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What are we talking about when we're talking about ennui

Some of you are surely confused – ennu-what? Emu-i? Am I an Emu? Is that like that large bird-adjacent creature? Aren’t they Australian? Wasn’t that a prison colony? Is this ennu-whatever only for people that live upside down?

To answer that; ennui, ennui, I hope not, or we humans as a species are done, yes, yes, and they are definitely no tired of hearing it – try to bring it up at least twice every time you meet any Australian, and no, definitely not – it’s for everyone (but especially for everyone financially secure, preferably white, bougie, and born into at least some amount of undeserved privilege). So just to cut-down on the confusion, let’s talk about what ennui actually is, conveniently broken down into a couple of handy sections.

Ennui as a word thing

The word itself sounds rather odd, doesn’t it?

Ennui. Ennui. Aennu-aaah. In a fortuitous accident where the truck of the etymology got stranded on the railway crossing of meaning just in time to be radically reshaped by the locomotive of irony, even your mouth just sorts of gives up half way through. Coming originally from the latin ‘mihi in odio est’ or, it is hateful to me, ennui, like a lot of English words, decided to spend a gap year in France, deciding to grow out it’s hair and met its distant, yet curiously familiar cousin – the german Langeweile. Then it began slowly morphing into the word ennui (annoyance) around the 13th century. From there it was a straightforward journey to modern French ennui (in the latter half of the 17th century) to be nativized into English around 1732.

Ennui as a literary thing

Ennui also became a word closely associated with several literary concepts – the so called “Superfluous Man” was a Russian spin on the popular romantic concept of the Byronic hero – where lord Byron’s  heroes are misanthropic yet capable of immediate action and implacable in revenge, the Superfluous men are just kind of indifferent. Born into wealth and privilege, they disregard social values, carelessly distress others with their actions, and unlike Byronic protagonists, who often, under their affected exteriors have rich inner lives, are almost entirely contemptible. This archetype is often thought of in the context of its original text, Alexander Pushkin's verse-novel Eugene Onegin (1825–32).

The protagonists mired in ennui also became prominent in early 20th century existentialist works like Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea, Albert Camus' The Stranger. The protagonist in these works is an indecisive central character who drifts through his life and is marked by ennui, angst, and alienation.

A more contemporary example of literary ennui could be “Grunge lit” – Australian literary genre of some prominence in the early 1990s, concerning itself young adults "inner city" "...world of disintegrating futures where the only relief from...boredom was through a nihilistic pursuit of sex, violence, drugs and alcohol. Often the central characters are disfranchised, lacking drive and determination beyond the desire to satisfy their basic needs. It was typically written by "new, young authors".

Ennui as a philosophy thing

The following section was taken from wikipedia.

Ennui is a condition characterized by perception of one's environment as dull, tedious, and lacking in stimulation. This can result from leisure and a lack of aesthetic interests. Labor and art may be alienated and passive, or immersed in tedium. There is an inherent anxiety in ennui; people will expend considerable effort to prevent or remedy it, yet in many circumstances, it is accepted as suffering to be endured. Common passive ways to escape ennui are to sleep or to think creative thoughts (daydream). Typical active solutions consist in an intentional activity of some sort, often something new, as familiarity and repetition lead to the tedious.

During the fin de siècle, the French term for the end of the 19th century in the West, some of the cultural hallmarks included "ennui", cynicism, pessimism, and "...a widespread belief that civilization leads to decadence."

Ennui also plays a role in existentialist thought. Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche were two of the first philosophers considered fundamental to the existentialist movement. Like Pascal, they were interested in people's quiet struggle with the apparent meaninglessness of life and the use of diversion to escape from ennui. Kierkegaard's Either/Or describes the rotation method, a method used by higher level aesthetes in order to avoid ennui. The method is an essential hedonistic aspect of the aesthetic way of life. For the aesthete, one constantly changes what one is doing in order to maximize the enjoyment and pleasure derived from each activity.

In contexts where one is confined, spatially or otherwise, ennui may be met with various religious activities, not because religion would want to associate itself with tedium, but rather, partly because ennui may be taken as the essential human condition, to which God, wisdom, or morality are the ultimate answers. It is taken in this sense by virtually all existentialist philosophers as well as by Arthur Schopenhauer.

Martin Heidegger wrote about ennui in two texts available in English, in the 1929/30 semester lecture course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, and again in the essay What is Metaphysics? published in the same year. In the lecture, Heidegger included about 100 pages on ennui, probably the most extensive philosophical treatment ever of the subject. He focused on waiting at railway stations in particular as a major context of ennui. Søren Kierkegaard remarks in Either/Or that "patience cannot be depicted" visually, since there is a sense that any immediate moment of life may be fundamentally tedious.

Blaise Pascal in the Pensées discusses the human condition in saying "we seek rest in a struggle against some obstacles. And when we have overcome these, rest proves unbearable because of the ennui it produces", and later states that "only an infinite and immutable object – that is, God himself – can fill this infinite abyss."

Without stimulus or focus, the individual is confronted with nothingness, the meaninglessness of existence, and experiences existential anxiety. Heidegger states this idea as follows: "Profound ennui, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference. This ennui reveals being as a whole." Schopenhauer used the existence of ennui in an attempt to prove the vanity of human existence, stating, "...for if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, there would be no such thing as ennui: mere existence would fulfil and satisfy us."

Erich Fromm and other thinkers of critical theory speak of ennui as a common psychological response to industrial society, where people are required to engage in alienated labor. According to Fromm, ennui is "perhaps the most important source of aggression and destructiveness today." For Fromm, the search for thrills and novelty that characterizes consumer culture are not solutions to ennui, but mere distractions from ennui which, he argues, continues unconsciously. Above and beyond taste and character, the universal case of ennui consists in any instance of waiting, as Heidegger noted, such as in line, for someone else to arrive or finish a task, or while one is travelling somewhere. The automobile requires fast reflexes, making its operator busy and hence, perhaps for other reasons as well, making the ride more tedious despite being over sooner.

Interestingly, in some Nguni languages such as Zulu, ennui and loneliness are represented by the same word (isizungu). This adds a new dimension to the oft-quoted definition of ubuntu: "A person is a person through other people".