Poetic Thinking and the Suffering of Boredom

By Fadi Abu Deeb

June, 2014

It is undoubtedly obvious that boredom causes one of the most severe kinds of suffering, not because it leads to loss as it might happen with some other types of problems, but because it is a product and a cause of disenchantment, which molds and frames the view of the world around us.  But what if the solution for this kind of suffering is something very different from acquiring some new temporary excitements?  Can love be the real opposite of this suffering of boredom?  On the other hand, it seems that boredom itself is the major factor in regaining the perception of  beauty, i.e. enchantment, or in other words it is the inevitable stage of attaining this new (or supposedly childish) state of consciousness.  Grasping beauty through the poetic thinking of the magical role of love is to be considered as a real alternative for the ordinary consciousness of the world introduced by the rational analytical system.

Boredom: The angst of nothingness

Angst is a sort of inner deficiency or disquiet that makes the person extremely vulnerable to fears, melancholy and some kinds of obsessive and uncontrollable thoughts.  But apart from trying to analyze the reasons of this angst, it can be argued that all kinds of fears result in one primary fear which is nothingness; thus one may have fear of failure in university or work because he is afraid of the diminishing of his societal personality or experiencing negligence, which is nothing but a form of non-being for a human being that endeavor hard to feel his existence through being recognized as a valued person among his fellow humans.  The same justification can be posed for the loss of a love relationship which certainly includes an extreme feeling of rejection or failure.  This rejection that comes from a person that has become once a part and parcel of the other self, and so of the being itself, is striking the being, causing a deep and immense feeling of nothingness and suffering.  The suffering then is nihilistic by nature, and all sufferings and inner pains place us, suddenly, before the negation of our very selves.

But with a deeper look into the nature of this experienced nothingness it can be grasped as nothing other than boredom.  Nothingness is perhaps an ontological speculation for an inner sensed feeling of boredom, for boredom is this radical disenchantment of everything, of the deep sense of ordinariness that is mixed paradoxically with chaos and meaninglessness.

Suffering from the feeling of nonbeing/boredom lies in the constant fear of being regarded as a thing, or an “it” (using Buber’s terms).[1]  This “it” is not addressed as a personal being that deserves love and passionate care.  As personal human beings, people seek to discover others, and to be discovered by others.  Each one of them seeks to be addressed and loved as a “thou”, and to address and love everyone as a “thou”.  Human beings want to be recognized in details and to be embraced as precious and necessary beings.

Boredom as suffering from uncertainty

Boredom is a kind of surprising loss of meaning, and of order in events and connotations of the surrounding objects.  Furthermore, it is a kind of losing the enchantment and expectation of anything other than absolute confusion.  It is the frightening illusory knowledge that there is no use of living a committed life of any kind, because it seems obviously that meaningfulness is always overwhelmed by meaninglessness.  But even though everything is becoming absurd, ironically, the luxury of certainty of the meaninglessness is lost as well.  The Stanford Encyclopedia continues to explain the experience of absurdity and meaninglessness of the surroundings and events:

…is no more genuine than my practical, engaged experience of a world of meaning, it is no less genuine either. An existential account of meaning and value must recognize both possibilities (and their intermediaries). To do so is to acknowledge a certain absurdity to existence: though reason and value have a foothold in the world (they are not, after all, my arbitrary invention), they nevertheless lack any ultimate foundation. Values are not intrinsic to being, and at some point reasons give out.[2]

Therefore, the case is not a mere meaninglessness only, but the dread of uncertainty, so that things seem meaningless while in the same time there is still a latent fear of something missing, the fear of some meaning laid out there inside of something, which is provoked by the startling contradiction between the presupposed value and order in the world on one side, and this gross and pervading sense of nothingness on the other side.  Hence, it seems that any attempt that may defeat absurdity and boredom must deal with the feeling of utter meaninglessness and uncertainty.

Perception and boredom

It is perhaps agreed to some degree that the reality is perceived by every person subjectively, that is, every human being would perceive reality outside of him/her in a quite different way from others.  Kant says that we do not know the objects a priori except for what we ourselves put in them”[3] and thus “no knowledge precedes the experiment in time.”[4] Apart from the philosophical maxims of Kant, the reality of subjectivity is recognized by people in the ordinary life; for example, not every person look at, or is inspired by the same tree in the same way and in the same time frame.  Here we can say the relation of this reality and the inevitable boredom in the human life.  This boredom as a result of disenchantment is the major suffering for many people.  But for Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg) and the other early German romantics the human perception and suffering (called disenchantment) has a real hope.

Beauty as a sentimental subjectivity

Depending on the previous assumption, then the main concern in this current subject is not the attempt to abstract the concept of beauty, but it is the experiential realm that allows the person to perceive beauty as a phenomenon that enriches and enhances his being as human being in harmony with other human beings, toward a virtuous community of people.  This understanding of beauty can be seen as poetic.  Poetic thinking then is then to understand beauty as the sense of being loved and capable of granting love to others.  On other hand, the love of non-human natural world cannot be separated from the former aspect, because Nature in the poetic understanding is a necessary existence for teaching harmony, giving, spontaneous interaction and the massive importance of the smallest details.

Thus, beauty in the light of suffering cannot be comprehended through analytical objective study but through poetic intuition.  The poetry which is embodied in poems and poetic language is just the last ring of the chain of poetic thinking and worldview.  Poetry is the interaction with the rational and non-rational compassionate surroundings as a whole “thou” and individual beings every one of them as a “thou”, and certainly to be a “thou” for the other beings so that these loving relationships enhance our feeling of personhood, and thereby refill our lives with meaningfulness and the astonishing expectation of surprising discoveries and feelings.  Martin Buber says that even a tree can be a “thou” when we address it as a living being that certainly can affect our being and be affected by our smallest deeds.  But what if beauty itself as poetry became the very reason for suffering?  In what sense can this happen?

The necessity of boredom for the poetic thinking

Boredom is not merely a state of deep disappointment that invades people’s lives without an apparently immediate reason or because of routine and ordinariness, but it is indeed an indispensible status to preserve the human self-awareness from vanishing and being lost “outside” in that stressful “exteriority”.  Thus, without boredom persons seldom return back to themselves, for it calls them to interiority once again.  Boredom invites human beings to seek for settling down after a long alienation from the real self; to examine who they are and what they have become.  Therefore, boredom is a call from the realm of phenomena to the realm of true being.  It is a constant instigator to invent the enchantment that humans are losing.  When the person gets bored he remembers that he lives apart from enchantment, on the shores of mediocrity and ordinariness, or perhaps down its dark ocean!

                      Boredom is not but the negative side of enchantment.  Indeed it is the astonished position of disenchantment itself, and the awareness to the facticity of the loss of vivacity.  It is an indication that human being needs to reconsider or change his position and his view of the meaningfulness.  This search for the essential purpose of being wouldn’t be effectually active without this massive pervasion of the boredom into the soul.  Thus, the boredom can be regarded not just as a frightening face of nothingness but also as a divine call, built in the very action, aims to awaken the person to the nihilistic nature of the concrete phenomena in contrast with the immortality of the substance.  In other words, it is the breaking of the world of ideals into the world of actions, so that the damaged worldviews, the routes, the motives and the purposes are all examined again.

But what does this discussion have to do with beauty and love?

Beauty as a magical nature of poetry

                      Poetry in one sense is the tender side of art- too simple to have the same grandeur as music, architecture or sculpture.  It is the love that takes the form of a poem when it is revealed to the realm of human beings.  In a sense, to poeticize is to cleave to the surroundings attempting to reach their full meaning, as a whole and as individuations, or the substance that makes humans feel that the world and the living phenomena are meaningful and loving.  It is to look to the “thou” so that this natural world generally, and human beings in particular, will respond in the same manner.  The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard points out that poetry is the looking into the objects as containers of potential extraordinariness.  Bachelard explains that “before the interior poetic light was turned upon it, it was a mere object for the mind. But the soul comes and inaugurates the form, dwells in it, takes pleasure in it.”[5] Through poetry the meaning, the unuttered knowledge of something, is obtained or conveyed through resonating with the intensified images.

Approaching from the facticity of the nature of perception as a subjective faculty, Novalis says that the human perception can be controllable, so that it can be reformed in a way that gives the human being a new conception of the whole being and the purpose of existence.  Thus, he developed his idea about “magical idealism”.[6]   For Novalis, love is such a spell that recreates the perception of the lover.  He argues that romantic poetry, which is the pure expression of love, can bring back the enchantment to the inner being of the human, or, in other words, “re-enchant” the natural phenomena and the whole perception of the world.[7]  This love that becomes incarnate in poetry is “the basis for the possibility of magic”[8], for “Love works magically.”[9]  And through love, the self now owns the power to defeat boredom which is the effect of the human’s limitation that controls the human beings, as stated by Kant.

Beauty as empathy

For a man, the woman can be a gate for the poetic thinking, not just as a lover but also as a friend and companion, and of course the contrary is true.  Through the smallest details of giving, and the compassionate tenderness of her maternal instinct, a man can see a good substance in the human being and the whole existence, for he is touched deeply by this amazing manifestation of the goodness of the natural instinct of the human nature.  It is some sort of call for listening of what human beings are in essence and what great knowledge about the real purpose of human existence and ability of deep interaction they can achieve. 

Empathy here is the main channel of enchantment.  It is then the instrument of defeating boredom, and therefore suffering.  It gives the human beings the marvelous ability to be united in an amazing and mysterious way.  By empathy, the souls intermingle freely in the same realm of feelings and sensitivity.  Persons are totally open now for suffering with each other, but not for the boredom, because this suffering is the produced pain of breaking into the inner world of the other.  It is the flames that accompany a meteor during its penetration of the atmosphere of a well-protected planet.  The enchantment awakens from its deep slumber, to gaze to the endless beauties of the other soul, and rejoice while unveiling the unexplored otherness.  Female and male can be a great joy for each other to discover more about the human nature without the strange instinct of competition that distorts the same-sex interactions so many times.

This knowledge goes beyond the attempt to obtain an objective definition of beauty, for it does not seek to own, control or comprehend it systematically.  In poetic intuition of the world the knowledge is not something that can be explained stage by stage, but by bursts of inner increase that change the self, sometimes suddenly and sometimes in a mysterious inexplicable way which is not discovered but after a period of time, or as expressed by David Wood who declares that there are “essential intellectual insights cannot always be realized in a philosophical text, but sometimes have to be communicated in a work of art”[10]  This is exactly the same as the subjective knowledge for the persons we know.  Persons cannot know others objectively in the pure sense, and they do not need to.  Human beings are not even capable of this in respect to their relationships with each other.

                      Back to suffering as an effect of boredom, the boredom now is vulnerable.  It is exposed to the possibility of being attacked in every moment because of the poetic look to the world.  The phenomena in the world are not a sequence of absurdities any more, but a manifestation of a living force that emerges in endless different forms.  This poetic view, as represented by magical idealism, is a way for looking into the world as a kind of rational and purposeful place that can be perceived by love. .



Bachelard, Caston.  The Poetics of Space.  Translated by Maria Jolas.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1994.

Buber, Martin.  I and Thou.  Translated by Ronal Gregor Smith.  Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1937.

Novalis.  Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia.  Translated, edited and introduced by David W. Wood.  Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.


كانط، إيمانويل.  “المدخل إلى نقد العقل الخالص مع مقدمتي الطبعة الأولى والثانية.”  71-146.  ترجمة عبد الغفار مكاوي.  كانط وأنطولوجيا العصر. تحرير أحمد عبد الحليم عطية.  طبعة أولى.  بيروت: دار الفارابي، 2010.


Stone, Alison.  “Being, Knowledge, and Nature in Novalis.”  Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 46, no. 1 (2008): 142.

Internet Websites

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  “Existentialism.”  by Steven Crowell.  Revised on 11 October, 2010.  Accessed on 11 May, 2014.  Available from: <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/existentialism/#AnxNotAbs&gt;

[1] See Martin Buber, I and Thou,  translated by Ronal Gregor Smith.  Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1937.

 [2] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Existentialism,” by Steven Crowell.  Revised on 11 October, 2010.  Accessed on 11 May, 2014.  Available from: 


[3] إيمانويل كانط، “المدخل إلى نقد العقل الخالص مع مقدمتي الطبعة الأولى والثانية،”  ترجمة عبد الغفار مكاوي،  كانط وأنطولوجيا العصر، تحرير أحمد عبد الحليم عطية، 93.

[4] نفس المرجع السابق، 117

[5] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, xxiii

[6] Novalis, Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia , xxiv.

[7] Alison Stone, “Being, Knowledge, and Nature in Novalis,”  Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 46, no. 1 (2008): 142.

[8] Novalis, entry 79, 13.

[9]  Ibid.

[10] Ibid., xxiii 


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