Alberto Moravia’s Boredom: The Nothing that swallows the meanings of reality

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Once, at the second-hand market, I was flipping through the pages of an old book. It was called Boredom, written by a certain Alberto Moravia. I was fascinated since the very first lines.

How is it possible, a desperate painter, craving for his own inspiration, suddenly destroying a canvas that he painted for six months?

Dino, this is the main character, is a young and wealthy 35-yars old guy, who lives with his mother in an apartment in Via Appia, Rome. He loves to spend the days dedicating himself to painting, but he is not a bourgeois like all the others. He hates that environment, as well as the family, the main cause of his disease.

He realizes the insignificance of material things that surround him and he sees in front of himself a big black hole: boredom.

“For many persons boredom is the opposite of fun, I could say that boredom in some  ways it’s as similar as fun because, indeed, it causes distraction and forgetfulness, of a very particular kind. Boredom, for me, is properly a kind of insufficiency or inadequacy or lack of reality. “

This awareness induces him to lose his artistic inspiration, so that he decides to move in an apartment in via Margutta, and this is where the canvas laceration comes. Well, Dino  doesn’t see any light in the chasm, despite of relocation. Now every thought or object is ready to mutate into the pungent boredom that is dominating him.

In the house next to his one lives an old painter named Balestrieri. The latter loves to paint portraits of female nudes, and he is a sex-mad, so Dino spends a lot of time observing out of the window, even counting, all the women who weekly enter into the palace.

But Balestrieri suddenly dies and Dino found out that he died when he was having sex with a woman. That woman is called Cecilia, and she is only seventeen years old. “Teenager from waist up, woman from waist down“. They meet for the first time accidentally in the house, now “impregnated by the smell, nauseating and repulsive, of the furniture of the house belonging to the dead man”. They keep the same attitude for all of the book, and it is characteristic from the first words: Dino asks Cecilia lots of random questions, but the girl answers just in monosyllables, keeping a sterility in her words that  is marked it in every chapter.

They begin to meet often, especially because Dino is excited by the idea of knowing how Balestrieri could die right during the sexual act with the girl .

Horst Buchholz and Catherine Spaak in Boredom, film by Damiano Damiani (1963)

After frequent visits, Cecilia decides to decrease the number of dates, using cleverly the excuse of unpermissive parents, but Dino gets suspicious, so after having followed her for an entire afternoon, he sees her with another man: Luciani.

Our main character doesn’t get any explanation: the girl does not seem in any way upset, sterile or reticent, and she insists that she love both of them. According to her every event is insignificant, everything is like this because it must be like this.

The young man begins to follow her everywhere, to give money to meet up, but the girl spends it with Luciani, a poor man. Things don’t go better and the man even propose himself, resulting in a refusal.

After repeated events, Dino attempts suicide, crashing his car against a tree. He wakes up in an hospital bed and begins to observe, in a supine position, a tree from the window.

In the prelude Moravia says:

“The feeling of boredom is born in me from the absurdity of a reality, as I said, insufficient or incapable of persuading me of its actual existence. For example, it can happen to me to watch carefully a glass. As long as I repeat to myself that this glass is a crystal or metal container, made to put a liquid into it and bring it to the lips, as long as I can symbolize the glass with conviction, it will seem to have a relationship with the glass, enough to make me believe on its existence.”

Whereas in the ending he says:

“Actually I was not quiet, I was just strongly occupied by the only thing that I really cared about: the contemplation of the tree. I didn’t think to anything, I just wondered when and in which way I recognized the reality of the tree, the existence as an object that was different from me, having no relations with me. And nevertheless there it was, and it couldn’t be ignored.”

These last two sentences summarize the essence of the whole book, that is the (incomplete) finding of reality by the protagonist, after the attempted suicide. Through that act, he shows that he obtained what he desired, so he perceives the existence of reality through his will. It will seem an extreme gesture, inopportune, but engaging in reading the book, you’ll notice how the inappropriate event was necessary at that time.

Alberto Moravia

Dino is tormented, a slave of a world that does not belong to him anymore, does not bind with anything and no one, and inevitably everything Moravia writes about him is reflected in the political, economic and social situation of the post-war Rome.

As the chapters of the book were passing one after the other, the idea that “boredom” is actually nothing more than the incarnation of Cecilia started to take form in my head: reticent, sterile, dark, it visits you when you least expect it, but then it betrays you and you’re the one who’s going to look for her. And discovering the impossibility of having it, you fall into deep despair.

To everyone, however, I recommend to draw their own interpretation, from a book that about boredom has absolutely nothing.

One comment

  1. Thank you for the article. Just finished watching L’Ennui the french film adapted from this book in 1998 and have found your post one year later to the day it was published while searching for an english or french translation of Moravia’s novel. How synchronous.

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