Isabel's Reviews > Boredom

Boredom by Alberto Moravia
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Nov 24, 10

Read in November, 2010

** spoiler alert ** Boredom, according to Moravia’s disaffected artist-protagonist Dino, is the lack of or inability to relate to physical objects, to the external world, to a more or less objective reality. And Dino is bored—always bored, perpetually bored, and interested only in his own boredom. He hates his rich mother for her unabashed materialism, hates her money, and comes to hate even his easel and canvas and paints and brushes, living in a squalid studio with a canvas that remains blank. His last attempt at painting ended with the destruction of his work, and “my…creative…energy had been vented completely in my furious and fundamentally rational gesture of destruction.” The painting had been unfinished until that “conclusion of a long discourse which I had been holding with myself for an interminable time.” This act of destruction, on the surface the reduction to nothing of a project in which much has been invested, frames or stands as synecdoche for the larger “plot” of the novel: Dino’s listless sexual relationship with nymphette Cecilia, which must also end in destruction.


Dino becomes obsessed with Cecilia, who is indifferent to the point of non-sentience, unable to describe a single conversation she has had or piece of furniture in the house she has inhabited her entire life. (Dino, though equally unfeeling toward physical objects, gives us wonderfully acerbic descriptions of his mother’s immoderate taste, the overblown, emotional figure painting of his neighbor and Cecilia’s former lover, the makeup and clothing of his mother and her vapid party guests.) The “sense of the absurdity of reality” drives Dino into inward-gazing boredom while detaching Cecilia entirely from her surroundings; they, needless to say, remain distanced from each other. Spoken conversations consist of Dino interrogating Cecilia and their real communication is only sexual.

Dino, the consummate anti-materialist, needs to possess Cecilia. This is jealousy, but it is also the antidote to the boredom Dino has suffered from for 35 years: for the first time in his life he desires an object so badly that his distance from and disdain for “reality” vanish and his own, new reality is the monomaniacal desire for possession. (It is interesting that Dino is “possessed” with this desire or obsession to “possess”, that this drive for ownership and control in fact owns him. The literary jealous lover is perhaps no more than a trick of the double meaning of “possess”.)

The only escape, the only possible return to boredom and apathy, is through a destructive gesture akin to slashing the canvas, but Dino is ultimately unable to murder Cecilia. If the act of artistic creation is self-realizing or self-actualizing –if, in creating, the artist enters into discourse with himself by means of a physical and external object – then only by killing that object and destroying his relationship to it can Dino return to the boredom of silence, the total lack of discourse with himself and with the world. He must kill Cecilia not because he is jealous, but because he wants to become bored again. Adhering to the model set out by that first, artistic gesture of destruction, however, Dino’s final act of self-harm is perhaps more appropriate: injuring himself is akin to injuring the canvas he has poured himself into.


Boredom is not unlike The Stranger, but Dino emerges as a much more compelling and fully-formed narrator than Meursault. (And then there’s the sex. I read it a while ago, but I don’t remember Camus being so racy.) Dino is funnier, too; even his navel-gazing and musings on the nature of boredom are engaging. There is a lot more to say as well about Moravia, Boredom and Fascism, a period of “social boredom” and “the boredom of dull sexual urgency,” and perhaps it is a post-Fascist Italian identity that accounts for Moravia’s particular brand of existentialism.

Looking less abstractly at the very nature of abstraction, Boredom may be less successful as a purely existential text than The Stranger is (it is, at least, less iconic), but the dryness, wittiness and self-consciousness of its dark, dark nihilism make it all that much more enjoyable.
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