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Urban Life and Boredom, A literary Reflection
By Donny Gahral Adian
Philosophy Lecturer, University of Indonesia
Boredom, loneliness, alienation, those are existential mood that envelope the every day life of urban community. The architecture, the public space arrangement, the loss of public space, all of those contribute to the rising existential illness among urban individual. People are living within each own self-oriented capsules and interact poorly with each other. Why is it poor? Since urban dweller sees other as a reflection of his or her own image. There is no quality in urban way of communication.
Boredom. Urban dwellers are faced with continuous routine causing an unbearable boring experience. People see, talk, wonder and do the exact same thing everyday. There is no place for chance. When people concentrate on his or her own being, they are being alienated from the rest of being and how the rest of being interact with him or her. Urban see one another as fellow doctors, lawyers, wife, men, women and so on. City is flocked with icon for those attributes. The result is existential loneliness that each other recognize each other by attributes not unique individuals. Specter of loneliness is haunting us, urban dwellers.
Those existential maladies are well reflected by man of letters. Literature is a work of art that reflect this situation in such a delicate manner. Literature doesn’t preach us to become more human. It shows other dimensions of urban living that is forgotten by the work of modernization and its accompanying progress. The collapse of collective structure like family is also done by the great name of urban conception of material well being and success. This paper will explore how the city relate in certain way with urban’s existential turbulence. That will be the first part. The second part will be the way literary work capture and reflect on that. For that reason, I will focus on Iwan Simatupang’s literary works.
1. Landscape of Fellowness
Impersonalization has its root in the city’s landscape. From railway station up to park, we no longer see a distinctive and unique human. We see frllowness in these faint faces. We see fellow mother in a park, fellow jogger in a jogging park, fellow passenger in an airport lounge. Each with his or her own thought and activity.
When we see fellow jogger in a jogging track, the usual conversation will be, “how many lap do you have jogged”?, Do you of the jog here?”, and so on. The conversation might go as deep as, “how do you define ”love?”. However the landscape has its own constrain on that kind of conversation. People will talk to each other according to what the landscape dictate. The landscape itself create this atmosphere of fellowship that can’t be shaken off by critical consciousness. It is the landscape that shape our consciousness of being.
Boredom. It is a natural consequence of the haunting fog of fellowship that envelop our urban life. We never see plurality of subjective dimension of human. We see each other in terms of landscape park, amusement center. Mall, post office, bus station an other. Even the subjective expression such as anger will be interpreted in terms of schedule delay in bus station or get one’s car bumped in a parking lot. We are alienated from the very internal dimension of other. We are getting bored and lonely. People are trapped in a vast architecture of no man’s land. We are at the same time somewhere and nowhere in this urban environment.
In the city, everybody is waiting in bus stations, post offices, hospital lounges even public toilets. We pass the time in such a boring manner in surrounding atmosphere of fellowship. Time becomes so long and cold when all we see is just empty faces of our fellow travelers.
Consider this situation as follows: we are waiting in the tasteless station of some lonely minor railway. It is four hours until the next train arrives. The district is uninspiring. We do have a book in our rucksack, though----shall we read? No. Or think through a problem, some question? We are unable to. We read the timetables or study the table giving various distances from this station to other places we are not acquainted with at all. We look at the clock---only a quarter of an hour have gone by. Then we go out onto the local road. We walk up and down, just to have something to do. But it is no use. Then we count the trees along the road, look at our watch again---exactly five minutes since we last looked at it. Fed up with walking back, we sit down on a stone, draw all kinds of figures in the sand, and in so doing catch ourselves looking at our watch yet again-half an hour---and so on.
As everyday situation with well-known, banal, yet quite spontaneous forms of passing time. What are we really passing time here? This question is strangely ambivalent. As the phrase says, we pass the time. Yet what does it mean here to pass the time? We cannot, after all. Shake time off. To pass here means to make it pass by, to propel it, drive it on so that it passes. Our passing the time, however, is in itself really a passing of boredom, where passing now means: driving away, shaking off. Passing the time is a driving away of boredom that drives time on.
What are we trying to chase away here is wanting to kill time—i.e. what is time?
In passing the time we do not chase time away. Not only because this is ultimately altogether impossible, but because the whole attitude of passing the time is not really directed toward time, even though in doing so we constantly look at the clock. What we do we really want in constantly looking at the clock? We merely want to see time passed. What time? The time until the train arrives. We constantly look at the clock because we are waiting for that point in time. WE are fed up waiting, we want to have done with this waiting. We shake off boredom. Is the boredom that springs from this looking at the clock some kind of waiting, then? By no means. Being bored with something, after all, is not a waiting for something. In our example the most we can say is that it is waiting itself that is boring and that bores us, but boredom is not itself a waiting. Furthermore, not every waiting is necessarily boring. On the contrary, waiting can be full of suspense. In which case there is then no room for boredom at all. We thought we were already on the trail of boredom with the phenomenon of passing the time, yet once it has disappeared.
To what extent, however is the waiting in the example above boring? What constitutes its boringness? Perhaps it is because it is having to wait. i.e. because we are coerced into a particular situation. This is why we become impatient. To what really oppresses us is more this impatience. We want to escape from our impatience. Is boredom then this impatience? Is boredom therefore not some waiting, but this being patient, not wanting or being able to wait, and for this reason being ill-humored? Yet is boredom is really an attunement of ill-humor or even an impatience? Certainly impatience can arise in connection with boredom. Nevertheless, it is neither identical with boredom nor even a property of it. There is neither patient, nor impatient for ideals: truth, happiness, and immortality. Those utopias can never be fou7n din this mundane world, so it creates the feeling of despair, lonely and homeless. We live in the world that is not exactly ours, a boring world.
Merahnya Merah starts and finishes by the protagonist that become homeless ever since he changed his life from spiritual into material path. He changed his life so radical that he became a killing machine soldier after having studied for so long in the seminary. This radical shifting put him into an asylum for mental illness. After treatment, he I released without any information whether he is fully recovered or not. He never registered to an office for veteran and become homeless. He chose not to be taken care by the country he had defended but instead looting the street searching food in garbage cans. He doesn’t have an ID card and remain anonymous for the rest of his life.
Life is an endless cycle of irrationality. It doesn’t have such a reasoned design that give us hope. Because of that, we always long for ideals. Ideal that often being struck by life’s unfortunate events that is beyond our control. Our longing for ideals is what brings loneliness, despair and homeless into our life. Modernity Is not a progress in Iwan’s novel. It is a civilization bulldozer that crushes the intimate dimension of human life and put anonymous as a substitute . Homelessness is not brought upon by the unemployment. It is more profound than that. The nature of homelessness in Iwan’s novel is continuous migration. We are not exactly at home everywhere we stay. We have never had a home and by that we can never be going back. We are always in transit, juts like people waiting in the transit lounge for the next flight or in a bus station for a ride home. Home is also a transit, a place to rest our body and mind before undergoing another day of bread winning activity.
Iwan reflects on the anonymity of modern life by never giving his protagonists a persona name. The protagonists in the three novels of Iwan are called “our man”. Others also don’t have personal names except some professional attribute like Merahnya Merah : “ex officer”, ex seminary student”, ex executioner” and “he”. In Ziarah “ex painter” ex pengapur”, ex “he”. In Kering , ex head of village”, ex college student”, “he”. Those “ex” behind professional attributes represent transitoriness of modern life, that we are never be at home everywhere. We are always on the move.
Transitoriness and homelessness creates boredom as faintly portrayed in Iwan’s Ziarah and Kering. Boredom takes place when everything becomes usual. Life is free from ideals. Those unusual-fortunate-events are being switched off by death. We are marching forward to the pond of irrationality, something dark waiting us over the horizon. As a result, life becomes the chain of usual events. In Ziarah the protagonist conceive death as the most irrational case challenging human knowledge. Death “relativizes” everything on this mundane world.. There is no chilling, exciting. Or shocking events anymore. Everything moves in such regular, rigid and cold manner.
“Everything unusual is actually usual,
this if we see it from that event, yes from each event
as a whole” (Ziarah:84 Kering:1983)
Modern urban way of living are full with events that keep on coming from time to time. For example, we see an accident on our way to the office this morning. Is it an unusual event? At that moment it is. It Is not something that happens everyday. But in the afternoon, we get fired because of the imperfect work we have done. The morning accident was sinking from our sea of consciousness. It becomes ordinary. But our previous event soon becomes neutral when we come home to see our wife has left with her hairstylist.
The question now, how to escape homelessness that bring about this profound boredom as reflected by Iwan’s novels. The answer is we don’t escape it. Since the effort to escape homelessness is the very cause of it. The stronger our impulse to escape our existential settlement, the stringer is our despair, solitude, homeless that put us into profound boredom. We like Martin Heidegger said, is being-in-the world. We can never escape our world since we are embedded to it. Denying our facticity Is not a spiritual path to liberation. Instead, we must fully embrace our facticity and become acquainted with ever single detail of its dark architecture.
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