The History of Boredom

So little happened on this day in 1954 that it has been designated "the most boring day in history," this title granted in 2010 by the artificial intelligence computer True Knowledge Answer Engine. Earning the MBDH award would make April 11 interesting, of course; and even setting aside this catch-22, the computer's sifting of the historical record -- some 300 million facts concerning the births and deaths, discoveries and disasters of April 11 -- only used data from 1900 onward.

No doubt the True Knowledge Company (recently renamed Evi) used an army of algorithms to award their laurel crown. But the human scholars can go back long before 1900 to document the yawning and finger drumming. In his recent Boredom: A Lively History, Peter Toohey notes a cryptic a Latin inscription from the Italian city of Benevento, dating from the late third century:

For Tanonius Marcellinus, a most distinguished man of the consular rank at Campania and a most worthy patron as well, because of the good deeds by which he rescued the population from endless boredom [Latin: taedium], the entire people judges that this inscription should be recorded.

Some historians date the "modern epidemic of boredom" from the Enlightenment and the ensuing "crisis of the self." Toohey says this may be true of the highbrow forms of ennui and "existential boredom" but not of the common garden variety. This he defines as "a social emotion of mild disgust," caused by "temporarily unavoidable and predictable circumstance" and often causing some useful new change. Or what seems like it:

As fast as the new is experienced…it is liable to become boring. The new becomes a variant of the infinite. It recedes infinitely. Infinity is of course temporal as well as spatial. Time has a very interesting relationship with boredom and its representations. We have all experienced the sluggishness of time when we have been confined in boring situations. According to one of the late Clement Freud's famous witticisms, "if you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving you don't actually live longer, it just seems longer."

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at


Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."