Heavy Bored Cyborg: Attunement and Addiction

Paul Boshears

Europäische Universität für Interdisziplinäre Studien/The European Graduate School (CH)

            Profound boredom, according to Heidegger, is an attunement – one of several nuances of the term Befindlichkeit other translations could include mood or state of mind – from which we find ourselves in this world. It’s perhaps more widely understood, from his Being and Time, that an attunement of anxiety is the fundamental state from which we understand our being-in-the-world (Dasein). This anxiety leads one to a state of self care so as to cultivate our being-in-the-world, but this strategy of self-care has lead to some strong arguments against Heidegger as the care of the self is ultimately only caring for oneself. Unlike this anxious attunement, profound boredom reveals our thrownness in the world as an event of mutual determinacy. It is not that I am bored profoundly, but that in this state I come to be aware that the universe itself is profoundly uninterested in me. It’s hard for me to read the phrase profound boredom and not think also of John Berryman’s collection The Dream Songs, from which I’ve taken part of the title of this paper. Berryman was an epic drunk; and shortly after winning the Pulitzer Prize for The Dream Songs, he threw himself off the Washington Avenue Bridge into the Mississippi River. As Heidegger put it in his 1929-30 lecture course on the Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, our attunement to the world is how we find our selves in the world, and ultimately these attunements provoke us into a state of poetic dwelling in the world. Perhaps it is appropriate to then begin our thinking about addiction by invoking Berryman here.

Dream Song 14[1]

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored

means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

Peoples bore me,

literature bores me, especially great literature,

Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes

as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.

And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag

and somehow a dog

has taken itself & its tail considerably away

into mountains or sea or sky, leaving

behind: me, wag.

In the pronouncement that, “I am heavy bored,” is the reader forgiven for wondering if perhaps Berryman’s alcoholism and suicide were not related to this kind of boredom as perhaps his fundamental state of receptivity to the world? Could it be that addiction’s recovering, the covering over of “addiction” practices seek to cover over the experience of profound boredom? Berryman’s poems speak a language of irrecoverable loss; this language is simultaneously dependent upon loss as the origin of ontology, as Schwieler has pointed out, making both ontology and poetry possible.[2] This pervasive mood is how one finds oneself in Berryman’s poetry, as Heidegger has stated, we find ourselves in the world as mediated by our moods. The history of addiction discourse is also the history of the will; as Derrida asks, how can we not write about addiction? Both concepts in the modern era have developed primarily in a negative relation to each other. Heidegger gets hooked on Schelling’s talk of the will[3] and after a significant binge he decides that beyond talk of volition and cognition there is also running in the background moods or attunements.

From Schelling, perhaps, has come the modern pursuit of will with his announcement that, “Will is original being and to it alone all predicates of being apply,” and with will is its handmaiden, cognition. As Clark so nicely put it, “If modernity suffers from an ‘epidemic of will’ that is indissociable from an ‘epidemic of addiction and addiction attribution’ … then Frederich Schelling is patient zero.”[4] Heidegger’s relationship to Schelling’s thinking is of course indispensable to understanding more fully Heidegger’s own thought, however it cannot be properly treated here and I refer you to Clark’s excellent essay referenced in the notes. Suffice it to say that Heidegger’s engagement with Schelling leads him to extend Schelling’s philosophy of time and move beyond rationalist and voluntarist thinking into dispositions.

Central to Heidegger’s thinking is the word Befindlichkeit as in the common way of asking “How are you?” which is, “Wie befinden Sie sich?” This literally says, “How do you find yourself?”[5]  Befindlichkeit, then, as a disposition or mood is how we find ourselves in the world. Heidegger states, in Being and Time, that our moods are not simply accompanying the “higher faculties” of will and cognition but rather disclose our “there-ness” in the world, our “Being-In As Such” as Chapter V of the first division is entitled. Our Being-In, according to this theory of moods, includes two moments: understanding (Verstehen) and our findedness (Befindlichkeit). Heidegger states that, “What we ontologically designate by the term “findedness” is ontically quite familiar and everyday: the mood, the Being-attunded.”[6] Our attunements place us factically in an existential situation. So what is the facticity of Berryman’s heavy boredom, and what, if anything, can we glean from this about addiction today?

In reviewing the literature concerning addiction I came to wonder what Berryman would have though of being characterized as having a pathological loss of reason, which is how the earliest attempts at understanding habitual drunkenness characterized this state of affairs. This pathology was also understood as a collapse of moral reason.[7] In many ways this sentiment remains in place and as a cornerstone of recovery treatment in Alcoholics Anonymous (the model upon which all other 12-Step methods are built), where those seeking recovery must announce that their best thinking got them to this point.[8] The medical model of addiction (which remains the dominant mode of thinking about addiction) subsumes personal agency and suggests that there is a pathology but what the causal mechanism is has yet to be determined. Thus, if we accept that addiction is simply a chemical problem we necessarily must accept, then, that the addicted individual is no longer culpable for their behaviors. The mechanistic model, for all of its empirical merits, however, falls short in explaining addiction because, as Davies points out, addiction is a question of both one’s physiology and volition, which are mutually exclusive:

Addiction, impossibly, seeks to make these accounts complementary; something they

cannot be. The notion invites us to apply a rational/decision making frame-work to our

fellow men/women, up to the point where they start to encounter problems with their drug use, and then to switch to a view of man/woman as machine.[9]

Although the term addiction ultimately has been abandoned – over the past twenty years – in favor of chemical dependence and substance use disorder – what has remained is the insistence that those using substances of abuse ultimately must subsume themselves to the authority of medical-style interventions.[10] While those in neuroscience (particularly neurodegeneration) no longer use the term addiction, the top journal for substance abuse is still called Addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse features prominently on their website a section called Addiction Science where those curious can learn the story of why drugs are bad. At the intersection of the Public and the Private is the ongoing development of drug use literature. Like literature, as Avital Ronell points out, whether it’s the criminal justice system, the local AA meeting place, those that come under the eyes of the Authorities-That-Be cannot be allowed to go into the public without covering over the wound of non-being that is the mark of being-on-drugs, thus the subject becomes interpellated as a re-covering addict. This recovering over of the subject clearly is suggestive of Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” as this recovering is a covering over of the ways of being that we develop as we apprentice in our drug using careers. We are, in recovery, learning to forget that life prior to the intervention. Clearly also in the formulation of the drug use career or trajectory (apprenticeship-disorder-recovery) is the question of thinking (erfahrung) which leads this paper to discussing Heidegger.

In the recent calls for the “Responsible Use of Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy”[11] society at large demonstrates once more its habituation to the trap Heidegger foresaw: namely that our pursuance of greater technological enhancement leads to the concealing of Being itself in boredom.[12]  According to Heidegger, Being in the modern era is concealed by the growing purveyance three attitudes:

1)    Calculation – which he calls the basic law of comportment and is the prerogative of the principle of organization.[13] Perhaps we can think here of the speaking machine. Sprachmaschine, as we are told, completes the metaphysics of technological Ge-stell (enframing). Self-deception, warns Heidegger, is the inexorable direction of the Sprachmaschine, “the superficial impression is still maintained that the human being is still the master of the language machine. But the truth might well be that the Sprachmaschine puts language into its service and in this way masters the essence of the human being.”[14] Isn’t, at the heart of addiction the earnest belief that we can control the dose such that, like the Sprachmaschine we maximize the efficiency of its employment without simultaneously destroying ourselves? Central to Heidegger’s thinking on the matter is man’s relationship to time.

2)    The second element concealing Being is acceleration – the key phrases are “not-being-able-to-bear the stillness of hidden growth,” and, “it is necessary to forget quickly.” Heidegger states it thus, “the genuine restlessness of the struggle remains hidden. Its place is taken by the restlessness of the always inventive operation, which is driven by the anxiety of boredom.[15]

3)    The third prevailing attitude is the outbreak of massiveness – not just “the masses” but the rapidly stacking up of the calculable, towering over us and so rending us blind to the unique as it is not accessible to “the many.”

The result of these three is thus the “divesting, publicizing, and vulgarizing of all attunement.”[16]

Because of Being and Time many believe that our anxiety in awareness of our finitude is the fundamental attunement that can be attributed to Dasein (the Being-there of humans being). It is from the disclosure of Dasein that we are able to apprehend the richest possibilities of our being. But anxiety is not the only nor solely privileged attunement which can be attributed to Dasein; Heidegger also finds that being in the state of profound boredom also discloses Dasein. Heidegger develops this discussion of boredom in the 1929-30 lecture course published as Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics[17] so as to illuminate what separates the human animal from all other animals (as Kuperus has written recently).[18]  Dasein is absorbed with all its responsibilities, tasks, appointments, and in completing these, we have become an indifferent one, as in “One would think to do this differently,” or, “One wishes it could be otherwise.” We are lost to ourselves in the things of our living. Our identity has been lost in the beings with which we occupy ourselves. We have become –  as Heidegger himself expresses it –  an “undetermined I.” The common link between technology and profound boredom is in how one relates to time.

Heidegger outlines three forms of boredom: 1) becoming bored by something – as in killing time while waiting for the train, 2) being bored with something and its associated time – a recognition, in his example after the fact, that the events of the evening were in the end boring, and 3) profound boredom – the phrase he uses is es ist einem lanweilig, “It is boring for one.” We experience this profound boredom as an indifference, the “It” of “It is boring for one,” is, “the title for whatever is indeterminate, unfamiliar.” This “It” should be familiar as it is how we know who we are, this profound boredom has left us standing there acutely aware of the universe’s complete anesthesia to our being as this coming and going. Similar to the first form of boredom, but unlike the second, we are fundamentally incapable of engaging other beings in this state of profound boredom, in fact being itself refuses to be engaged, this telling refusal is the mark of profound boredom. And, just as Berryman’s mother (repeatingly) admonishes us all: to confess that we have such boredom is to admit an emptiness.

It is in this emptiness of profound boredom and the narcosis that is being-on-drugs that I am most intrigued. We revisit Berryman’s poem in light of this question, how do we transform being heavy bored into an affirmation of being’s possibilities? The profundity of profound boredom is in the revelation of the emptiness of the universe. It is in this manner of thinking that I am tempted to imagine the Heidegger that would reflect on shunyata (ku,空), emptiness. And in my intoxication with this imagining, I recall Fukushima Keido Roshi telling us one evening that LSD-zen is not the same zen that he has cultivated and that he can transmit. Fukushima does not deny that one might experience something profound under the influence of a technology such as LSD, but perhaps he has in (no)mind something similar to Heidegger. The essence of the development and use of technology in the last two centuries has been to achieve given ends in the most efficient manner while expending minimal resources – the principle resource to be spared being time itself. The result of the promotion of technological innovation, as Thiele has stated, “This victory over time bears a price: humanity comes to relate to time as an obstacle and antagonist, as a recalcitrant force that demands harnessing. The effect of technological innovation, in other words, is not so much the saving of time as its conquest.”[19] This antagonistic relationship to time is problematic for both Fukushima and Heidegger as our being is a dwelling[20] in time. There is no room in this essay to discuss in any appreciable depth, unfortunately, how Fukushima might discuss the problem, but we can further explore Heidegger’s thinking.[21]

Time weighs most heavily on the bored. Thus Nietzsche asks in proposing the eternal recurrence, that heaviest burden, how will we be disposed to ourselves and our lives in this light?[22] We typically counteract boredom through busy work and preoccupations. In so doing we are passing the time in order to become masters over time. Our attempts to kill time, an attempt to drive boredom away, is actually a driving on of time.[23] But any effort to kill time obscures the essence of our being, which is defined as a being-in-time. In profound boredom we cannot simply go about business as usual, as Heidegger states, profound boredom “brings the self in all its nakedness to itself as the self that is there and has taken over the being there of its Da-sein. For what purpose? To be that Dasein.”[24] This telling refusal of beings as a whole is a calling: to consummation of this emptiness that is the foundation of being and its fundamental responsibility to being as a whole.[25] Rather than the self care that anxiety provokes in Being and Time, with all the attendant problems of how to face the Other (as, say, Levinas points out); profound boredom, like Heidegger’s later works on Gelassenheit, is a call to responsivity rather than responsibility.

Being-as-a-whole’s telling refusal of our Dasein in the state of profound boredom is not only the medium by which our Dasein returns to itself as responsible to itself, it is also an expression of Nature’s being-there. Thus they are mutually implicated in a hyperbolic sense of freedom as my freedom can only be understood in a relationship to nature and its ultimate disinterestedness in my busy work. We cannot discuss Being-as-a-whole’s disinterestedness in us as a production of our personal taste; while it may be a calling, it is not a calling to overcome nature’s fundamental disinterestedness. Finding ourselves in this state of profound boredom, as Ross has stated recently, “reveals nature within its ‘ownness.’”[26] What’s more, profound boredom calls upon us to poeisis, such that we poetically dwell in the world as the world reveals itself to us in its own terms, no longer mediated by our preoccupations and busy work. In this way, can we understand the problem of the social phenomenon that we call addiction not as a failure of an individual’s decision making capabilities but of a mutual inability to understand the conditions and interwoven events that lead one to cover over the profundity of our interrelatedness?[27]

Heidegger’s discussion and development of this profound boredom helps us to intimate an orientation towards ourselves in an expanded sense such that who we are is mutually implicated and consummated in our relationships to the world as itself. Chief among Heidegger’s concerns was man’s relationship to technology, promoting a return not to a simpler time without technology, as a neo-Luddite, but a call for us to return to the world as the primary site of wonder. Thinking in this manner about addiction shifts our prescription from a focus on an individual that is responsible for its choices to an investigation of the conditions among us that facilitate or encourage narcosis. Sharing Heidegger’s call to reminding us of the profundity of identification in the face of technology, D.W. Winnicott, in his essay “Struggling Through the Doldrums”, announced that in the long shadow being cast by the development of atomic warfare our society can no longer justify harnessing the energy of its youth toward military use as a given and thus we enter the Teen Age. He speaks of this in terms not unlike a recovering drug user, “we have lost something we have been in the habit of using, and so we are thrown back into this problem,”[28] of being. Winnicott’s contribution to developmental psychology was to expand our understanding of children and in doing this he pioneered the use of group therapy. Whatever is the psyche of the teen it is certainly also the psychology of the group: they form groups on the basis of the most inconsequential uniformities, theirs is the struggle for an identity, the struggle to feel real. The constant frustration of the adolescent is phrased in terms of mascoting:

One member of the group takes an overdose of a drug, another lies in bed in a

depression, another is free with the flick of a knife. In each case there are grouped a

band of adolescent isolates behind the ill individual whose extreme symptom has

impinged on society. Yet in the majority of these individuals, whether or not they get

involved, there was not enough drive behind the tendency to bring the symptom into

inconvenient existence and to produce a social reaction. The ill one had to act for the

others.[29]

Winnicott states that the problem of the adolescent is not only that is terrifying to be an adolescent and to do battle with the pervasive gnawing of being trapped in unreality, but the problem cannot be contained in one person: it hurts those of us that have yet to have successfully negotiated our own adolescence. Like Heidegger, Winnicott suggests to those that would hear that telling refusal of this uncanny world, that unreality where our tasks and ambitions are of no consequence, the way out of this labyrinth is not through slaying minotaurs, nor containing it so as to conceal it. Rather, it’s in our ability to heed his directions home. This paper is a call to a sense of hyperbolic responsibility in those that would listen: to promote the self-consummation that one is challenged by in the terror of profound boredom.


[1]   Berryman, John. The Dream Songs. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. 1969.

[2]   Schwieler, Elias. Mutual Implications: Otherness in Theory and John Berryman’s Poetry of Loss. Umeå: Moderna språk, 2003. 31.

[3]   Clark, David L. “Heidegger’s Craving: Being-on-Schelling.” Diacritics, Vol. 27, No. 3, (1997), pp. 8-33.

[4]   Clark, David L. “Heidegger’s Craving: Being-on-Schelling.” Diacritics, Vol. 27, No. 3, (1997), 10.

[5]   Gendlin, Eugene T. “Befindlichkeit: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology.” Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry: Heidgger and Psychology. Vol. XVI, Nos. I, 2 & 3, 1978-79. Found at http://www.focusing.org/gendlin_befindlichkeit.html

[6]   Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper Collins. 1962. 172.

[7]   Berringer, Virginia. “Morality and Medical Science: Concepts of Narcotic Addiction in Britain, 1820-1926.” Annals of Science 36, no. 1 (1979): 19.

[8]   Hoffmann, Heath C. “Recovery Careers of People in Alcoholics Anonymous: Moral Careers Revisited.” Contemporary Drug Problems, no. 30 (2003): 37.

[9]   Davies, J. B. (1998). “Pharmacology versus social process: Competing or complementary views on the nature of addiction?” Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 80, 268.

[10] May, Carl. “Pathology, Identity, and the Social Construction of Alcohol Dependence.” Sociology 35 (2001): 17.

[11] Henry Greely, Barbara Sahakian, John Harris, Ronald C. Kessler, Michael Gazzaniga, Philip Campbell, Martha J. Farah. “Towards Responsible Use of Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs by the Healthy.” Nature 456 (2008): 702-705.

[12] Heidegger, Martin. Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning). Trans. Parvis Emad & Kenneth Maly. Bloomington: Indian University Press. 1999. §76.

[13] Ibid. §58.

[14] Heidegger, Martin. Aus der Erfahrung des Denkens. Ed. Hermann Heidegger. Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1983. Vol. 13 of Gesamtausgabe. 149. Reference from Charles Bambach. “Heidegger, Technology, and the Homeland.” Germanic Review, vol. 78, September, 2003.

[15] Heidegger, Martin. Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning). Trans. Parvis Emad & Kenneth Maly. Bloomington: Indian University Press. 1999. §76.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Heidegger, Martin. The Fundamental Concepts in Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Trans. William McNeill and Nicholas Walker. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 1995.

[18] Kuperus, Gerard. “Attunement, Deprivation and Drive: Heidegger and Animality.” In Phenomenology and the Non-Human Animal, edited by Corrine; Lotz Painter, Christian. New York: Springer, 2007.

[19] Thiele, Leslie Paul. “Postmodernity and the Routinization of Novelty: Heidegger on Boredom and Technology.” Polity 29, no. 4 (1997): 505.

[20] According to personal communications between Joan Stambagh and Eugene Gendlin, Heidegger himself sees the phrase Befindlichkeit in his later work as wohnen (dwelling). http://www.focusing.org/gendlin_befindlichkeit.html#2

[21] We might start by talking about killing time instead of killing the Buddhas we meet on the road.

[22] Nietzsche, Friederich The Gay Science with a Prelude in German Rhymes and Appendix of Songs. Ed. Bernard Williams. Trans. Josefine Nauckhof and Adrian Del Caro. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2003. §341.

[23] Heidegger, Martin. The Fundamental Concepts in Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Trans. William McNeill and Nicholas Walker. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 1995. 95-6 §23.

[24] Ibid.  §31.

[25] Hammer, Espen. “Being Bored: Heidegger on Patience and Melancholy.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 12, no. 2 (2004): 286.

[26] Ross, Andrew Peter. “Rethinking Environmental Responsibility: Heidegger, Profound Boredom, and the Alterity of Nature.” Dissertation, Queen’s University, 2007. 46.

[27] Here I’m thinking of that most boring hunk of rock in Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo.” It’s just rock, but bursting forth from it is a star and so we are told that in witnessing this we must change our lives. Rilke consummates not just the ancient sculptor’s vision of a complete body, but also the entire process of stellar evolution. He comes to know, in the profound boredom of the procession of history – which could careless about this sculpture – that our Being must always be revisited so as to be attuned to being-as-a-whole.

[28] Winnicott, D.W. “Struggling through the Doldrums.” Deprivation and Delinquency. New York: Rouledge 2000. 150.

[29] Ibid. 153.

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