I was reading this week about the “Twitter Two” who are being prosecuted for their trolling campaign against Ms.Criado-Perez’s wish to have Jane Austen’s head on the new ten pond note Isabella Sorley’s defence (one of the two charged)was that she was “bored” and “off her face” when she tweeted.The Guardian’s Comment is Free had numbers of responses about Sorley’s comments. Inevitably someone wrote in asking how it was possible to be bored. A long list of free activities was included to illustrate the point that it was impossible to imagine that one could be bored. (The sub text was that it was morally wrong to be bored.) This reminded of a similar incident when i was nursing. One of our patients had come back from leave. He was a young man in his early 20’s who was poorly educated, lived on Benefit and came from an emotionally and socially impoverished background. On top of this he had a psychotic illness which was treated with medication. He came to the ward round and was asked by the psychiatrist how he was getting on at home. He did very little at home. He got up late, stayed in watching television or smoking dope with his friends. He went to bed late. This was his life. “Why?” asked the psychiatrist? “I’m bored” was the answer. It was an unwise answer. He was given a lecture about how impossible it was that he should be bored-especially in London. She reeled off a list of improving activities and sent him home. I thought at the time-and think now-that the word “bored” did not really describe what he felt. It seems to me he was talking about feeling disenfranchised. (Perhaps this lies behind Ms.Sorley’s attack. That a good measure of envy. One wonders what Jane Austen represented for her?)
There is a tentative suggestion that the word “bored” has some links to the process of boring a deep hole. Thus if one feels oneself in a deep hole, one is bored.(Since this use is only traceable back to the mid 1700’s, one wonders what teenagers said before then!) The image I have with this blog is Durer’s engraving “Melancholia”. Without going into detail about all the possible allegorical meanings here, it seems apparent that the central character is “bored”. She is surrounded by symbols of Nature, Maths, Geometry, Music and the Arts. Yet she remains melancholic. Nothing moves her or excites her. It seems to me that she is asking “What has this to do with me?” (In the same way that my patient was asking “What have art galleries, concerts, plays etc to do with me?” I was looking at the word “disenfranchised” as I was writing and looking at its origins. It has the idea of being free as against being bound. Those who were enfranchised were at liberty to enjoy citizenship and its attendant rights. (Not all were enfranchised.) If one feels detached from the society around, why bother to invest any energy in it?
Freud suggested that psychosis was a form of defence against internal psychic forces. The psychotic does not have a sense of comfortably fitting into society at large. They are unsure of who they are. This unease is projected “outwards” onto people persecuting me; voices telling what to do; the radio or television talking about me. The problem of my disenfranchisement is located outside myself. (In depression the problem is located internally and the super ego becomes the persecutor.) As a counsellor part of my work is to help my patients re-enfranchise themselves. Which is another way of saying that the counsellor tries to help his patients re-engage with themselves. To use a jargon phrase “to gain a sense of agency.” This is not always a welcome activity. There is a certain freedom in slavery.
If Durer’s Princess or Angel woke up, one wonders how she would respond the world around her. Which is always a risk. If I involve myself with something or someone, I cannot predict the outcome. If nothing else, boredom prevents risks!