Excerpt from Raúl Ruiz, Poetics of Cinema.
"In about the fourth century A.D., Cassanius and some other early Christian fathers reflected on a phenomenon which they considered the Eighth Capital Sin. They called it tristitia, or sadness. It is induced by the noonday demon. Most of his victims are monks, isolated from the rest of the world. The phenomenon starts towards midday, when the light is at its strongest. The monk is concentrating on his meditation; he hears steps, runs to the window; there's no-one about, but there is a gentle knocking at the door of his cell; he checks there's no-one there, and suddenly he wants to be somewhere else, anywhere, miles away. This happens again and again. He cannot meditate, he feels tired, hungry, sleepy. We have no difficulty in discerning the three stages of ennui or boredom: a feeling of imprisonment, escape through sleep, and finally anxiety, as though we were guilty of some awful deed which we have not committed. The Abbot's cure for this is not a million miles from what today's entertainment experts say is the right thing to keep people alert at the workplace: distract distraction by means of distraction, use poison to heal.
If the early fathers made these comments, I suspect it is because they did not really believe in demons. But let us make an effort, let us pretend these demons do exist. The monk is in his cell. He feels boredom coming on. He hears the footsteps. But he's skeptical. He knows there's nobody around. Still someone arrives. The monk knows that this apparition is an artifice, and he accepts it as such. The apparition offers to spring him from his cell and he says yes. He is transported to faraway lands. He'd like to stay, but it's already time to go home. Back in his cell, he's astonished to discover that traveling has only made things worse. He's even more bored than before and now his boredom has ontological weight. We will call this dangerous new sentiment melancholy.
Now every trip out of the cell, every apparition of his virtual friend, will make his melancholy more intense. He still does not believe in these apparitions, but his lack of belief is contagious. Soon the cell itself, his brother monks, and even communion with God becomes as an illusion. His world has been emptied by entertainment. Some one thousand two hundred years later, in France, Blaise Pascal, in the chapter of his Pensées devoted to entertainment, warns 'All the evil in men comes from one thing and one thing alone: their inability to remain at rest in a room' — be it for no more than an hour. So perhaps boredom is a good thing."
Images: Nam June Paik, Buddha (1973) & Zen for TV (1963).