Article Title

Tedium: An Essay on Drag, Attunement, Theater, and Translation


Loren Kruger


In Tedium, a play by Chicago playwright Mickle Maher, a speaker recounts the story of a tedious event that turned into something else entirely. The play begins with what seems at first to be the ordinary failure of an overly long and pretentious performance. And yet, the speaker recounts, this play becomes a hit. This unexpected success apparently derives from moments in which the audience experiences something that penetrates the tedium of the play, which the speaker describes as a moment of unexpected attunement. The speaker asserts that this attunement is created not through “magic—that tired term” but through a “dense boredom” whose “particular ‘pulse’ acts somehow as an incantation against itself” , and that this moment “would be impossible to experience without the boredom that precedes it.” In other words, it is only through tedium that a piece of theatre can by way of the “chance collision” between stage and audience produce a moment of fundamental attunement.

This paper takes the paradoxical transformation of tedium into attunement enacted by Tedium and Maher’s companion piece The Hunchback Variations as departure points for analyzing the affinities between theatre making and philosophizing. Focusing on translations of key terms, the discussion takes in Nietzsche’s epigrams on Trägheit, inertia or idleness, Barthes’s on ennui as tedium bordering on anguish, and Heidegger’s distinction between Langweiligkeit or mere boredom and Langeweile which translates as tedium or, analytically, as the “drag through the long while.” This translation emphasize the experience that begins as annoyance but may, as the play suggests, move through letting go to attunement. Following this experience through performances and recordings of both plays, the paper concludes with reflections on the interaction of philosophizing, theatre, and affect theory.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.