Languor and Accidie and Weltschmerz (Oh My!)

Leo Tolstoy defined boredom as “the desire for desires”. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard described it as an all pervading emptiness and the root of all evil.

Then again, he was Danish, so what do you expect?

Come at me, Danes.
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Today, most educators, psychologists and bloggers on Medium agree that boredom should not be viewed as a negative state, but as an important period of downtime for your brain. Time that allows your mind to wander, free associate and daydream. In effect, boredom is the dull earth from which creativity blooms.

Feel free to turn this into a viral phenomenon
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That’s all well and good, but right now it poses a problem. For the last 6 months or so, I’ve been stuck in a state I believed to be boredom but now I think, due to the lack of progress I’ve made with any of my creative endeavours, might be something else.

So, in an effort to put a name to the feeling (and in the process “create” something) here are 8 nouns that could better name my current state:

1. Limbo

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In Roman Catholic theology, Limbo was an eternal “holding area” for souls.

Though neither a heaven nor a hell, Limbo wasn’t much fun and certainly wasn’t a place you wanted to end up. As a state of being, it’s not much different.

When you’re in limbo you’re held in stasis, like a stapler in jello, or a mosquito in amber. Neither moving forwards nor backwards. Just stuck. Waiting. With no resolution in sight.

Hmm, that does sound familiar…

2. Existential Dread

The state of contemplating not just your life, but life in general and concluding it might be a bunch of baloney. Maybe nothing means anything. Maybe everything is insignificant. Or, worse, maybe everything is incredibly significant and you’re missing it because you can’t stop watching body language expert videos on You Tube.

What’s to be done? How do you go on? “To be or not to be?” Is that the question?

Nah, I’m not there yet.

3. Ennui  

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A sense of listlessness that comes from a lack of occupation or excitement. Ennui is a trifecta of tedium: you’re tired, bored AND dissatisfied.

Often used as a synonym for boredom, Ennui is infinitely sexier because

a. It’s French

and

b. it was the title of Sylvia Plath’s undergraduate sonnet. A poem that was (according to The Guardian) an expression “sophisticated hopelessness.”

Well, I’ve got the dissatisfaction, but if you’ve ever seen me eat corn chips you’ll know I have no sophistication, so this one’s out.

4. Languor

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Languor is the state of being deliciously unproductive. It’s a warm sunny afternoon spent in a hammock. No need to worry about deadlines, “wasted time”, or whether you should have written the great Australian novel by now, Languor doesn’t care about any of that.

It only wants to lounge. Guilt free.

Sounds good. A little too good.

5. Melancholy

This one is less about having nothing to do and more about sadness. A safe, thoughtful sadness that will pass. It’s a rainy afternoon or the last day of the school holidays. A rueful acceptance of what is or what has passed.

6. Accidie

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Think the word “accident” if you’re struggling with the pronunciation on this one.

Said to be named after a medieval demon that stalked monks in the heat of the day, Accidie, or Acedia, is best described as a complex state of mental apathy.

In his essay, Accidie, Aldous Huxley writes that the affliction “paralyses human will” and causes the afflicted to:

sink, sink through disgust and lassitude into the black depths of despair and hopeless unbelief

Aldous Huxley, Accidie, from On The Margin

Thus, Accidie is not one feeling, but a complicated and subtle ailment that encompasses a host of symptoms like sluggishness, idleness and sloth.

Hmm…I’ll put this in the maybe pile.

7. Malaise

Under the weather in all weather, malaise is a feeling of fatigue, discomfort or unease that can persist for a long time.

Sufferers struggle to pinpoint the cause of their dis-ease but malaise is often a symptom of acute viral disorders like Lyme disease or HIV as well as medical conditions like diabetes and arthritis.

Too serious for what I have, I think.

8. Weltschmerz

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Meaning “world weariness” or “world pain”, Weltschmerz is the hurt caused when your ideal version of the world crashes headfirst into the world as it really is. It’s that weighty sense of disappointment and despair you feel when history seems to be repeating itself and no one seems to be paying attention.

Like many of the words in this list, it’s roots lie in literature, with German author Jean Paul, coining the term to describe a pervasive discontentment with life found within the novel Selina by Lord Byron. Today, Weltschmerz is not an individual pain reserved for writers and poets but a widespread one. Weltschmerz is felt keenly and collectively during periods of extreme economic hardship, outbreaks of disease, environmental catastrophe and political instability.

While this condition is certainly relevant, I feel like Weltschmerz is an ongoing, lifelong condition rather than something new.

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So, my self diagnosis? A mild case of accidie which, unlike my Weltschmerz, will eventually pass.

Resources and Further Reading

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/too-listless-to-finish-this-headl/article716865/

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/60866/60866-h/60866-h.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2006/nov/02/plathssonnetofsophisticated

https://qz.com/811186/weltschmerz-theres-a-german-word-people-use-in-times-of-despair-and-its-as-apt-today-as-it-was-in-the-19th-century/

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