Original text written in English by Aaron Schuster for an issue of the literary journal Yang on the word ‘interesting’ (2006.4), where this essay was published in a Dutch translation by Piet Joostens.
1. Nobody will deny that there is an interest in philosophy today. But—is there anything at all left today in which man does not take an interest, in the sense in which he understands ‘interest’? Interest, interesse, means to be among and in the midst of things, or to be at the center of a thing and to stay with it. But today’s interest accepts as valid only what is interesting. And interesting is the sort of thing that can freely be regarded as indifferent the next moment, and be displaced by something else, which then concerns us just as little as what went before…
Martin Heidegger, “What is Called Thinking”
2. Socrates was the most interesting man who ever lived, his life the most interesting life ever led, but this existence was allotted to him by the god, and inasmuch as he himself had to acquire it, he was not a stranger to trouble and pain.
Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
3. ‘Interesting’ is arguably the most damning word in the English language… Its use by a member of the congregation conceals the real opinion: ‘two thumbs down’… When applied to a sermon, ‘interesting’ often means ‘I had trouble staying awake’.
Rabbi A. James Rudin
4. In the sixties, there was a whole period in my life when I was spending a lot of time with Jasper Johns, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Marcel Duchamp. ‘Interesting’ was a favorite word of theirs; and in the mouths of people like Cage and Johns, the word sounded very glamorous and aristocratic.
Susan Sontag, “The Habits of Consciousness”
5. Interesting. An unconvincing word; avoid it as a means of introduction. Instead of announcing that what you are about to tell is interesting, make it so… Also to be avoided in introduction in the word funny. Nothing becomes funny by being labeled so.
Strunk and White, The Elements of Style
6. To apply the word ‘interesting’ to a work of art was an invention of the Romantic writers of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and one that seemed very peculiar at first. (Hegel, for example, thought that it was not a compliment to say that something was ‘interesting’.) The notion of ‘the interesting’ is approximately as old as the notion of ‘the boring’. Indeed, it seems to me that ‘the interesting’ presupposes ‘the boring’, and vice versa. One of the proudest claims of the modernist theatre is that it is antipsychological. But ‘the interesting’ and ‘the boring’ are psychological categories, nothing more. They are feelings, assumed to be of a limited duration, and to be capable of mutating into each other—categories of the solipsistic, narcissistic world view. (They replace ‘the beautiful’ and ‘the ugly’, which are attributes—hypostasized, quasi-objective, assumed to be permanent.) An ‘interesting’ object has an arresting quality: It seizes our attention, we take cognizance of it, and then let it go. An ‘interesting’ experience is one that has no lasting effect. The notion of ‘the interesting’ arises when art is no longer conceived of as connected with truth. (When truth comes to be reserved for science, for so-called rational inquiry). In continuing to consider something to be valuable—valuable enough—because it is interesting, we perpetuate a romantic attitude that needs reexamining.
Susan Sontag, “Art and Consciousness”
7. ‘That is beautiful’, said Kant, which gives pleasure without interest. Without interest! Compare with this definition one framed by a genuine ‘spectator’ and artist—Stendhal, who once called the beautiful une promesse de bonheur. At any rate he rejected and repudiated the one point about the aesthetic condition which Kant stresses: le désintéressement. Who is right, Kant or Stendhal?
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals
8. No, I haven’t read Nietzsche—he is too interesting.
Sigmund Freud, Minutes from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, April 1, 1908
9. The misinterpretation of the Kantian doctrine of ‘disinterested delight’ consists in a double error. First, the definition ‘devoid of all interest’, which Kant offers only in a preparatory and path-breaking way, and which in its very linguistic structure displays its negative character plainly enough, is given out as the single assertion (also held to be a positive assertion) by Kant on the beautiful. To the present day it is proffered as the Kantian interpretation of the beautiful. Second, the definition, misinterpreted in what it methodologically tries to achieve, at the same time is not thought in terms of the content that remains in aesthetic behavior when interest in the object falls away. The misinterpretation of ‘interest’ leads to the erroneous opinion that with the exclusion of interest every essential relation to the object is suppressed. The opposite is the case. Precisely by means of the ‘devoid of interest’ the essential relation to the object itself comes into play. The misinterpretation fails to see that now for the first time the object comes to the fore as pure object and that such coming forward into appearance is beautiful. The word ‘beautiful’ means appearing in the radiance of such coming to the fore.
Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche vol. I: The Will to Power as Art
10. Jesus’s silence in The Grand Inquisitor and Billy Budd’s stammer indicate the same, namely their incapacity (or unwillingness) for all kinds of predicative or argumentative speech, in which someone talks to somebody about something that is of interest to both because it inter-est, it is between them. Such talkative and argumentative interest in the world is entirely alien to compassion, which is directed solely, and with passionate intensity, towards suffering man himself…
Hannah Arendt, On Revolution
11. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, interest derives from a Latin verb form meaning ‘it makes a difference, matters, is of importance’. The original sense of interesting, now obsolete, centers on the idea of importance: ‘That concerns, touches, affects, or is of importance; important’. More familiar to us now is the later meaning: ‘Adapted to excite interest; having the qualities which arouse curiosity, engage attention, or appeal to the emotions; of interest’.
Patricia Meyer Spacks, Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind
12. Et le plus intéressant—c’est le cas de le dire, c’est un des seuls sens qu’on puisse donner au mot d’intérêt c’est le rapport qu’a ce discours à la jouissance, la jouissance, en fin de compte, qui le soutient, qui le conditionne, qui le justifie, le justifie très précisément de ceci que la jouissance sexuelle… Je voudrais pas terminer en vous donnant l’idée que je sais ce que c’est que l’homme : il y a sûrement des gens qui ont besoin que je leur jette ce petit poisson, je peux le leur jeter après tout, parce que ça ne connote aucune espèce de promesse de progrès «…ou pire». Je peux leur dire que c’est très probablement ça en effet qui spécifie cette espèce animale : c’est un rapport tout à fait anomalique et bizarre avec sa jouissance.
Jacques Lacan, Seminar XIX Le savoir du psychanalyste, 2 December 1971
13. ‘Jelly’, the doctor said, liquid gurgles through his hardened purple gums. His tongue was split and the two sections curled over each other as he talked: ‘Life jelly. It sticks and grows on you like Johnny’.
Little papules of tissue were embedded in the doctor’s hands. The doctor pulled a scalpel out of Johnny’s ear and trimmed the papules into an ashtray where they stirred slowly exuding a green juice.
‘They say his prick didn’t synchronize at all and so he cut it off and made some kinds awful cunt between the two sides of him. He got a whole ward full of his “fans” he call them already. When the wind is right you can hear them scream in the Town Hall Square. And everybody says “But this is interesting.”’
William Burroughs, The Soft Machine