leaders justified this desire with the slogan ‘might makes right,’ or attempted to warp tradition and custom (νόμος) to fit their present needs.  Often leaders did not bother to justify their actions at all (see https://cedar.wwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1027&context=orwwu#:~:text=iv%20A%20citizen's%20first%20duty,%CF%80%CF%8C%CE%BB%CE%B9%CF%82%20to%20protect%20their%20home.)

So, we have movement in the history of the Greeks from discovering and realizing oneself in unity with the polis as a single organism, to progressively distinguishing oneself from it.  Just as the history and evolution of the concept of polis changed what it meant for a human being to be in her being, from communal to individualistic, so did the history and evolution of boredom shift from the outer to the inner as the basic stance of the individual in the world as being disconnected from it. 

The evolution of the individual inward: The Phenomenon of Boredom

Toohey describes the Greeks initially didn’t have a word for boredom that maps onto ours, and so expressed it outwardly and metaphorically.  Aristophanes in the Archarnians has one character say 

“I grown, I yawn, I stretch, I fart, I don’t know what to do.  I write, I pull at my hair, I figure things out as I look to the country, longing for peace.  (30-32).” 

He does not name that he is bored, but describes the symptoms.  Similarly, Euripides’ Medea describes men becoming fed up or bored, had enough of their families, and then acting unfairly (244-46), but again, boredom as an emotion is not named.

Apollodorus in Plato’s Symposium 173c says nothing gives him more pleasure than discussing philosophy, but listening to the idle conversations of the rich is boring because they prattle on about nothing and do nothing.  This shows us a clear view of how the thinkers looked down on the highest values of regular people (wealth), and agrees with Heraclitus’ point that the masses are like well fed cattle.

Pindar said too lengthy an exposition might lead to boredom, but again the symptoms are named, not boredom.  By contrast, Plutarch matter of factly talks about the boredom of soldiers due to apraxia, a lexical obvious term apparently missing from earlier Greek times.

Iliad 24. 403 and Euripides Iphigeneia in Aulis 804-8 seem to both demand a word for boredom.  The Greek for the condition of the soldiers in the Iliad passage suggests they were not merely bored, but vexed and disgusted at having to wait. Ennius (239-169 BCE) points back to his interpretation of Euripides play and writes “We are not home and not on military service.  We go here.  We go there.  When we’ve gone there we want to go away.  The mind wanders indecisively; we only live a sort of a life.”  They go here and there, but cannot settle or derive satisfaction from life because of a lack of things to do (praeterpropter vitam vivitur).  We can see the connection to the wandering shades. “Horror loci:” revulsion at where one is.

Lucretius in “On The Universe,” later imitated by Horace and Seneca, speaks of the anxious, bored lives of the Roman rich going here and there, pursued relentlessly by anxiety and boredom (3. 1060-76)  Bailey remarks boredom and restlessness were an aspect of human life near the end of the Republic and the beginning of the empire.

Importantly, Horace’s description of Bullatius’s boredom and restlessness as horror loci woes in Epistles I. II were countered by philosophy (verses  25-30), with the exercise of logic (ratio) and prudence (prudential) that brought about a calm mind (aequus animus), though Horace did not think Philosophy to be a cure for him, who in the city wanted the country, and in the country wanted the city.  In Epistles 1.8 Horace describes the lethargic illness of boredom as a trait of old age.  Restlessness being brought to repose with a calm mind seems to be what Heidegger and Holderlin see as the purpose the Greeks had for philosophy. (see Toohey, https://www.press.umich.edu/pdf/047211302X-ch3.pdf)

The Greeks experienced the restlessness so fundamentally that Sophocles defined the human in terms of this restlessness: apolis/deinon.  The Greeks didn’t seem to have a term for agitated boredom that directly maps on to what we mean by the “feeling” or “mood” of boredom, perhaps as some have speculated because it was more fundamentally the way they were in their world: As I said, Aristophanes, for example, describes one character’s agitation at having to wait for the Athenian Assembly to begin through action rather than description — he says, “I groan, I yawn, I stretch, I fart, I don’t know what to do.”  Heidegger calls boredom the fundamental attunement in Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. 

As a consequence, I am going to argue for the Greeks Philosophical Theoria in Greek basically means what makes someone whole, and so aligning oneself in comportment with what isn’t transitory but simply “is” is a means of healing oneself, a deathlessness or athanatizein that has the benefit of repose in the constant and a non-deathness, death for the Greeks being the tragic nature of monotony and restless and listless tedium in the afterlife (Heraclitus Seminar with Eugen Fink, 111; Lecture course on Plato’s Sophist).  As I said above, Horace argued one remedy for the restlessness of the horror loci was to counter were counter it with philosophy (verses  25-30), with the exercise of logic (ratio) and prudence (prudential) that brought about a calm mind (aequus animus).

Here is an interesting quote from Heidegger in the Zolikon Seminar (I believe it is from pg 160-161) that Heidegger gives about theoria/Energeia:

Heidegger: "One must look upon the useful as ‘what makes someone whole,’ that is, what makes the human being at home with himself … In Greek Theoria is pure repose, the highest form of energeia, the highest manner of putting-oneself into-work without regard for all machinations. It is the letting come to presence of prescencing itself."

As I argued in my MA thesis, for Heidegger Being-there in theoria in the sense that the way you are there is a simple tarrying, a pure abiding, is eternal because it is a tarrying along and an abiding with that which does not change, the eternal. In all its other comportments, the human is never simply present at hand, because he/she always relates to others and to things that are changeable. Here, however, in theoria man is “eudaimonia insofar as he is simply present at hand with regard to its highest possibility of Being (Heidegger's lecture course on Plato's Sophist, 123)."

So the question is, then, why is pure repose, being at work without regard to machinations, achieving a being at home with oneself? What malady is being overcome here? Answering this was the purpose of this blog post! I take as an example 4th century monk Abba Paul mentioned in the above post, going to work and making his baskets, only to joyously burn them!

So Heidegger says Philosophical existence for the Greeks, if it is maintained over the whole of one’s life by being understood as the proper one, is a kind of deathlessness, athanatizein, since the comportment that relates to and hence apprehends (the way in which the philosopher is-there with) the eternal, the unchanging, must itself [the comportment] be unchanging, must not stray but tarry with the unchanging, and hence in a sense is deathless = not the immortal restlessness of the wandering shade, but divine repose.  Heidegger summarizes

“Therein resides the peculiar tendency of the accommodation of the temporality of human Dasein to the eternity of the world … This is the extreme position to which the Greeks carried human Dasein (Heidegger, Plato’s Sophist, 122).”

In the Heraclitus Seminar with Fink, Heidegger contrasts with the Greeks the fundamental distinction between gods and humans, and how thinkers are “godlike.”  Heidegger cites Aristotle that the life of theoria [contemplation] which exceeds phronesis [practical wisdom], is a kind of godly life, an athanatizein, to be immortal- [whereby athanatizein is formed like hellenizein, to be Greek], that implies that in theoria we comport ourselves like immortals. In theoria mortals reach up to the life of the gods (see HS, 111).

What does it mean for the thinker to be deathless or athanatizein?  Heidegger speaks in the 43/44 lecture course on Parmenides about, in contrast with thinkers, the essential misery of the common man for the Greeks (Heidegger Parmenides 100).  So what does deathless mean for the Greeks?  To die meant to go to hades and to wander about in a pointless and meaningless boring to and fro.  Homer says Achilles would rather work as a poor day laborer than rule in Hades.  Heidegger and Fink cite Holderlin’s Hyperion’s Song of Fate in the part where Holderlin contrasts the lives of the gods who are forever in bloom with mortals who are wretched by comparison.

Radiant the gods’ mild breezes/Gently play on you/As the girl artist’s fingers/On holy strings. – Fateless the Heavenly breathe/Like an unweaned infant asleep;/Chastely preserved/In modest bud/For even their minds/Are in flower/And their blissful eyes/Eternally tranquil gaze / Eternally clear. – But we are fated/to find no foothold, no rest,/ And suffering mortals/ Dwindle and fall/ Headlong from one/ Hour to the next/ Hurled like water/From ledge to ledge/Downward for years to the vague abyss. (HS, 101)

Fink, commenting on the meaning of the passage, says the following,

“the gods wander without destiny, their spirit eternally in bloom, while humans lead a restless life and fall into the cataract of time and disappear.” (HS, 101)

 Elsewhere, Heidegger characterizes this by saying

“”[s]uch is the rise and the fall of man in his historical abode of essence – hupsipolis -apolis – far exceeding abodes, homeless, as Sophocles (Antigone) calls man (Parmenides lecture course 1943, 90).”  

Nietzsche points out the Greeks really suffered their existence, and even the last words of Socrates to Crito offering a cock to Asclepius where Socrates calls the poison a cure for life, life being a disease.  In Twilight of the Idols Nietzsche says: 

“Socrates wanted to die: not Athens, but he himself chose the hemlock; he forced Athens to sentence him. “Socrates is no physician,” he said softly to himself, “here death alone is the physician. Socrates himself has merely been sick a long time.” 

Xenephon suggested Socrates wanted to die to avoid the tragedies of old age.

 Compare this portrait of old Socrates with the David Farrell Krell translation I cited above of Homer when Apollo says

“Why should I do battle for the sake of mere mortals!’ exclaims the sun god, ‘mortals, who are as wretched as the leaves on the trees, flourishing at first, enjoying the fruits of the earth, but then, deprived of heart (akerioi), vanishing (Iliad, 21.528-530) … Vanishing how? Akerioi, as … those who are deprived of [heart] (trns David Farell Krell, PAH, Kalypso, 105).”  

** The point of Farrell Krell's translation seems to be that of the fire of youth is being contrasted with the listlessness of old age: “Why should I do battle for the sake of mere mortals!’ exclaims the sun god, ‘mortals, who are as wretched as the leaves on the trees, flourishing at first, enjoying the fruits of the earth, but then, no longer with their hearts in the goings on of life (akerioi), fade into the background.”

A particulary instructive example of the ancient experience of boredom is Horace:

Notice that Horace’s boredom has him restlessly switch between town and country, turn against friends, and switch between philosophical standpoints from Cyrenaic hedonist, to indifferent stoic sage, to apathetic Epicurean, to unbending cynic, to accommodating Peripatetic. His positions are opportunistic and fickle, unable to remain with one set of beliefs.  Horace calls this a kind of boredom and restless desire for change insanity (insanire).  Horace has intellectual horror loci, just as he does in his regular life. (see https://books.google.ca/books?id=qvSGh85CoRIC&pg=PA117&lpg=PA117&dq=Cyrenaic+hedonist,+to+indifferent+stoic+sage,+to+apathetic+Epicurean,+to+unbending+cynic,+to+accommodating+Peripatetic.&source=bl&ots=vRTOihrvQB&sig=ACfU3U3JqWKOisD9Z5Caku2rCfDP4vmHEA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwik9vXdtYTuAhWNxVkKHbxzDE0Q6AEwC3oECBsQAg#v=onepage&q=Cyrenaic%20hedonist%2C%20to%20indifferent%20stoic%20sage%2C%20to%20apathetic%20Epicurean%2C%20to%20unbending%20cynic%2C%20to%20accommodating%20Peripatetic.&f=false)

Similarly, we see Seneca’s “nausea,” seasickness, which means profound boredom:

26.  Some people suffer from a surfeit of doing and seeing the same things. Theirs is not contempt for life but boredom with it, a feeling we sink into when influenced by the sort of philosophy which makes us say, 'How long the same old things? I shall wake up and go to sleep, I shall eat and be hungry, I shall be cold and hot. There's no end to anything, but all things are in a fixed cycle, fleeing and pursuing each other. Night follows day and day night; summer passes into autumn, hard on autumn follows winter, and that in turn is checked by spring. All things pass on only to return. Nothing I do or see is new: sometimes one gets sick even of this.' There are many who think that life is not harsh but superfluous. (Seneca ep. mor. 24. 26)

We see a similar thought about this eternal return of the same expressed in the Jewish tradition by Ecclesiastes: Ecclesiastes in the bible makes the point about the tedium and pointlessness of life because there is just a circular bad repetition  ad nauseam of “the same” with the consequence that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:8-9), that life becomes inherently meaningless in the face of eternal recurrence: 

All things[c] are wearisome;

    more than one can express;

the eye is not satisfied with seeing,

    or the ear filled with hearing.

9 What has been is what will be,

    and what has been done is what will be done;

    there is nothing new under the sun.

Seneca says the rich are especially prone to boredom.  In Epistle 24 Seneca says boredom can be such a problem that it leads to suicide.  Life is seen not as bitter but superfluous, and one is prone to the libido moriendi or death drive.

Nietzsche knew well the difference between living a tragic life of eternal return of the same where everything is experienced “as though” it had been experienced an infinite number of times, like a warn out recording of a favorite song, and a creative life of eternal return of the same difference where everything is joyous and new.  Nietzsche said in a letter to Overbeck that his creative energies being poured into creating his Third Untimely Meditation left him invulnerable to the agitated boring eternal return of cabin fever that was effecting the people around him (Nietzsche, 1975,: 11.3 382). 

Tying in Seneca with Plato,

Regarding restlessness, In De tranquillitate animi, Seneca addresses a joyous state of mind as peacefully oscillating between satisfaction and dissatisfaction with one’s possessions, between desire for public and private life, and between the high and low literary styles.  He calls this “a great, noble, and godlike thing; not to be shaken,” a phrase Seneca traces to Democritus.  This was euthymia, what for Cicero and Horace was aecuus animus or a calm and balanced mind.

Boredom was a subject which concerned the ancient Greeks, indeed, Socrates suffered the indignity of being criticized by some for repetition and monotony (Kuhn, 1976). The word ‘acedia’ was used at this time, which is closer to what we would describe as tedium. Plato defended his protagonist by asserting the need for consistency. He compared the constancy of the stars with man’s own erratic and disorderly thoughts, and believed that people should aspire to the regularity of the heavenly bodies (Healy, 1984). The early Christians also aspired to this same ideal, with St Thomas Aquinas writing of the soul entering a state of uniformity (Kuhn, 1976). See https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53a79084e4b01786c921de45/t/53a854fae4b0cd712a481fb1/1403540730432/The+Phenomenon+of+Boredom+(Martin,+Sadlo+&+Stew,+2002).pdf

Regarding Aristotle and athanatizein,

For many years now the interpretation of the Nicomachean Ethics has been beset with controversy concerning its penultimate chapters, where it clearly emerges that Aristotle endorses as the best life a career devoted as much as humanly possible to theoria or intellectual contemplation. When we reach the final act of this ethical drama, we have a veritable “divine intervention” in the form of an appeal to the energeia (activity) of divine theoria (contemplation), an activity analogized to that of our own nous (intellect, understanding, thinking faculty), whose proper employment will constitute complete, perfect (teleia) eudaimonia (happiness, well-being?) for us humans (1177b24-5). Furthermore, we are immediately informed, somewhat surprisingly, that such a life would be superior to the human level. For someone will live it not insofar as he is a human being, but insofar as he has some divine element in him (theion ti en hauto). And the activity of this divine element is as much superior to the activity in accord with the rest of virtue (ten allen areten) as this element is superior to the compound (tou sunthetou).

Hence, if understanding (ho nous) is something divine in comparison with a human being, so also will life in accord with understanding be divine in comparison with human life. We ought not to follow the makers of proverbs and ‘Think human, since you are human’, or ‘Think mortal, since you are mortal’. Rather, as far as we can (eph’ hoson endechetai), we ought to be godly (athanatizein), and go to all lengths to live a life in accord with our supreme element (zen kata to kratiston ton en auto); for, however much this element may lack in bulk, by much more it surpasses everything in power and value.  (1177b26-1178a2, tr. Irwin).   See (https://orb.binghamton.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1368&context=sagp)

How is Aristotle to be interpreted here so it is more than just a random word collage?  When we do go to Aristotle’s Metaphysics Lambda 9, we are presented there with a picture of God’s thought as focused obsessively on Itself as a “sort of heavenly Narcissus” who finds nothing better to opine than Its own perfect Self, settling “into a posture of permanent self-admiration” (Norman, p. 63 [93]).

To understand this, remember the ancient Greeks generally abhorred aging as it represented a decline from highly prized youth and vigor. Ambrosia feasting gods differed from mortals in that they were eternally in the bloom of youth.  However older warriors, elder philosophers and statesmen were typically well treated.  The youthfulness of youth, compared with the depressed, cynical retiree waiting to die, is in encountering the vibrant, which means being directed at themselves.  Why?  This was the godliness of the gods, forever young, the wonder years in perpetuity.  Aristotle speaks of the athanatizein of the thinker directed at the eternal of the world, and hence himself, such as contemplating the in-between of the boringness of the book or the equipmentality of the hammer – ways in which we are ek-static, outside ourselves.  Dickens in David Copperfield gives a clear example of this with youthful romantic love: "I was sensible of a mist of love and beauty about Dora, but of nothing else ... it was all Dora to me. The sun shone Dora, and the birds sang Dora. The south wind blew Dora, and the wild flowers in the hedges were all Doras, to a bud.  (Dickens, 2015, ch 33, Blissful)."  This person encountering Dora in everything was, obviousl, encountering his own projections.  In encountering the boringness of the book, I am in contact with something other, but also simply with myself since the next person need not find the book boring.  There is contact with boringness, but without the soul encountering this stretching out of time there is no time.  Similarly, the equipmentality of the hammer belongs to the hammer, is one of its traits, but from another point of view not so since we could say the large rock serves the same function as the hammer, but we do not consider the rock to be essentially equipment.  In this way we have a relationship to Being that philosophical analysis is an attuning-to.

Euthymia (Greek: εὐθυμία, "gladness, good mood, serenity", literally "good thumos") is a term used by Democritus to refer to one of the root aspects of human life's goal.  Diogenes Laërtius records Democritus' position as "The chief good he asserts to be cheerfulness (euthymia); which, however, he does not consider the same as pleasure; as some people, who have misunderstood him, have fancied that he meant; but he understands by cheerfulness, a condition according to which the soul lives calmly and steadily, being disturbed by no fear, or superstition, or other passion."  In Seneca’s essay on tranquility, he uses the Greek word euthymia, which he defines as “believing in yourself and trusting that you are on the right path, and not being in doubt by following the myriad footpaths of those wandering in every direction.” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthymia_(philosophy)#:~:text=Euthymia%20(Greek%3A%20%CE%B5%E1%BD%90%CE%B8%CF%85%CE%BC%CE%AF%CE%B1%2C%20%22,aspects%20of%20human%20life's%20goal.)

Regarding the inherent restlessness of human life, Plutarch in Pyrrhus 13 talks of a nauseous boredom (alus nautiodes), like what Achilles felt when there was ease.  Nietzsche picks up on the boredom issue in the genealogy of moral 2.24 and 3.14, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra where Kaufmann and Holingdale say the great nausea is a central concept.  Like Nietzsche’s caged bird in The Gay Science, simply through confinement, a battery hen will go through listlessness, then anger and self directed violence, finally repetitive and self destructive motor acts and eventually death. 

With Seneca we have a more firmly developed notitia sui, a self more fully understood according to the categories of inside/outside.  The concept of boredom has evolved inwardly.  Boredom grows to be an estrangement between person and world. Perception intensifies inward and becomes duller outward.  Now we have a clear demarcation between person and world.  This seems to be what Heidegger means when he says boredom is the fundamental attunement.  Foucault is instructive here:

While in early societies life was led in public, so to speak, in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds, particularly among the Cynics, Epicureans and Stoics, the importance gradually emerged of the individual in his singularity.  It would make sense here that lack of care would emerge as the bane of care of oneself since the increased individuation of the individual is a kind of asceticism and isolating, like that of the monk.  As a consequence, the necessity of cultivating a private life came to the fore.  Here the subject was able to focus on himself and take care of himself. In this context, Foucault describes the care of oneself (epimeleia heautou)—particularly as we find it in Plato (Ap. 29D-30B; Alc. 119A; 128A)—as the general form of spirituality in antiquity (Foucault 1990b)[29].  This self-conscious concern for one’s own subjectivity, if we may call it that, was focused not just on the body but also the soul (psuchē), and was made concrete in the form of spiritual exercises (askēsis).  These, Foucault argues, were characterised by a particular kind of inwardness, in an attentiveness to the self (prosochē) and in the practice of telling the truth about oneself (parrhēsia).  Foucault came to this view particularly through a close reading of Plato’s Alcibiades and of Seneca.  In the former, particularly in Plato’s expression auto to auto (Alc. I. 130D), he sees ‘a crucial innovative move towards the idea of self-fashioning’ (Gill 2009: 349). In the History of Sexuality Volume 3—first published as Le Souci de soi by Gallimard, Paris in 1984—Foucault notices that Seneca cites the aphorism ‘spend your whole life learning how to live’. This, he says, was an invitation to transform one’s life into a permanent ‘exercise’ (Foucault 1990b: 48-9)[31].  In this context he also discussed the notion of vacare in Seneca.

Foucault points out the description of Stagirius suffering an attack of boredom is startling. Stagirius' symptoms were "twisted hands, rolling eyes, a distorted voice, tremors, senselessness, and an awful dream at night—a wild, muddy boarrushed violently to accost him.''

St. John's description modifies the Evagrian portrait in two important ways. First, athumia, or acedia, was far more violent than anything described by Evagrius. The second important modification concerns the epidemiology of acedia. The disease is not restricted to the anchoritic community. He compares the attack suffered by Stagirius to those suffered by individuals living delicate (in Greek they are Tpvcpwvxac;) in the world: "Many, while they live in a debauched fashion, are taken by this plague. But after a little time they are freed from the illness, and regain perfect health and many, and have many children, and enjoy all the benefits of this  life" (PG 47. 425).  Foucault also notices that the trope of vacare continues to appear in the early monastic tradition.

In his treatment of subjectivity Foucault acknowledged his debt to Pierre Hadot who had demonstrated that the Stoics, among others, had insisted that philosophy was not a question of learning a set of abstract principles or even the exegesis of texts, but a therapeutic exercise that causes us to be more fully, and makes us better.  We have seen above with Aristotle the difference between just learning the categories and why one should pursue theoria.  For Foucault this amounts to a transformation (epistrophē) which changes the life of those who go through it (Hadot 1987).  It is a process and as such takes time.  Indeed, a lifetime. Spiritual exercises amount to a regular daily programme that make possible a gradual transformation of the self.  Foucault makes the point that the retreat within oneself that constitutes epimeleia is not a ‘rest cure’ but implies a labour, a set of activities, including conversations with a ‘guide or director’, and reading[34] (Foucault 1990b: 50-51).  While the former makes spiritual exercises a social practice, the latter recalls Evagrius’ description of the way akēdia impacts on the ascetic’s ability to sustain reading and the central place reading had within askēsis.

The lists of exercises that have come down to us from antiquity include self-research, investigation (skepsis), reading, freedom of speech (parrhēsia), and attentiveness (prosochē).  This latter refers to a kind of vigilance of mind and self-consciousness.  It includes concentration on the present moment and the examination of dreams.  Here we see an intimate connection between presence to others and presence to oneself.  For every spiritual exercise is a dialogue and the interlocutor is extremely important, even if at times the dialogue becomes a combat.  What counts is not the solution but the process.  It is here that the subject forms her or his thought (Hadot 1987).  Parrhēsia refers to the need to conceal nothing of what one thinks but rather to speak in complete openness to one’s ‘guide’ (Allouch 2014).

So, Akēdia needs to be understood in relation to care (kēdos) and specifically in relation to care for oneself.  Fundamentally, akēdia signifies a kind of carelessness with regard to the self.  Commentators have generally neglected this fact.  Miquel alone refers to ‘le manqué de soin’ but he does so only in reference to the use of the word in classical Greek (Miquel 1986: 19).  Yet one of the essential meanings of akēdia in monastic literature in late antiquity is an indifference in regard to the care of the self—represented as a loathing of the place (horror loci) (Cass. inst. 10. 2) and consequent wandering from the monastic cell (e.g. Pall. h. Laus. XVI. 2; XXI. 1).  As well as being listed as one of the disordered thoughts (VG 36.2), in the Vita of Antony akēdia retains this sense of carelessness (VG 17.4; 19.1).  The impulse to leave the cell signifying a desire to be elsewhere (Apoph. Pat. Alph. Antony 1 = Syst. VII. 1; cf. Evag. Pr. 12); an inability, that is to say, to remain in the present moment.  As such, it was both an anticipation and mirror image of the more total abandonment of the practice spiritual exercises (askēsis).  This included neglecting attentiveness (prosochē) to one’s disordered and compulsive thoughts (logismoi) and dreams, an inability to concentrate or persevere with reading, and an abandonment of the practice of saying everything (parrhēsia) to one’s spiritual director.  This latter, possibly the most decisive, was significant because it indicated the way in which the subject articulated and enunciated himself in his being.  This dual characteristic of speech is indicative not only of free association but of an analysis itself.  Anxietas denotes a spectrum from minor or intermediate severity that could lead to severe depression, despair, and even suicide.  In the monastic period akēdia more commonly signified a pathological form of boredom at the milder end of this spectrum.  One that, nevertheless, was often accompanied by physical symptoms. (see Acadeia and Care of Self: https://www.journal-psychoanalysis-and-the-care-of-the-self-a-contribution-to-the-study-of-the-relationship-between-the-tradition-of-spiritual-exercises-and-psychoanalysis/)

Applying this to our time and covid, Australian Catholic University’s Jonathan Zecher pretty much nails it:

With some communities in rebooted lockdown conditions and movement restricted everywhere else, no one is posting pictures of their sourdough. Zoom cocktail parties have lost their novelty, Netflix can only release so many new series. The news seems worse every day, yet we compulsively scroll through it.

We get distracted by social media, yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. We’re bored, listless, afraid and uncertain.

Now, however, the pandemic and governmental responses to it create social conditions that approximate those of desert monks. No demons, perhaps, but social media offers a barrage of bad (or misleading) news. Social distancing limits physical contact. Lockdown constricts physical space and movement. Working from home or having lost work entirely both upend routines and habits. In these conditions, perhaps it’s time to bring back the term.

Reviving the language of acedia is important to our experience in two ways. First, it distinguishes the complex of emotions brought on by enforced isolation, constant uncertainty and the barrage of bad news from clinical terms like ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’. Saying, ‘I’m feeling acedia’ could legitimise feelings of listlessness and anxiety as valid emotions in our current context without inducing guilt that others have things worse.

Second, and more importantly, the feelings associated with physical isolation are exacerbated by emotional isolation – that terrible sense that this thing I feel is mine alone. When an experience can be named, it can be communicated and even shared. Learning to express new or previously unrecognised constellations of feelings, sensations, and thoughts, builds an emotional repertoire, which assists in emotional regulation. Did we take pleasure in another’s pain before we heard about Schadenfreude from Avenue Q? Did we know that we love to be cuddled and warm and safe until we learned the Danish word, hygge? Of course. However, naming and expressing experiences allows us to claim some agency in dealing with them. (see https://theconversation.com/acedia-the-lost-name-for-the-emotion-were-all-feeling-right-now-144058)

 As we, like Cassian’s desert monks, struggle through our own ‘long, dark teatime of the soul’, we can name this experience, which is now part of our emotional repertoire.

“When you tell people you’re writing about the spiritual aspect of sloth, they don’t know what you mean. But when you say ‘indifference,’ they do. They understand not being able to care, and being so not able to care that you don’t care that you don’t care. The not caring is the sin; it’s worth something to be present with others.”

Norris sees a distinct path to contemporary culture, one that is oversaturated with data but little real information. “In this hyped-up world, broadcast and Internet news media have emerged as acedia’s perfect vehicles, demanding that we care, all at once, about a suicide bombing, a celebrity divorce and the latest advance in nanotechnology,” she writes. But the ceaseless bombardment, she suggests, “makes us impervious to caring.”

Brandt, Dahm, McAllister argue understanding how acedia manifests differently in Kierkegaard’s esthete, ethical, and religious stages on life’s way is crucial to understanding Kierkegaard’s overall programme. See https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339187747_A_Perspectival_Account_of_Acedia_in_the_Writings_of_Kierkegaard

Regarding Aquinas,

St. Thomas Aquinas writes about acedia in his Summa theologiae as “a sort of heavy sadness . . . that presses down on a man’s mind in such a way that no activity pleases him.” Evagrius of Pontus, a third-century Desert Father, writes that acedia is a kind of atonia or relaxation of the soul. St. Thomas tells us that the Noonday Devil wants to accomplish two things in us: first, sadness about spiritual good, and second, disgust with activity. All human action begins in the soul, which is where all our intentions and “will power” are derived. The enemy knows that if our souls can be broken, it will have far-reaching effects both spiritually and practically.

Like C.S. Lewis’ “Uncle Screwtape,” the Noonday Devil is an old, seasoned veteran of his dark art. In the Old Testament of the Bible, we are warned of the threat of acedia. Psalm 91, traditionally attributed to Moses as its composer, warns against “the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday” (Psalm 91:6). (see https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/acedia-beating-back-the-noonday-devil/27158/)

But, as was mentioned earlier in this paper, it was the desert monks of the early Church who really brought the spiritual threat of acedia into the limelight. Fourth-century Desert Father John Cassian, a contemporary of Evagrius, illustrates how acedia manifests in a monk’s cell:

He fancies that he will never be well while he stays in that place, unless he leaves his cell. . . . Then the fifth or sixth hour brings him such bodily weariness and longing for food that he seems to himself worn out and wearied. . . . Then besides this he looks about anxiously this way and that, and sighs that none of the brethren come to see him, and often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun, as if it was too slow in setting, and so a kind of unreasonable confusion of mind takes possession of him like some foul darkness, and makes him idle and useless for every spiritual work, so that he imagines that no cure for so terrible an attack can be found in anything except visiting some one of the brethren, or in the solace of sleep alone.

For such ascetics of the desert, midday was when the sun was most viciously beating down on them, their energy was waning, and their fasting stomachs were growling. It was well known among the monks that it was then that the merciless Noonday Devil would be most looking to strike. They understood that when they were at their weakest—when they were hungry, bored, tired, angry, frustrated, or whatever—they needed to be most ready to engage the enemy and defend themselves. When we are weak, we are easy targets. But when we are spiritually alive and empowered by divine grace, we are a force for any demon to reckon with. (see https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/acedia-beating-back-the-noonday-devil/27158/)

 

THE QUESTION OF THE BEING OF THE PHILOSOPHER

 Boredom at everyday things, and in fact the height of everyday opinion, being wealthy, is outlined in Plato’s Symposium 173c where Apollodorus says the concerns of the rich are literally thinking and acting prattle, literally nothing:

“Anyway, whenever I talk myself on any philosophical subject or I listen to others talking, quite apart from thinking it is doing me good I enjoy it enormously. But when I listen to other kinds of discussion, especially from people like you, rich money-makers, I get bored on my own account and at the same time I feel sorry for you, my companions, because you think you are achieving something when you are achieving nothing.”

Heidegger pointed out Aristotle asked: 

Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly of an atrabilious temperament, and some of them to such an extent as to be affected by diseases caused by black bile, as is said to have happened to Heracles among the heroes? (Problemata XXX.1 953a10-14) 

The Philosopher is not caught up in the everyday, like Thales falling in the ditch, but that distance from life, which brings melancholy, also grants perspective to see things other are too caught up in to notice.  And, as I said above, Heraclitus said the masses were like well fed cattle, the image being of a fat cow sating itself on a patch of grass, and when done, moving on to the next patch/distraction.  Heraclitus implied the average person should cultivate being content with the simple hearth, since they wouldn't cultivate attunement to everlasting glory.

To reiterate, Heidegger says   

“Aristotle,  Plato's disciple,  relates  at one place  (Nicomachean  Ethics, Z 7, 1141b 7ff.)  the basic conception determining the Greek  view on the  essence of the  thinker: ‘lt is said  they  (the  thinkers)  indeed know things that are excessive, and thus astounding, and thereby difficult, and hence in  general 'demonic'-but also  useless,  for  they are  not seeking what is, according to straightforward popular opinion, good for man." The Greeks, to whom we owe the essence and name of "philosophy" and of the  "philosopher,"  already knew quite  well  that thinkers  are not "close  to  life."  But only  the  Greeks  concluded  from  this  lack  of closeness to life that the thinkers are then the most necessary-precisely in  view of the essential  misery of man. (Heidegger Parmenides 100).”

Gadamer in Heidegger 's Ways, explains this well in relation to the aei, "Heidegger made the ingenious observation that 'always,' aei, was not so much having to do with aetemitas [eternity], but must be thought along the lines of [what is at the time], of that which is present. This can be drawn from the usage of the language : Ho aei Basileuon, [the king at the time, not the eternal king]." (145) The masses are enamored with what is current, that is what “speaks to them,” such as gossip.  For the importance of gossip in ancient Greece, see https://theweek.com/articles/823175/power-gossip-ancient-greece .

So, we have Being, such as the shimmering glitter of gold of Pindar or the glow of Heraclitus’ fire, that which has luster or speaks to us, parestios in distinction to deinon (Homer’s Kalypso; Sophocles Antigone / Apolis):  Transforming  in the history of Being from the current stance of one’s achievement of virtue in the polis and the underlying restlessness/fleetingness of this, to attuning one’s restlessness to aei such as the concept which neither comes to be nor passes away but simply is, and so overcoming Greek restlessness with pure repose.   (Some researchers have suggested boredom was such a ubiquitous part of ancient Greek life that it wasn’t necessary to name it precisely. In the same way that we don’t think about the fact that we are breathing all the time, maybe ancient Greeks didn’t identify their constant boredom, just its symptoms/manifestations).

 A concept is supposedly what did not originate in time, and what will not pass away in time, has no future or past, but simply is, as though the concept is in a kind of extended now that never began and will never end.  Aristotle compares wisdom to a healthy individual: For instance, Circumspection (insight) is that which can restore a person to health. But what is even better is an individual that is already healthy, for he "is healthy without further ado, ie., he simply is what he is (PS, 1 17)." Wisdom is to be thought of in this way, it is the proper state of our spiritual being. Wisdom, as tarrying along with that which is everlasting, is considered by Aristotle to be the highest possibility of Dasein, and yet since man has all kinds of other needs and desires, he cannot perpetually exercise his highest possibility. Nonetheless, as wisdom is the pure onlooking upon that which never changes, then the looking itself bears no alteration, "the possibility of a pure tarrying, which has nothing of the unrest of seeking (Heidegger, Plato’s Sophist, 120)." For the Greek thinkers, according to the nature of their existence, it was the general unrest of life that was misery and so the opposite of it, the absence of unrest, was therefore the highest good. For the most part, the various comportments of man's life (be them in concern of prudence, justice, etc.) imply a relation to others. Wisdom as the highest possibility of man, on the other hand, while it is often helpful to have others to discuss with, is entirely focused on the single individual because in the disclosing of beings no one can have your insights for you.  For the Greeks Philosophical Dasein, if it is maintained over the whole of one's life by being understood as the proper one, is a kind of deathlessness, athanatizein, since the comportment that relates to and hence apprehends (the way in which the philosopher is-there with) the eternal, the unchanging, must itself be unchanging, must not stray but tarry with the unchanging, and hence in a sense is deathless (divine without cessation), since what is unchanging admits of no passing away, "[herein resides the peculiar tendency of the accommodation of the temporality of human Dasein to the eternity of the world ... This is the extreme position to which the Greeks carried human Dasein."(Heidegger Plato’s Sophist, 122).

The key distinction with the Greeks is between the forever youthful Gods and the mortals who go from the joy of youth to the listlessness of old age.  According to Philostratus the Elder, Hebe was youngest of the gods and responsible for keeping them eternally young, and thus was the most revered by them.  Her role of ensuring the eternal youth of the other gods is appropriate with her role of serving as cupbearer, as the word ambrosia has been linked to a possible Proto-Indo-European translation related to immortality, undying, and lifeforce.  For instance, in contrast, Xenophon said Socrates wanted to die so as to avoid the mental and emotional deterioration of old age.  Plato said Socrates last words to Crito was to sacrifice a rooster for Asclepius, implying that the poison was a cure for the disease of life.

Given this, Heraclitus identifies Being with the play of a child, referencing the absorption of a child in life, such as lost in a game of make believe with a box.  We all know a key difference between children and adults is that you can give a box to a child and they can become enraptured in it and make a game out of it.  This sparkle is missing from the old adult’s eye, but not the Thinker’s.

So, the name Hebe comes from the Greek word meaning "youth" or "prime of life". Juventus likewise means "youth", as can be seen in such derivatives as juvenile.

The idea that boredom and restlessness are simply a modern existentialist’s problem seems to completely misread the human condition.  In fact, in the 2nd century AD in one Roman official was memorialized with a public inscription for rescuing an entire town from boredom (the Latin taedia), though exactly how is lost to the ages. And the vast amount of ancient graffiti on Roman walls is a testament to the fact that teenagers in every era deface property because they have nothing else to do.

The prime of life as athanatizein or youthfulness of the thinker is contrasted with the condition of misery of the common man.  What is the philosopher as athanatizein?  The Greeks saw the death life of man in Hades as “forever,” but it was not a deathlessness or athanatizein in the sense of an “immortal” god.  So both gods and humans are immortal, but only immortals and thinkers are divine.  Aristotle points to an athanatizein gained through theoria as the highest human possibility.  We can see the nature of deathlessness contrasted with mortal in the character of dead half God Heracles who was somehow half subject to the being in Hades of a mortal, and half at the feast of the gods:  “Heracles— his ghost [eidōlon], I mean; the man himself delights in the grand feasts of the deathless gods on high, wed to Hebe. (Odyssey, Book 11, lines 90–93).”  The basic distinction is between humans and Gods.  The mortal-ness of the human does not consist in the cessation of their existence, since they live on forever, but rather when they are stripped of sensuous body and shimmering world that satiates them, what is left over is the fundamental monotony and restlessness as a shade. 

One researcher characterizes the ancients in the following way: “Imagine spending every day churning butter, or tending a field of crops, or weaving fabric — all by hand. Few people moved beyond their immediate surroundings; one historian estimates that 80% of medieval Europeans, for example, never traveled more than 20 miles from their homes.  Most people in the past did the same (often physically grueling) tasks day after day in the company of the same small group of people. Their options for entertainment were slim — most people could not read in these societies, and the same myths and stories were repeated over and over.” (see https://medium.com/lessons-from-history/how-did-ancient-people-deal-with-boredom-dfeae9f9aa74)

To be attuned to the eternal overcomes restlessness in pure repose for the Greeks.  Heidegger points out that since Plato, anything that ‘is’ can be differentiated into two realms, the aistheton and the noeton, that which is apprehended by the senses and that which can be seen by nous, the mind’s eye. The noeton is that which truly is because it is not subject to the changeability of the things of the senses, and hence are constant. The particular house shows the essence, the essence presences through the particular, the essence being house as such, but only in a limited way, and hence is me on, not simply nothing, ouk on, but me on (hence Plato clarifies the ontological difference in the Sophist), deficient with respect to what truly is, the primary image, the paradeigma (cf Heidegger HHTI, 24)  The primary image does not come to be or pass away, but “is,” in contrast to the things of the senses.

Schematizing Being according to time as I talked about before where concepts neither comes to be or passes away, but “is,” needs to be thought in terms of what really lies behind the ontological difference with the Greeks.  It’s easy to see how something as “being-deficient-in-comparison” can come out of the ancient Greek culture because humans were seen in every way deficient when compared to the gods.  The goddess Beauty may presence “enargeis” through the beautiful woman, who is none the less still deficient in comparison to the full presence of the goddess, and the goddess presencing even to a less or deficient degree through the average looking woman.  Similarly, the exemplary beautiful mansion announces “Now this is a house,” while still only approximating the ideal, and the warn down shack doing so to much less of a degree. Within this we see the beginning of the shift from world to subject, since Homer say the gods don’t appear to everyone enargeis, making the point that Odysseus was experiencing the full presencing of the goddess in the beautiful woman, while those around him did not see her in that way.

Heidegger comments in his Nietzsche book that for metaphysical Platonism 

“What is most longed for in eros, and therefore the  Idea that is brought into fundamental relation, is what at the same time appears and radiates most brilliantly.  The erasmiotaton, which at the same time is ekphanestaton, proves to be the idea tou kalou, the Idea of the beautiful, beauty (Heidegger, 1991, 167).”  

For example, as I said, in a Greek sense, a woman might be perceived “as though” she was an avatar of Beauty itself, as though Beauty was presencing through her.  What Plato primarily has in mind is beauty of what is perceived by the mind’s eye, like the way Justice shines through language as avatar, personified in words, when truth is attained by being brought to word regarding Justice.  We do not invent the meaning of justice, but rather uncover or recollect what it always was and will be.  When the marriage laws were rewritten because they did violence to LGBTQ rights, we say this was done in accordance with the principle of justice that human life is lived in accordance with, and the revision process was the very definition of Justice, which is hardly to see directly (phusis kryptesthai philei), but is phenomenalized when transgressed.

Counterposed to the unhomely, to restlessness, dwelling is to be at peace, and Heidegger says “in what does the nature of dwelling consist? … The Old Saxon wuon, the Gothic wunian, like the old word bauen, mean to remain, to stay in place. But the Gothic wunian says more distinctly how this remaining is experienced. Wunian means: to be at peace, to be brought to peace, to remain in peace (PLT, BDT, 148-9).” The Greeks called the parestios, the counter concept of apolis/deinon.  However, the unhomeliness of mortal man, as opposed to the divine, consists precisely in his restless lack of ability to remain at home, “The real dwelling plight lies in this, that mortals ever search anew for the nature of dwelling, that they must ever learn to dwell (Heidegger, PLT, BDT, 161).”

As I said above, given this, Heraclitus identifies Being with the play of a child.  We all know a key difference between children and adults is that you can give a box to a child and they can become enraptured in it and make a game out of it.  This sparkle is missing from the adult’s eye, but not the Thinker’s.  The formal structure of the Greek understanding of Being seems to be the “para.”  Heidegger is able to connect Heraclitus’ fire with the lustrous radiance of the gold of Pindar, “[t]he hearth is the site of being-homely … Latin vesta is the Roman name for the goddess of the hearth fire … para: alongside – beside, or more precisely, in the sphere of the same presence; parestios, the one who is present within the sphere of protection and intimacy belonging to the homestead and who belongs to the radiance and warmth and glow of this fire (Heidegger’s HHTI, 106,). ” This is what Heidegger hears when he uses the term Presence for the Greeks.

From a modern point of view, this “para” is evidenced, for instance, when we look at boredom.  The boringness of the TV show is certainly experienced as “other,” as a characteristic of the show, even though it also isn’t since the next person need not experience the boringness of the same show.  It is a way the mind/body auto-affects itself.  Boredom is not part of the essence of the show, but “para” the show.  Similarly, Dreyfus says we have a sharp distinction between Heidegger and Searle, since, for instance, Heidegger would say the “equipmentality” of the hammer isn’t as Searle would say an attached “function predicate” to the hammer, but rather equipmentality both does and doesn’t formally belong to the hammer, since a rock can also be used as a hammer, but we don’t consider the rock to formally be equipment.  Heidegger thus makes a distinction between Self/Other Philosophy like Descartes and Husserl, and his Being-in-the world framework.  For instance, Heidegger says when we have a head or stomach ache, our physiological condition changes the way we experience beings, and so for instance the tv show I am watching when a headache comes on starts to presence in an irritating manner, and I just want to close my eyes and go to bed and be left alone.  Heidegger comments: 

“When our stomachs are ‘out of sorts’ they cast a pall over all things. What would otherwise seem indifferent to us suddenly becomes irritating and disturbing; what we usually take in stride now impedes us … [F]eeling is not something that runs its course in our inner lives! It is rather that basic nature of our Dasein by force of which and in advance with which we are already lifted beyond ourselves into beings as a whole, which in this or that way matters to us or does not matter to us. Mood is never merely a way of being determined in our inner being for ourselves. It is above all a way of being attuned, in this or that way of mood. Mood is precisely the basic way in which we are outside ourselves. But that is the way we are essentially and constantly (Heidegger Nietzsche vol 1, 99)

Heidegger says it is precisely the failure of Husserl’s basic concepts to adequately provide a framework for accounting for the phenomenon of attunement with the world.  I want to argue that this original unity with the world that precedes the Self/Other distinction (as is obvious from the history of the concepts of boredom and polis identified above) can help us understand Heidegger’s implicit philosophy of Love.  It is precisely with this auto-affection or contact with myself in encountering the other that Heidegger identifies love as a paradigmatic kind of being unified being with things/beings.   The ways in which I am encountering my presencing beloved as lovable are precisely not ways the next person needs to be encountering my beloved.  My beloved isn’t going to be presencing in loveableness to the vast majority of other people: probably just to me.  So, I would argue it is precisely in the way my beloved transforms me and how I transform it/her that brings us to a unified creative love as agape beyond the eros of Achilles: Agape as bestowing loveableness/worthiness (eg, in a religious context Jesus says even an enemy can be loved ; God loves both sinner and saint, etc), which is more primordial and makes possible love as eros (I love her because she is beautiful).  The Eros of Achilles pre-supposes a more fundamental creative and bestowing agape, since the next person need not to find my beloved beautiful.  This can be made clear in the case of objectophilia, someone developing romantic and sexual attraction to objects like towers and bridges.

Heidegger says the thinkers in every essential epoch recognize their (the age's) particular incarnation of boring Same, but are not a prisoner to it, do not have being-addicted as their principle.  To be a thinker is to stand apart from the masses and their being-addicted that has boredom as their principle, the thinker arriving because they have something joyous as their principle, such as Nietzsche's eternal return of the same difference analyzed above, in contrast to the tragic eternal return of the masses:

“But because human beings now concern themselves, for various reasons, with the continually new and up-to-date, whatever exhausts itself in always and only being the same is completely boring to them.  It is precisely in order to ensure that this absolute (i.e., the boring same) will not be forgotten through the course of the history of a people that a thinker occasionally arrives.  Admittedly, this is perhaps not the sole reason, and certainly not the true reason, that the thinker arrives (Heidegger, Heraclitus 1943, 2018, 32-33).”

Heidegger writes that the most profound boredom consists in the fact that nothing concerns or oppresses us absolutely, , 

"[t]he deepest, essential need in Dasein is not that a particular actual need oppresses us, but that an essential oppressiveness refuses itself, that we scarcely apprehend and are scarcely able to apprehend this telling refusal of any oppressiveness as a whole." (from Heidegger, FCM, 163-165)

Because since man is so essentially run through by this subtle boredom, a demand is made on man to be there,

 ''Dasein as such is demanded of man, that it is given to him - to be there. (From FCM, 163-5)

So, Heidegger distinguishes things (that which intimately concerns us) from objects, and says regarding things and love it is here we truly see a unity where the other is transformed and we find ourselves (auto affection), just as the other transforms me:

“The Roman word res designates that which concerns somebody, … that which is pertinent, which has a bearing … In Enghsh ‘thing’ has still preserved the full semantic power ofthe Roman word: ‘He knows his things,’ he understands the matters that have a bearing on him … The Roman word res denotes what pertains to man, concerns him and his interests in any way or manner. That which concerns man is what is real in res … Thus Meister Eckhart says, adopting an expression of Dionysius the Areopagite: love is of such a nature that it changes man into the things he loves (PLT, T, 175-6).”

In his Nietzsche book, Heidegger says in love (as in hate), we see a paradigmatic case of an object of concern being encountered as lovable or hated (though the next person need not and probably doesn’t experience my beloved or hated in this way), which correspondingly transforms who I am and how it is for me to be in the world (see Heidegger Nietzsche vol 1, 49). When someone/thing so concerns us so, either in love or hate, we say in English that she’s the ‘thing’ or it’s the thing, it/she is what matters to us in a pre-eminent sense, it gathers our existence together in the sense that our whole life obtains meaning from and revolves around it/her.  Just remember being in “puppy love!”

One other point is that Heidegger says Sophocles in the Antigone brings this Greek framework to its fullest expression, with the opposition between parestios [being at home in the warmth of the hearth fire] on one hand, and apolis/deinon [homelessness] on the other as encapsulating what the human condition meant for the tragic Greeks: Tragic in the sense that like Greek literary tragedy, human life begins with the joyous liveliness of youth, and proceeds as a down-going.

Heidegger says there is an interesting line of interpretation of the Greeks with Bockh, then developed by Burckhardt, and most fully explored with Nietzsche that the Greeks were more unhappy than most people realize (see Heidegger, Parmenides lecture course, 90; Basic Questions of Philosophy, 40)  The current situation is that the current age is a natural culmination of an Oak tree born out of the tragic Greek inception acorn: becoming further and further withdrawn from nearness to life.  

I would say that just as there is the joyous aspect of the “child at play” in Heraclitus, we can’t ignore the tragic element, such as in “Heraclitus: The Inception of Occidental Thinking. Logic. Heraclitus’ Teaching of the Logos” where Heidegger points to “the dreadful non-essence of all beings (Heidegger, 2018: 11).”  We have the Greek  image of Odysseus stuck on the island of Calypso for seven years, the deine theos, pining for home.  She even offered Odysseus godhood!  So we have the image of the hero who should be sated in the presence of the goddess, none the less riddled by lack.  I think that’s a powerful image of the human condition.  It’s like Heraclitus being warmed by the simple hearth, and the idea that Odysseus went out questing but what he really wanted was at home.  This is reminiscent of Nietzsche before he discovered eternal recurrence when he said:

“Being Satisfied: That maturity of understanding is reached when one no longer goes to where the rarest roses of knowledge grow amidst the thorniest hedgerows, but is satisfied with the field and the meadow, in the understanding that life is too short for the rare and extraordinary (Nietzsche, Human all too Human, 399).”

What does this mean. Let us briefly recapitulate Heidegger argues the polis I analyzed above is where things appear as they are, pelei. But the polis is also the home of the counter essence of the abode, polla ta deina ... pelei, manifold is the uncanny (Antigone 332, cited at P, 90 by Heidegger)." Jacob Burckhardt understood this as the essential tragedy of the Greek polis, "the frightfulness, the horribleness, the atrociousness of the Greek Polis (P, 90)." Burckhardt, adopting the insight of his teacher Bockh structured his teaching of the Greeks around the ground that 

"the Hellenes were more unhappy than most people think (P, 90; also cf. BQP, 40)." 

Heidegger says A young Nietzsche attained an auditors transcript of this lecture and, as Heidegger says, "cherished the manuscript as his most precious treasure (90)."

Burckhardt, however, since he did not approach the Greeks in terms of the essential homelessness of man, was unable to understand why the Polis was understood as a place of disorder and disaster, since the polis is not so much an actual place as the historical abode of man. The polis as the abode did not simply bear within itself the horrific as the uncanny, as was said above, polla ta deina, but also the deinon of the human himself, the essential unhomeliness, restlessness of man. Bemasconi, in his analysis of deinon, fails to bring out this essential element when he says "Heidegger understands Sophocles' word "to deinon' in terms of the relation between know-how as the violence of human know-how and dike as the overpowering junction (Justice, 85)." Deinon does not so much concern this, but rather the essential restlessness, not-being-at-peace of man. McNeil is better here, prefacing an essay on the deinon with the following key passage from FCM, "Man is that inability to remain and is yet unable to leave his place (Scarcely, 169). Characterizing the deinon, McNeill says the following, "Heidegger's translation of to deinon, 'the decisive word,' as das Unheimliche - intends this word to be understood in the sense of das Unheimische, that which is 'unhomely,' something 'not at home' that nevertheless belongs, in an everequivocal manner, to the worldly dwelling of human beings (Scarcely, 183)." In precise note, McNeill adds that for Heidegger "to deinon is "the fundamental word ... of Greek tragedy in general, and thereby the fundamental word of Greek antiquity, (cited from Heidegger, Scarcely, 188n.47)." Heidegger comments, referring to another place in Sophocles, that "[s]uch is the rise and the fall of man in his historical abode of essence - hupsipolis - apolis - far exceeding abodes, homeless, as Sophocles calls man.”  Even the seeming escape of thoughtful inquiry is subject to this.  In the 1943 lecture course on Heraclitus, Heidegger talks about the inquiry into Being that the ancient Greeks delighted in now in modern times that causes boredom and annoyance because it seems like beating around the bush that doesn’t result in anything.   When Aristotle says that the life of theoria [contemplation], which exceeds phronesis [practical wisdom], is a kind of godly life, an athanatizein [to be immortal] (whereby athanatizein is formed like hellenizein [to be Greek]), that implies that in theoria we comport ourselves like immortals, to be godly. In theoria mortals reach up to the way of being of the gods, unlike poor Odysseus on the island of Calypso the deine theos, but could find no satiety in the radiant goddess.

 

CONCLUSION

RECAPITULATION

The demon of acedia holds an important place in early monastic demonology and proto-psychology. In the late fourth century Evagrius of Pontus, for example, characterizes it as "the most troublesome of all" of the eight genera of evil thoughts. As with those who followed him, Evagrius sees acedia as a temptation, and the great danger lies in giving in to it, abandoning care as doing God’s work. Evagrius' contemporary the Desert Father John Cassian, depicted the apathetic restlessness of acedia, "the noonday demon", in the coenobitic monk:

He looks about anxiously this way and that, and sighs that none of the brethren come to see him, and often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun, as if it was too slow in setting, and so a kind of unreasonable confusion of mind takes possession of him like some foul darkness. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acedia)

Here’s what Evagrius of Pontus has to say about acedia:

“First of all, [the demon of acedia] makes it appear that the sun moves slowly or not at all, and that the day seems to be fifty hours long. Then he compels the monk to look constantly toward the windows, to jump out of the cell, to watch the sun to see how far it is from the ninth hour, to look this way and that… And further he instills in him a dislike for the place and for his state of life itself, for manual labor, and also the idea that love has disappeared from among the brothers and there is no one to console him. And if there is someone who has offended the monk, this too the demon uses to add further to his dislike (of the place). He leads him on to the desire for other places where he can easily find the wherewithal to meet his needs and pursue a trade that is easier and more productive; he adds that pleasing the Lord is not a question of being in a particular place…and he deploys every device in order to have the monk leave his cell and flee the stadium.” (see https://cct.biola.edu/fighting-noonday-demon-kathleen-norris-acedia-boredom-desert-spirituality/)

Similarly, Blaise Pascal, from his Pensees, or Thoughts—particularly the section on Diversion, admits, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

Acedia tempts you to leave your station. It tempts you to sleep or disengage. It tempts you to fill your life with noise—whether that’s TV, or social media.  It’s the opposite of mindful fulfilling of your responsibility, come what may. It leads to restlessness and instability.

A 2014 article published in Science magazine presents findings from 11 studies, that subjects would rather administer mild electric shocks to themselves rather than sit alone in an empty room for just 15 minutes!  Think about the ways in which our consumption habits and daily practices imply that we all demand to be entertained, almost constantly. Aldous Huxley once wrote a short essay on acedia, and thinks of it as a quintessential modern vice:

 “Other epochs have witnessed disasters, have had to suffer disillusionment; but in no century have the disillusionments followed on one another’s heels with such unintermitted rapidity as in the twentieth, for the good reason that in no century has change been so rapid and so profound.  The mal du siècle [that means “world-weariness” or in French, literally, the sickness of the century] was an inevitable evil; indeed, we can claim with a certain pride that we have a right to our [or, acedia] accidie. With us it is not a sin or a disease of the hypochondrias; it is a state of mind which fate has forced upon us.”  (see https://cct.biola.edu/fighting-noonday-demon-kathleen-norris-acedia-boredom-desert-spirituality/)

In many ways we are still stuck with boredom or ennui as the ultimate form of despair. To be alone with our thoughts and face to face with our selves is far too frightening.  Matthew Smith, a professor of literature at Azusa Pacific University, pointed out this spot-on expression of acedia by the French poet Charles Beaudelaire, a decadent poet of the 19th century post-Romantic period. Here’s Matt reading the final stanzas of “To the Reader” from Baudelaire’s volume, “The Flowers of Evil:”

In each man’s foul menagerie of sin — There’s one more damned than all. He never gambols, Nor crawls, nor roars, but, from the rest withdrawn, Gladly of this whole earth would make a shambles. And swallow up existence with a yawn… Boredom! He smokes his hookah, while he dreams.  Of gibbets, weeping tears he cannot smother. You know this dainty monster, too, it seems — Hypocrite reader! — You! — My twin! — My brother!

There is a depiction of a boredom that overcomes the soul and its purpose so completely—a vice “more damned than all”—that it would rather see the world in shambles than lift a finger. To “swallow up existence with a yawn…” The subversion is slow and quiet, a sleepy and yet total destruction. That’s modern indifference.  But overcoming it can be a key stage in personal development:

Abba Paul was a 4th century monk, I believe in Egypt, maybe Syria. He lived a little more isolated than most monks. In those days, monks would weave baskets, and then take them to the cities to sell them. That is how they bought a little bit of subsistence… you know things that they would need… staples they would need. Otherwise, they grew their own food. Paul lived too far away from the cities to make it profitable. So he would spend more on traveling than he would get for the baskets. So he really did live on his garden and everything.  Paul would burn his baskets and start over again. Because prayer and work were closely linked, that you would pray the psalms as you were weaving the baskets. Weaving the baskets was part of his prayer life. He would weave his baskets as if he were going to sell him, and at the end of the year, he would burn them all, then start over again.

Cassian, in his conferences for monks in the 5th century, tells that story of Abba Paul. He said Abba Paul is the person who basically conquered the demon of acedia. That’s why he tells the story, because if someone can do that—make something, build something, and then just destroy it, and start over again quite calmly, without regret—then he’s conquered this demon of acedia.

Paul’s practice of weaving keeps him focused on simple labor (not unlike the dishwashing of Brother Lawrence in the devotional classic, The Practice of the Presence of God). Establishing a practice and rule of life allows him to remain stable, unflagged by the noonday demon. Paul finds rest in the weaving. He finds rest even in the restless threat of solitary life, built around fear of missing out, built around the anxiety of made-up consumer needs. Paul slaps boredom in the face with a pattern of life that facilitates his spiritual goals, which of course is his vocation—but it’s ours too. There are lessons to learn about staying the course, resisting the temptation to sleep off our boredom and despair, and lean in to our present situation as an act of long obedience toward God if you’re into that and faithfulness and loyalty to the people around us.  Invest or inspire love in your work  And that’s the third thing: Invest or inspire love in your work. Etymologically, that would be clothing or breathing into. When you invest or inspire, you instrumentalize the tasks. You take them as little bursts of delight.  You sing into them. You pray into them. You weave a basket full of psalms, and then you can offer a burnt sacrifice of your work to the one who gave it to you. Invest into your tasks your care, and thereby your love, and thereby find a reason for your work. It’s yours, given to you (by God?).

Kathleen: Evagrius says, “Once you’ve contended with acedia, you really experience a deep peace that is deeper than almost anything else you’ll ever find. Because you’ve come through that really bad time of thinking everything as meaningless. Nothing matters at all, and then you pull through.”  (see https://cct.biola.edu/fighting-noonday-demon-kathleen-norris-acedia-boredom-desert-spirituality/)

If you can get through to that…Basically the opposite of acedia is love [see Heidegger above on love], that you’re able to love in a really, really deep way, if you’ve contended with acedia.  As I said above, the opposite of acedia is caring very deeply, and it’s loving, which I find very liberating.  Heidegger says:

"The Roman word res designates that which concerns somebody, ... that which is pertinent, which has a bearing ... In English 'thing' has still preserved the full semantic power of the Roman word: 'He knows his things,' he understands the matters that have a bearing on him ... The Roman word res denotes what pertains to man, concerns him and his interests in any way or manner. That which concerns man is what is real in res ... Thus Meister Eckhart says, adopting an expression of Dionysius the Areopagite: love is of such a nature that it changes man into the things he loves (Heidegger, 2013: 175-6)."

The malady, which is termed "acedia" (from the Greek word for "negligence") was usually characterized by apathy or indifference about their physical appearance or religious duties.  In extreme cases, monks suffering from acedia developed a sense of total repugnance about doing anything relating to their calling.   Also known as the "noonday devil", Cassian noted that it was most likely to strike at noon when the day was hottest and when monks were especially uncomfortable.   

Perhaps the most famous recent essay on acedia came from Aldous Huxley in his 1958 essay "Accidie" (his spelling for acedia).   Describing it as an extreme form of boredom or ennui, Huxley suggests that the evolution of urban life has led to a new source of acedia for many city-dwellers.  "Habituated to the feverish existence of these few centres of activity,"  Huxley wrote. "Men found that life outside them was intolerable insipid.  And at the same time they became so much exhausted by the restlessness of city life that they pined for the monotonous boredom of the provinces, for exotic islands, even for other worlds—any haven of rest."  According to Huxley, what began as a peculiar disorder found in desert monks and nuns may well have become a major complaint of the modern age.  So, the next time you are feeling especially bored with covid, spare a thought for those ancient monks living isolated lives in the desert.  You may have more in common with them than you might think. (see https://drvitelli.typepad.com/providentia/2018/03/the-monks-malady.html)

The Langeweile or stretching out of time that fundamentally underlies human experience and is augmented in modern times, is manifested in melancholy, boredom and depression, can be phenomenologically coaxed out of hiding when the modern person is separated from beings/technology/novelty.  With boredom, for instance, we can imagine doing our afternoon workout by ourselves and without music/TV technology to help pass the time.  Certainly, if we don’t have these technological distractions, contemporary people experience a boredom, a stretching out of time while exercising, a phenomenon not as pressing for previous generations of people.  Similarly, we can try going on a driving trip by ourselves and without music.   And importantly, we can remember being naughty as a child and getting punished by being separated from beings and made to sit in the corner facing the wall in a “Time Out,” and how the stretching out of time afflicted us.  Or, as Nietzsche said in a letter to Overbeck, we can reflect on a time when we had “Cabin Fever” at a rainy cottage or stuck in your apartment, and how this showed how addicted to novelty we are.  Further, we can consider how the misplacement of a cell phone caused us to have to endure the monotony/anxiety of the day in a way that simply didn’t happen when we were younger and had not yet become addicted to our smartphones.

Time out / cabin fever: Everybody seems to be looking for a little peace and quiet these days. But even such a reasonable idea can go too far. The quietest place on earth, an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, is so quiet that the longest anybody has been able to bear it is 45 minutes.  Inside the room it's silent. So silent that the background noise measured is actually negative decibels, -9.4 dBA. Steven Orfield, the lab's founder, told Hearing Aid Know: “We challenge people to sit in the chamber in the dark – one person stayed in there for 45 minutes. When it’s quiet, ears will adapt. The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You’ll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly. In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound." – being addicted and withdrawal symptoms

*** This has been an attempt at a Heideggerian understanding of covid and the history of Being.  I’ve tried to translate thoughts on the history of Being in relation to covid into my own way of being and speaking, since otherwise we are just engaged in empty terminological regurgitation which is really just, to use what Heidegger said of this, word sorcery/mysticism in the guise of some esoteric truth which is really just terminology without sense (Heidegger, Heraclitus 1943, 2018: 17, 47).  The appropriate picture book from children’ literature Heidegger might have in mind here is “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Care is hard to see directly even though it is the default human way of being, but perhaps through an analysis of Deprived of Care we can see the default Care state phenomenalized in contrast.  Methodologically, this harkens back to Hegel’s point that it is hard to see the Category of Unity as a determination of the sock, but in tearing the sock the Category of Unity gets phenomenalized, precisely “as a lost Unity” (“phusis kryptesthai philei” - “a-letheia

Comments

  1. The spiritual process of hermeneutics is circular because it accords with the place
    of the person and hence evolves according to an unending process of further questioning,
    and not answers that try to eliminate the question in a result that can then lead to further
    progress . This is why, given the understanding of motion we have here, Heidegger
    contrasts the circularity of his thought with the linear nature of normal thinking. This is
    not because he is trying to arbitrarily act in accord with the being of the human, but
    rather the matter itself accords with it. It is thinking to get to the point of asking the question in a more original way. Heidegger says:

    "Thus it is that we find ourselves moving in a circle. Ordinary understanding can only perceive and grasp what lies straight in front of it: thus it wishes to advance in a straight line, moving from the nearest point to the next one, and so on. This is called progress. Ordinary understanding can only perceive circular movement in its own way too: that is to say, it moves along the circumference, taking its movement around the circle in a straightforward progression, until suddenly it stumbles upon the starting-point and comes to a standstill, at a loss because of its lack of progress. Since progress is the criterion employed by ordinary understanding, such understanding finds any circular movement objectionable and considers it a sign of impossibility. The fateful thing, however, is that this argument about circular movement is employed in philosophy itself, even though it is but a symptom of a tendency to reduce philosophy to the level of ordinary understanding (Heidegger, FCM, 187)."

Comments

  1. "In Heidegger's telling, all metaphysics is ontotheological [in the sense that it transcends beings to their being and] seeks [the] ultimate cause or ground (theion)."
    (HEIDEGGER'S TOPIC : EXCESS, RECESS, ACCESS Thomas SHEEHAN)

    "Faith has no place in thought." (Heidegger, 2002)

    Theion calling to mind not a god (theos) or gods (theoi) but the divine in the most general and abstract sense of the term. Jaeger claims that the very word to theion does not appear before Anaximander and that Milesian thought effectively had the effect of transforming the notion of god from the naively anthropomorphic figures in Hesiod’s Theogony to an independent concept associated with the rational principle of the apeiron. (Kosta Gligorijevic)

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