The Psychology & Philosophy of Boredom


The modern concept of boredom goes back to the 19th century. For Erich Fromm and other thinkers, boredom is a response to industrial society, in which people are required to engage in alienated labour, and to the erosion of traditional structures of meaning.

Yet, it seems that boredom of some form is a human universal. On the walls of the ruins of Pompeii, there is Latin graffiti about boredom that dates back to the first century. And the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas spoke of an affliction of monks called acedia, a state of listlessness or torpor that could have been related to melancholy. Aquinas opposed this ‘sorrow of the world’ to spiritual joy, and, revealingly, the ‘noonday demon’ came to be seen as ‘the sin that inspires all other sins’.

A definition of boredom

So what, exactly, is boredom?

Boredom is a deeply unpleasant state of ‘unmet arousal’: you are aroused rather than despondent, but, for one or more reasons, your arousal cannot be met or directed. These reasons can be internal—often a lack of imagination, motivation, or concentration—or external, such as an absence of environmental stimuli or opportunities. So whereas you want to do something stimulating, you find yourself unable to do so; and, moreover, you are frustrated by the rising awareness of your inability.

Awareness, or consciousness, is key, and may explain why animals, if they get bored at all, generally have much higher thresholds for boredom. Whereas most animals dislike boredom, man, says writer Colin Wilson, is tormented by it.

In man, boredom is often brought about or aggravated by a lack of control or freedom, which is why it is particularly common in children and teenagers, who, in addition to being dictated to, lack the resources, experience, and discipline (the mind furnishings) to cope with boredom.

Stuck at the airport

Why is it so damned boring to be stuck in a departures lounge while your flight is increasingly delayed?

You are in a high state of arousal because you are anticipating your arrival in a novel and therefore stimulating environment.

You do have plenty of shops and newspapers, but shopping or the news is not what you are interested in at this particular time, and the shops and newspapers succeed only in dividing your attention and so promoting your boredom.

To make things worse, the situation is completely out of your control, unpredictable (the flight could be delayed further, or even cancelled), and inescapable. As you can do nothing but check and re-check the monitor, you become painfully aware of all these factors and more.

Apart from shops and newspapers, you also have alcohol, which could dull your consciousness; but at the same time you cannot afford to sleep because sleep may lead you to miss your flight. So here you are, caught between Scylla and Charybdis.

If you really need to catch the flight because your livelihood or the love of your life depends on it, you will get much less bored than if you don’t really need to go to wherever it is you are going. Thus, boredom is an inverse function of need or perceived need.

If, in addition, you don’t want to catch the flight (perhaps because you would rather be going somewhere else, or staying at home), then you will get all the more bored, and perhaps also angry.

As a result, you might develop an aversion to flying, just like the child who is bored at school might develop an aversion to learning.

Effects of boredom

So far so good. But why exactly is boredom so unpleasant?—so unpleasant that the problem is hardly ever recognized, still less addressed; so unpleasant, in fact, that I am finding it hard to write this article, over which I have procrastinated longer than usual.

For philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, boredom is evidence of the meaninglessness of life; because, if life were intrinsically meaningful or fulfilling, there could be no such thing as boredom.

So what boredom does, effectively, is to open the shutters on some very uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, which we normally block out with a flurry of activity or with the opposite thoughts or feelings.

This is the essence of the manic defence, which consists in preventing feelings of helplessness and despair from entering the conscious mind by occupying it with opposite feelings of euphoria, purposeful activity, and omnipotent control. (I have written on the manic defence on this blog.)

Boredom is so unpleasant that we expend considerable resources on preventing or reducing it. The value of the global entertainment industry is poised to top $2 trillion in 2016, and entertainers such as singers, actors, and football players are accorded impiously high levels of pay and social status.

The technological advances of recent years have put an eternity of entertainment at our fingertips, but, paradoxically, this has only made things worse, in part, by removing us even more from reality. Instead of being satiated, we are desensitized and in need of ever more stimulation: ever more war, ever more gore, and hardcore.

If we cannot escape boredom by engaging in intentional activity, we escape it through daydreaming or sleeping.

People who are prone to boredom are also prone to mental disorders such as depression, overeating, substance misuse and dependence, and gambling. And they often prefer pain to boredom—not only suffering pain, but inflicting it as well. For them, the choice is simply one of boredom and pain, a choice between pain and pain.

Benefits of boredom

Yet boredom can also be your way of telling yourself that you’re not spending your time as well as you could, that you should rather be doing something else, something more enjoyable or more useful, or more important and fulfilling.

And so boredom can be a stimulus for change, leading you to better ideas, higher ambitions, and greater opportunities. Most of our achievements, of man’s achievements, are born out of the dread of boredom.

Indeed, the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who spent time in prison, intimated that prison is in fact the ideal setting for a creative person. For Russell,

A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow process of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers as though they were cut flowers in a vase.

Dealing with boredom

There are many ways of reducing the propensity to boredom.

If boredom is an awareness of unmet arousal, you can minimize boredom by avoiding situations over which you have no or little control, cutting out distractions, motivating yourself, expecting less, putting things into their proper perspective (realizing how lucky you really are), and so on.

But rather than fighting a constant battle against boredom, it is easier and much more productive to actually embrace it. If boredom is a window on the fundamental nature of reality, and, by extension, on the human condition, then fighting boredom amounts to pulling the curtains. Yes, the night outside is pitch black, but the stars shine all the more brightly for it.

For just these reasons, many Eastern traditions embrace and encourage boredom, seeing it as the pathway to a higher consciousness.

So instead of fighting boredom, go along with it, make something out of it; in short, be, yourself, less boring.

Schopenhauer said that boredom is but the reverse side of fascination, since both depend on being outside rather than inside a situation, and one leads to the other. So instead of being outside a situation, learn to get inside it, however hard this may be.

In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh advocates appending the word ‘meditation’ to whatever activity it is that you find boring, for example, ‘waiting in an airport—meditation’.

Developed by British psychiatrist Russell Razzaque, Mindful Moment Training is a free online resource that aims to reconnect you with the real you.

In the words of Samuel Johnson,

It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.

The Psychology of Music in Restaurants


In my experience, most restaurants play the wrong sort of music. While a lot of thought may have been given to the menu, the wine list, and the service, none whatsoever has been given to the music.

Are restaurateurs missing a big trick?

First, what is the function of music in a restaurant? There are several possible functions: in particular, to accompany and enhance the food; to create ambiance and atmosphere; to influence menu choices; and, by making people eat faster, to increase table turnover.

It stands to reason that different types of restaurant should play different kinds of music, or perhaps even none at all.

Finer restaurants ought to play discrete instrumental music that accompanies and enhances the food, rather than distracts from it or from the diners’ conversations. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that music strongly influences our perception of food and wine. For example, according to research from the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford, people associate higher notes, flutes, and tinkling piano with sweetness; and deeper, more resonant notes with bitterness. Still, some of the finest restaurants do not play any music at all, reasoning—in my opinion, correctly—that, when the food is truly great, any extraneous stimulus can only detract from it. The music does an injustice to the food, and the food to the music.

At the other end of the scale, a restaurant that places profit above dining experience often plays loud music with a fast tempo that subconsciously puts diners under pressure to eat more quickly, even if that means that they are less able to enjoy their meal. But caveat emptor: such music also suppresses appetite, leading to less food and, in particular, less drink being consumed. Appetite is in part a function of the parasympathetic nervous system. Loud, fast music activates the sympathetic nervous system (the ‘fight-or-flight’ response), which opposes the parasympathetic system and thereby diminishes appetite. That, in a nutshell, is why you don’t suddenly feel a tinge of hunger while being chased up a tree by a lion.

Music can detract not only from the food and wine, but also from conversations, mood, thoughts, and emotions. This is what most often ruins the dining experience for me. I usually go out as much for the food and wine as for the conversation, and often enjoy lengthy, involved, and intimate conversations. Any music that is so loud as to oblige me to strain my voice discourages such conversations. Moreover, music with lyrics attached imposes the singer’s thoughts and emotions upon me. These thoughts and emotions are often banal or incongruous, and prevent me from feeling or evolving my own. Why on earth should I care about the love life of some forlorn stranger? It is very telling, I think, that, in general, we do not play music when eating at home.

On the other hand, there are some people who have nothing or little to say to each other. For such people, the music can, at least to some extent, carpet over the silence and relieve the pressure of having to make conversation. (There are also people with so little between their ears that you really do need something with which to fill up the space.) Ideally, a restaurant with any sort of culinary pretensions ought to have a silent area or room, and, whenever possible, give diners the choice between silence and discrete instrumental music.

Lastly, restaurateurs need to be aware that the perceived volume of the music varies according to the number of people and amount of background noise in the restaurant, and that both can change significantly in the course of an evening. With only few diners to absorb and drown it, the music comes across as louder, and so the volume needs to be turned down.

The Psychology of Language


Rhetoric may seem abstract and old-fashioned until you realize that all your favorite rhymes and tunes and lines depend on it.

Have you ever asked yourself why Obama is so rousing at a rally? It’s because he’s mugged up on his rhetoric, that’s why—especially on epistrophe, which is the basis of his ‘Yes we can’ shtick.

A few years back, I wrote a long and rather disorganized Glossary of Rhetorical Devices. Today I wanted to rationalize that list, first, to give me a better understanding of the psychology of language, and, second, so that I might have all the power of language at my fingertips—which, looking at where it got Obama, is quite a lot of power.

And so I managed to classify what I consider (and what others consider) to be the most effective rhetorical devices into just eight groups: sound repetition, word repetition, idea or structure repetition, unusual structure, language games, opposition and contradiction, circumlocution, and imagery.

I’m going to take you through these eight groups and explain how each one works.

1. Sound repetition

The repetition of a sound or sounds can produce a pleasing sense of harmony. It can also subtly link or emphasize important words or ideas. There are two major forms of sound repetition: consonance and alliteration.

Consonance is the repetition of the same consonant sound, as in, for example,

Rap rejects my tape deck, ejects projectile/ Whether Jew or gentile I rank top percentile (Fugees)

Alliteration is a type of consonance involving the same consonant sound at the beginning of each word or stressed syllable. Sibilance is a form of consonance involving the repetition of sibilant sounds such as /s/ and /sh/. Sibilance is calming and sensual, whereas alliteration on a hard sound produces an entirely different effect.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain… (Edgar Allen Poe)

Resonance, in contrast, refers to richness or variety of sounds in a line or passage.

Created half to rise, and half to fall; Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all; Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d: The glory, jest, and riddle of the world! (Alexander Pope)

2. Word repetition

Word repetition can create alliteration, rhythm or continuity, emphasis, connection, progression, and circularity.

Words can be repeated in several ways.

Most obviously, a word can be repeated in immediate succession (epizeuxis), as in, for example,

O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon…

Or it can be repeated after one or two intervening words (diacope) or at the beginning and end of a clause or line (epanalepsis).

Bond, James Bond.

The king is dead, long live the king!

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou my Romeo?

Or it can be carried across from one clause or line to the next, with the word that ends one clause or line beginning the next (anadiplosis). This brings out key ideas and their connection, lending the proposition something like the strength and inevitability of hard logic.

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us. (Romans 5:3)

A word can also be repeated, but with a change of meaning, either a subtle, ambiguous change (ploce) or a more obvious grammatical change (polyptoton). Ploce emphasizes a contrast by playing on ambiguity, while polyptoton suggests both a connection and a difference. In the following sentence, ‘Love is not love’ is an example of ploce, while ‘alter’ and ‘alteration’ and ‘remover’ and ‘remove’ are examples of polyptoton.

Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. (Shakespeare)

As well as single words, groups of words can be repeated, either at the beginning of successive clauses or lines (anaphora), or at the end of successive clauses or lines (epiphora).

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind… (Francis Thompson)

There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. (Lyndon B. Johnson)

If you really want to be flare, you can combine anaphora and epiphora (symploce).

When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. (Bill Clinton)

In this particular example, the repetition conveys determination, resolve, and togetherness.

3. Idea or structure repetition

The repetition of an idea or structure can, if used correctly, add richness and resonance to expression. It can also add emphasis; create order, rhythm, and progression; and conjure up a total concept.

Let’s start with tautology, which is the repetition of the same idea in a line.

With malice toward none, with charity for all.

Pleonasm is a type of tautology involving the use of more words than is necessary for clear expression.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

The latter example is a combination of pleonasm and parallelism. Parallelism involves using a similar syntactical structure in a pair or series of related words, clauses, or lines. Three parallel words, clauses, or lines is a tricolon, which is a particularly effective type of isocolon.

Blood, sweat, and tears.

Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

An effective method of emphasizing structural parallels is through a structural reversal (chiasmus).

By the day the frolic, and the dance by night.

But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Do not give what is holy unto dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they (the pigs) trample them under their feet, and (the dogs) turn and tear you to pieces.

4. Unusual structure

An unusual structure draws attention and can also create a shift in emphasis.

Hyperbaton is the alteration of the normal order of the words in a sentence, or the separation of words that normally go together. There are several types. Anastrophe involves inversion of ordinary word order. Hypallage involves transference of attributes from their proper subjects to others. Hysteron proteron involves inversion of natural chronology.

Above the seas to stand… (anastrophe)

Angry crowns of kings… (hypallage)

Let us die, and charge into the thick of the fight. (hysteron proteron)

Zeugma is the joining of two or more parts of a sentence with a single verb (or sometimes a noun). Depending upon the position of the verb (at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end), a zeugma is either a prozeugma, mesozeugma, or hypozeugma. Here is an example of a mesozeugma.

What a shame is this, that neither hope of reward, nor feare of reproach could any thing move him, neither the persuasion of his friends, nor the love of his country. (Henry Peacham)

Syllepsis is a type of zeugma in which a single word agrees grammatically with two or more other words, but semantically with only one.

She lowered her standards by raising her glass, her courage, her eyes, and his hopes. (Flanders and Swann)

A hypozeuxis is the reverse of a zeugma, in which each subject is attached to its own verb. The following is also an example of anaphora (see above).

We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender! (Sir Winston Churchill)

A periodic sentence is one that is not grammatically or semantically complete before the final clause or phrase.

Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.

5. Language games

Language games such as puns and deliberate mistakes can draw attention to a phrase or idea, or simply raise a smile, by creating new and often ridiculous images and associations. They can also give rise to a vivid image, create ambiguity, and suggest sincerity and even passion.

A pun (or paronomasia) is the use of words with similar sounds, or the use of a word with different senses.

Do hotel managers get board with their jobs?

A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

She is nice from far, but far from nice.

Catachresis is the intentional misuse of a term, applying it to a thing that it does not usually denote. Similarly, synaesthesia is the attribution to a thing of a sensory quality in a modality that is not proper to it.

To take arms against a sea of troubles…

‘Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon’s purse

She smelled the way the Taj Mahal smells by moonlight.

Antitimeria is the intentional misuse of a word as if it were a member of a different word class, typically a noun for a verb.

I’ll unhair thy head.

Enallage is the intentional and effective use of incorrect grammar.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for thy love is better than wine.

Love me tender, love me true.

6. Opposition and contradiction

Opposition and contradiction draws attention to itself, forces thought, can be humorous, and can suggest progression and completion.

An oxymoron is a juxtaposition of words which at first sight seem to be contradictory or incongruous. A paradox is similar to an oxymoron, but less compact.

Make haste slowly.

What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young.

Antiphrasis is the use of a word in a context where it means its opposite.

A giant of five foot three inches.

Antithesis is the use of a pair of opposites for contrasting effect. A series of antitheses is called a progression.

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal…

7. Periphrasis or circumlocution

Circumlocution essentially works by painting a picture, or conjuring up a complex idea, with just a few well-chosen words.

Hendiadys is the combination of two words, and hendiatris of three.

Dieu et mon droit

Sound and fury

Sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll

Lock, stock, and barrel

The latter example is also a merism, which is enumerating the parts to signify the whole. Here’s another example.

For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.

8. Imagery

Obviously, imagery works by conjuring up a particular image.

Metonymy is the naming of a thing or concept by a thing that is closely associated with it.

Downing Street


The White House

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Antonomasia, a type of metonymy, is the use of a word or phrase or epithet in place of a proper name.

The Divine Teacher (Plato)

The Master of Those Who Know (Aristotle)

Synedoche, which is similar to metonymy, is the naming of a thing or concept by one of its parts.

A pair of hands


And so that’s it: the principal elements of rhetoric arranged in just eight groups. Easy to learn, easy to understand, easy to remember, and easy to teach.

Happy writing!

The Psychology of Lateness


The advent of the railways in the 19th century obliged towns in England to align themselves with London Time, or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Some towns held out for longer than others. One town that stood its ground was Oxford, and for some time, the great clock on Tom Tower at Christ Church featured two minute hands. Still today, if one is about five minutes late in Oxford, one can claim to be running on ‘Oxford time’; and Great Tom, the loudest bell in the city, rings out 101 times every night at five past nine.

Of course, no one bears a grudge if you are just five minutes late, which is why the ‘Oxford time’ excuse is a bit of a joke. To be five minutes late is not really to be late.

Late is when people start getting annoyed. They get annoyed because your lateness betrays a lack of respect and consideration for them—and so they get more annoyed, and more quickly, if they are (or think they are) your social superiors. Unless you present a very good excuse for being late, preferably something that is out of your control (e.g. an elephant on the motorway), being late sends out the message, “My time is more valuable than yours”, that is, “I am more important than you”, and perhaps even, “I am doing you a favour by turning up at all”. It is particularly rude to be late to a formal or important occasion such as a wedding or funeral, or one involving many parts and precise timings such as an elaborate dinner party or civic event.

Being late insults others, but it also undermines the person who is late, because it may betray a lack of intelligence, self-knowledge, will power, or empathy. For instance, it may be that the person who is late has set unrealistic goals and overscheduled his day, or underestimated the time that it takes to travel from one place to another.

But there are also some more perfidious reasons for being late than mere mediocrity. Some involve anger and aggression, and others self-deception. Let’s talk about anger and aggression first.

Angry people who behave with almost exaggerated calm and courtesy might nevertheless express their anger through passive means, that is, through (conscious or unconscious) resistance to meeting the reasonable expectations of others. Examples of passive-aggressive behaviour include creating doubt and confusion; forgetting or omitting significant facts or items; withdrawing usual behaviors such as making a cup of tea, cooking, cleaning, or having sex; shifting responsibility for blame; and, of course, being late—often on a frequent and unpredictable basis.

As the name suggests, passive-aggressive behaviour is a means of expressing aggression covertly, and so without incurring the full emotional and social costs of more overt aggression. It does, however, prevent the underlying issue or issues from being identified and resolved, and can lead to a great deal of upset and resentment in the person or people on its receiving end.

Now let’s talk about the second perfidy, self-deception. As we have seen, being late, especially egregiously or repeatedly late, sends out the message, “I am more important than you”. Of course, one can, and often does, send out a message without it being true—indeed, precisely because it isn’t true. Thus, a person may be late because he feels inferior or unimportant, and being late is a way for him to impose himself on a situation, attract maximal attention, and even take control of proceedings. You may perhaps have noticed that some people in the habit of being late are also in the habit of making a scene out of it: apologising profusely, introducing themselves to everyone in turn, moving furniture around, asking for a clean glass, and so on. Needless to say, such behavior far from excludes an element of passive-aggression.

Staying with self-deception, being late could also be a form of resistance, a way of showing one’s disapproval for the purpose of the meeting, or resentment for it’s probable outcome. In the course of psychotherapy, an analysand is likely to display analogous resistance in the form not only of being late, but also of changing the topic, blanking out, falling asleep, or entirely missing appointments. In the context of psychotherapy, such behaviors suggest that the analysand is close to recalling repressed material but fearful of the consequences.

I ought to point out that being late is not necessarily unhealthy or pathological. Sometimes, being late is your unconscious (intuition) telling you that that you don’t actually want to be there, or that it would be better for you not to be there—for instance, it could be that a meeting (or even a job) is not the best use of your time, or will inevitably work against your own best interests. Note that headaches can serve a similar function—they certainly do for me.

Whenever you are late, you can learn a great deal simply by asking yourself, “Why exactly am I late?” Even if it is ‘only’ because you are too busy, why are you too busy? Often, we keep ourselves as busy as possible so as not to be left alone with our deepest thoughts and feelings, which is, of course, highly counterproductive in the short, medium, and long term. And this is another reason for being late: to avoid being left with no one and nothing but ourselves (thank God for smartphones!).

Finally, I have a little confession to make. In many social situations, I am often exactly eight minutes late. Why? Well, it goes without saying that being early is just as rude, if not more so, than being late, while being exactly on time can sometimes catch out your host (I myself am often caught out by people who are bang on time, which I guess is a form of me being late). On the other hand, being eight minutes late is not perceived as being late, and gives your host just enough time to sit down for a couple of minutes, gather his or her thoughts, and begin to look forward to your arrival.

Wine Blind Tasting Guide Part 1: Why Blind Taste Wine?

Originally posted on The Oxford Wine Blog:

James Flewellen, my co-author on The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting, has kindly invited me to write a series of blog posts on wine blind tasting.

As you may be aware, James and I are keen to promote blind tasting, and to encourage and support those who are taking their first steps into the sometimes intimidating and obscurantist world of wine.

James and I met at the University of Oxford, which, for historical reasons, has a very strong culture of wine—no doubt one of a small handful of institutions with a dedicated blind tasting coach!

Simply turning up to almost daily tastings enabled to acquire, as if by osmosis, the knowledge and skills which are required to blind taste, and which we now wish to pass on to others—one of the major motivators for writing our book.

But first, you might be asking yourself, why bother at…

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Jura Wines


With less than 2000ha, the Jura is a small yet diverse wine region. The vineyards sit in the foothills of the Jura, ~80km (50mi) east of Burgundy and not far from Switzerland. The climate is cooler than in Burgundy, although the summers are fairly hot and sunny. The soils, which are rich in fossils, are clay and limestone with outcrops of marl. Five grape varieties are planted: Chardonnay and Savagnin for whites, and Poulsard, Trousseau (which thrives in the gravelly vineyards around Arbois), and Pinot Noir for reds—which, though vinified as reds, tend to be rather more salmon than actually red.

The relative isolation of the Jura has led to the preservation of a number of distinctive wine styles. Most notable is Vin Jaune made from very ripe Savagnin, which is left to mature under a flor-like strain of yeast for six or more years before being bottled in a 62cl clavelin. This process leads to oxidative nutty aromas similar to those of Sherry— although, unlike Sherry, Vin Jaune is not fortified. Other aromas include walnuts, honey, and “curry”. Vin Jaune can be produced under the Arbois, Etoile, and Côtes du Jura appellations, but the richest examples are produced under the exclusive Château-Chalon appellation, which is home to top producers Jean Macle and Domaine Berthet-Bondet. Vin Jaune can potentially last for decades, if not centuries.

Also notable is a straw wine, Vin de Paille, which, like Vin Jaune, can be produced under the Arbois, Etoile, and Côtes du Jura appellations. This blend of Chardonnay, Poulsard, and Savagnin is pressed, normally in January, from dried grapes and aged in oak for at least three years. It is rich and complex with high alcohol and dominant notes of honey and dried or confected fruits.
Macvin du Jura AOC, which can be white (Chardonnay and Savagnin) or red (Poulsard, Trousseau, and Pinot Noir), is a vin de liqueur or mistelle made from the must of late harvest grapes. The must is oak-aged for 12 months without prior fermentation. Marc du Jura is then added in a ratio of 1:2, thereby halting fermentation and preserving the natural sugars. Further oak ageing finishes the process by harmonizing the flavours.

To round up on the six Jura appellations: any style of wine can be made under the Arbois and Côtes du Jura appellations, which are the most quantitatively important. In contrast, only white wines (including Vin Jaune and Vin de Paille) can be made under the Etoile appellation, and only Vin Jaune under the Château-Chalon appellation. Macvin du Jura is a regional appellation, as is Crémant du Jura AOC. This sparkling wine is made by the traditional method, most commonly from 100% Chardonnay.

Of the still ‘regular’ wines, the whites enjoy a greater reputation than the reds. These whites, which can be very terroir driven, are made from Chardonnay and/or Savagnin, either by the classic method (employed in other regions) or by the more oxidative regional and traditional method whereby the barrels are not topped up to compensate for evaporation. This oxidative style has long been the signature of this beautiful but isolated and often neglected wine region.

Adapted from the newly published Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting

The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting

Shadows of Schopenhauer


In his masterwork, The World as Will and Representation (1818), which is heavily influenced by Kant, Plato, and the Vedas, Schopenhauer begins by drawing a distinction between the world of appearances, or ‘representation’, and the world as it actually is.

The world as representation
The world of appearances is the world that we perceive through our senses, and it is governed by certain structures, notably, space, time, and causality. It is our experiencing selves that impose these structures onto the world of appearances, and it is through these structures that we apprehend the individual material things that make up the world as we know it. Thus, the world as it appears to us is a product of the kind of organism that we are. Moreover, individual material things depend on us for their order and existence; without us, they simply would not exist as such. Although our bodies are objects in the world of appearances, we ourselves are somehow outside this world and so beyond knowledge. The experiencing subject, says Schopenhauer, knows all things and yet is known by none. It is like the eye that sees everything but cannot see itself.

The world as will
Beneath or beyond the world of representation is the world as it actually is. Now here things get much more interesting. The world-in-itself is the world of will, a fundamentally blind process of striving for survival and reproduction. The whole world is a manifestation of will, including the human body: the genitals are objectified sexual impulse, the mouth and digestive tract are objectified hunger, and so on. Everything about us, including even our higher, cognitive faculties, have evolved for no other purpose than to help us meet the demands of will. Although able to perceive, judge, and reason, our intellect is not designed to pierce through the veil of mâyâ (or illusion) and apprehend the true nature of reality. Instead, it and we are driven by blind will into a life of inevitable frustration, strife, and pain.

Awakened to life out of the night of unconsciousness, the will finds itself an individual, in an endless and boundless world, among innumerable individuals, all striving, suffering, erring; and as if through a troubled dream it hurries back to its old unconsciousness. Yet till then its desires are limitless, its claims inexhaustible, and every satisfied desire gives rise to a new one. No possible satisfaction in the world could suffice to still its longings, set a goal to its infinite cravings, and fill the bottomless abyss of its heart. Then let one consider what as a rule are the satisfactions of any kind that a man obtains. For the most part nothing more than the bare maintenance of this existence itself, extorted day by day with unceasing trouble and constant care in the conflict with want, and with death in prospect…

The unconscious
Our intellect is like a lame man who can see, riding on the shoulders of a blind giant. Schopenhauer anticipates Freud by effectively equating the blind giant of will to our unconscious drives and fears, of which our conscious intellect may not be entirely or even mostly cognizant. For instance, the most powerful manifestation of will is the impulse for sex. Schopenhauer says that it is the will-to-life of the yet unconceived offspring that draws man and woman together in a delusion of lust and love. But with the task accomplished, their shared delusion fades away and they return to their ‘original narrowness and neediness’. Despite what we may tell ourselves, it is blind will that takes charge of our destiny, while our intellect remains largely ignorant of its workings, and is only employed, if at all, to help us justify and come to terms with its dictates.

We often don’t know what we desire or fear. For years we can have a desire without admitting it to ourselves or even letting it come to clear consciousness, because the intellect is not to know anything about it, since the good opinion we have of ourselves would inevitably suffer thereby. But if the wish is fulfilled, we get to know from our joy, not without a feeling of shame, that this is what we desired.

Aesthetic contemplation and genius
So long as we are enthralled to the will, we can know no peace or happiness. One way of disengaging the will is through aesthetic contemplation, when we adopt a disinterested attitude that enables us to consider things free from their or our relation to the will. Through aesthetic contemplation, we can glimpse at the timeless reality of things, not as the individual material things that they are but as the universals or essences that they represent. Genius is nothing but the ability of the perceiver to disengage from the will and, as it were, merge with what he perceives (I say ‘he’ because, according to Schopenhauer, a woman cannot be a genius). Unlike people of mere talent, the genius lives outside the strictures of time and place, and marries insight with imagination to create works of art that in some sense embody and reveal his higher knowledge. Thus, aesthetic contemplation serves both to release us from the tyranny of the will and to enable us to acquire and enjoy a higher knowledge. Schopenhauer speaks highly in particular of tragedy, which, through the enacting of suffering and resignation, brings out both the problem of life and its solution. Music, he says, is ‘a copy of the will itself’, with the progression of musical notes—especially the melody on top—mirroring the progress of our own inner strivings. Music replicates the structures of emotions without however furnishing their contents, enabling us to feel the emotions without feeling or fearing the pain that they are normally associated with.

While we have the freedom to do what we will, we do not have the freedom to will what we will, and so, in effect, our actions are determined. Yet we somehow feel responsible for our actions, indicating that there is an aspect of us that lies beyond the world as representation and that escapes deterministic causal necessity. Our character is inborn and constant, and manifested through our actions over time. Three fundamental forces drive our actions: compassion, malice, and egoism, with egoism most commonly in the driving seat. Yet, some people are brimming with compassion, the existence of which, Schopenhauer tells us, is ‘a mystery’. Compassionate people not only make the world more bearable for others, but also exist in a higher plane. This is because they tend to see other people less as other objects in the world and more as other selves, and so are closer to apprehending the unity and indivisibility of reality—piercing through the veil of mâyâ to the Vedantic principle that tat tvam asi (‘that art thou’).

Pessimism and renunciation
The will is the cause of constant suffering, creating deficiencies for us to satisfy. On this account, satisfaction or happiness is not a positive state but merely the removal of striving and suffering. Once a deficiency is satisfied, another inevitably arises, and, with it, more striving and suffering; even if satisfaction can be sustained for a short while, this only leads to boredom. All considered, says Schopenhauer, it would have been better for us and the world never to have existed. The only way out of this predicament is to reach the realization that our individuality and the world of appearances are illusions, renounce those illusions, and welcome the eventual release of death—which, since reality is outside of time, is itself an illusion. A man who has found this nirvana (‘blown out’, as in a candle) is either a saint or has suffered so intensely or for so long that his will has been broken. Freed from willing, he is left as a pure knowing being, ‘the undimmed mirror of the world’, and marked out from other men by his calm confidence, his insight, and his compassion. And this, for Schopenhauer, is as good as it’s ever going to get.

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