Bored to Death: What do we talk about when we talk about boredom?

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
ACLA 2021
contact email: 

What is boredom and why do we feel bored? Recently, research on boredom has gained momentum in the scientific community, particularly in neuroscience and clinical psychology, where the symptoms of boredom and the behavioral patterns of the bored person are scrutinized (i.e. Boredomlab). Boredom, however, has been explored by philosophers for centuries and making a persistent appearance in the modern novel from nineteenth and century to present, in the moments of contemplation, waiting, idleness or complaints of bored characters. The state of boredom is gradual in onset, but “discursive significations” (Sianne Ngai) of boredom are sudden, explosive and precise, usually revealing a set of negative emotions in a particular mode of language, namely, complaint. Complaints of bored figures, evoking a sense of displeasure, reflect a moment of becoming aware of their mood and a desire to escape boredom. Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler says she has “only got a gift for one thing in the world” and that is boring herself to death; Charles Dickens’ well-known bored lady, Lady Dedlock is known for being “bored to death” in her routine; Gertrude Stein on account of feeling bored, decides to leave medicine and launches her literary career. On another front, Robert Walser in Jacob von Gunten asks whether we can even talk about boredom as long as there is always something to do.Martin Heidegger says boredom is a problem of time; for Schopenhauer it is one of the two foes of human happiness (The Essays); In L’Ennui  Emile Tardieu claims that “all human activity is shown to be a vain attempt to escape from boredom;” for Benjamin, “boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience,” (“The Storyteller”); in Pensées Pascal ranks boredom with pain; Elizabeth S. Goodstein, in her seminal book Experience without Qualities: Boredom and Modernity (2005), characterizes boredom as “the experience without qualities” and argues that boredom is “the plague of the enlightened subject.” 

What do we talk about when we talk about boredom and what does boredom tell us? This panel invites papers that examine the state of boredom and bored characters in literature. Interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged.  Suggested topics include but are not limited to:   


  • Gestures of boredom 

  • Idleness  

  • Complaint 

  • Rhetoric of boredom  

  • Affect and Boredom  

  • Boarding school diaries   

  • Value of time and boredom  

  • Attention / Distraction   

  • Tone of language in boredom   

  • Refusal and resignation   

  • Desire for desire in boredom 


Please submit your paper abstracts through the ACLA submission portal by October 31, 2020. For questions, please contact Busra Copuroglu at