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The Boredom of Melancholia

The Greeks explained melancholia as an excess of bile. Nietzsche, whose blinding headaches were symptomatic of his profound sadness, was admitted many times at the clinic of Pforta in his teens; there, as treatment, leeches were applied to his head thinking that the slimy creatures could simply suck away bad and sad blood. Aristotle reports that Plato and Socrates were melancholy men. Leibniz, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard were certainly visited frequently by that noonday demon; Leibniz's sickness never did leave him like a shadow behind the facade of a frenetic intellect, Schopenhauer made pessimism a doctrine, and Kierkegaard described despair as the sickness unto death.

But they are not remembered because they were melancholy men. They are remembered because they created something from the monotony of boredom and the nothingness of despair. Like God.

This is the most difficult: to create when you can no longer even rise up from bed or pick up a pen, to think when thoughts have abandoned you without saying when they will come back, to see when nothing strikes the eyes, when everything becomes disqualified as vain.

This is why some just ride it through, just go through it in the way that one goes through a dark tunnel which sooner or later has to end, or in the belief that one day something will cross the threshold of the absent horizon and thus emerge. This is called waiting. Because melancholy, even if it visits one often like that unwanted aunt who always seems to pass by, will eventually leave--even for a while so that it can return again when you least expect it to come. While it is there, nothing can be done but to wait.

But a some do not merely wait. Some do something as they wait. Perhaps they do this to prevent that other uninvited guest called boredom from paying a visit--although boredom usually is the herald of melancholy, signaling its coming. (The key then is to entertain them one by one. This can be done.) Like the commuter who reads the papers while waiting for the train to arrive, some also pass the time by doing something. Like a prisoner waiting for his execution with neither guilt nor remorse, he counts the stars through the impossibly small window in his cell in his last experience of the cool hand of evening. Well, you might as well do something, anything while waiting--sometimes the weight of waiting is just too heavy. So leave it for a while.

This is why in insane asylums where most of the loony bunch are comprised of depressives--and not of the more interesting cases, e.g., psychotics and manics--they have what the bright psychologists call "occupational therapy" where they play Sudoku or bake pies as they wait for their release in between the pain of seeing a sun without feeling its warmth and the agony of those silent evenings before the sleeping pills take their inevitable effect. You see, it is a matter of forgetting that you are waiting.

Yet some, or a very few, light a solitary weak match in the darkness. They do not await in vain for what may never come nor do they deny that they are melancholy; they create. To create something out of nothing: man can do this as well. How?

By summoning all that is left in you, all that weakened strength, and bestowing that on what has hitherto become useless, vain, empty. It is to no longer think how such a trick can be done; it is already a matter of will--and if there is none already, by a sheer force from nowhere without an intentional object yet. If suicide still needs the strength of the hand to cut the wrist or the strength of the legs to climb that height from which he falls, then it is that same strength that they transfigure into something that no longer goes against them as to kill them but to create in the hope that it gives life back to them.

You see, strength or weakness (the difference matters not anymore), is no longer of the already eclipsed intellect; it is of the pure heart. While the cliché says that so long as the heart beats there is hope, it is better to say that so long as the heart pumps blood--happy or sad blood--there is a possibility of renewing the body. Renewal?--when melancholia is precisely the boredom of what is endlessly old? Yes. How is this achieved?

By spilling your blood on the then colorless world. Blood, I say. When you lose too much of it you die. But some lose just enough of it as a sacrifice to the gods of sadness but in doing so it they let the otherwise dead and equally bored body create new young blood. It is already a matter of taking a risk: if the suicides--melancholia's fallen angels--are able to take the risk of ending it all, then it is a far greater risk to will living. The point is not to surrender before the meaningless world. The point is to laugh at it. Laughter is the best medicine.

If suicides die a thousand deaths, melancholia can live a thousand and one deaths.

Nietzsche tells us that one should write with your blood. He did this.

Socrates was a stray in the agora talking to merchants, politicians, and passers-by, asking them what they thought about life like a madman. He would drink all night until morning before he came home much to the chagrin of his wife.

Plato, who never got over the death of his master, wrote whatever he remembered from Socrates who in turn never wrote anything. Later on he would find his own voice even if Socrates remained his mouthpiece. Schopenhauer refers to him as "Plato the Divine."

Leibniz, the polymath, philosopher, mathematician, lawyer, politician, inventor, and writer read and worked until the wee hours of the morning. He said nothing is without reason.

Schopenhauer slept most of the day and took an unexplainable liking for poodles. But he also coined the term, well before Nietzsche who admired the pessimistic philosopher when he was young, the "will-to-life" (Wille zum Leben).

Kierkegaard forever carried a broken heart because of a broken love for Regina. But before existentialism, he transformed despair into the solitary power of the individual which enables him to take the solitary leap--not the leap of of suicide but the leap of faith.

To create out of nothing. I believe God was bored when he created the world.


  1. if i'm not mistaken, melancholia is believed to be associated with the excess of black bile... i can very much relate to the melancholics since i myself am one... at first i thought that having the blues once in a while was rather quirky, but i later learned that being melancholic is a temperament after all; i.e. we are born with it... there are four temperaments namely: sanguine (excess blood, according to galen), choleric (excess yellow bile), melancholic (excess black bile), and phlegmatic (excess phlegm). melancholics value their space a lot. they prefer to bask in solitude. they easily get tired when dealing with a large number of people all at the same time, have low energy levels, seldom get excited, and are perfectionists...

  2. yes, yvaughn, the word literally means "black bile." thank you for that clarification; that's what I get for writing in haste. Well, there you go again, perhaps another common "trait" between us. Though I wouldn't call myself a "melancholic" by temperament; perhaps an "accidental melancholic" would be more precise. Or, it just appears to other people that I am the "sad" type, whereas, my close family and close friends know that I like laughing and making others laugh. Back then, when I still did not know, I would also be very shy in front of people or snobbish; get easily tired; be territorial, etc. But I've overcome these things now (or at least I'd like to believe so). It is a matter of fooling the body, or, turning that black bile into white. thank you again for this. I'm sorry for the late response.

  3. no problem (= thank YOU for imparting and sharing your knowledge and wisdom, esp. when it comes to the etymologies of terms which i'm quite fond of (=
    i like that notion: a matter of fooling the body, huh? :P


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