A dictionary of suffering


‘Acedia’ by Trevor Lightsy

Acedia is a state of torpor and indifference that leads to a lack of concern with one’s own condition or status. From the Greek for negligence, it is a kind of apathetic self-neglect. It involves not only the neglect of one’s ordinary duties or chores, but also a disinterest in one’s spiritual duties or practices. Acedia is a common facet of the larger state of depression.

This is not only when you stay in your house slippers all day, you turn up to interviews wearing them. In Christianity, acedia is a synonym for ‘sloth’ and is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, linked to the proverb “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. In the painting, ‘Acedia’ by Trevor Lightsy, we see a woman who is so immersed in this state, her will is being gradually encroached by opportunistic sinister powers.


“The Alienation” by Canaan Sadri

Anomie is a term coined by the founder of sociology, Émile Durkheim. It refers to a condition of what he calls ‘deregulation’ – a breakdown of the social contract between the individual and the wider community, often instigated through sudden social change. This condition in which people no longer know what to expect from one another, generates a sense of alienation that can lead to deviant behavior. It involves the disintegration of social identity without any compensating personal agency. On its own, it can lead to a kind of social nihilism and subsequent disdain for ethical codes of conduct. It is linked to ‘Strain Theory’ which states that social structures within society may pressure citizens to commit crime.


“Impermanence Study” by Iskra Johnson

Dhukkha is a Pali Buddhist term usually translated as “suffering” but also as “unsatisfactoriness” and refers to the general condition of all existence as changing, impermanent and without any inner graspable, controllable core or substance. Dukkha is commonly explained according to three different categories: manifest suffering, the suffering of change, and pervasive suffering. A primary concept in Buddhism, the Buddha is reputed to have said: “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.” The first teaching the Buddha gave presents dukkha in the keystone of the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths: recognizing the reality of dukkha, what gives rise to dukkha, that dukkha can be brought to and end, and how this can be achieved.


‘Ennui to Apathy’ by Casey Kotas

Ennui is a kind of pervasive boredom, a lack of engagement or interest. A spiritlessness, lassitude and enervation borne of a lack of occupation or enthusiasm, often with existential overtones. Ennui is well described Sylvia Plath’s poem of the same name, which begins; Tea leaves thwart those who court catastrophe, designing futures where nothing will occur:
cross the gypsy’s palm and yawning she
will still predict no perils left to conquer.

Mal du siècle
 from the French meaning “the malady of the century” is a kind of trending ennui. It refers to a general state of boredom and disillusionment that primarily affects the youth, and which spreads through becoming inculcated into a subset distinguished by a fashionable malaise. Mal du siècle as a term was originally applied to young adults of Europe’s early 19th Century and the rise of the Romantic movement.


“Melancholia” by Daniel Pielucha

is a kind of pervasive morose sadness and can be described as a state of mild to moderate depression characterized by low levels of enthusiasm, interest and vitality.

Mono no aware is a term coined by the 18th century Japanese cultural scholar, Motoori Norinaga. It is variously translated as “the pathos of things”, “an empathy toward things”, and “a sensitivity to ephemera”. It is characterized by an acute emotive awareness of the innate transience of life and the world. This feeling is attended by a poignant wistfulness at the passing of things and a tender melancholy about the inevitability of this universal condition. It is related to the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, an aesthetic centered around impermanence, imperfection and incompletion inspired by Buddhist thought.


“Saudade” by Jason Cytacki

Saudade is a Portuguese word for a deep state of yearning for something or someone; a profound experience of absence. It often carries a deep sense that the object of longing may never return or may one day be lost. It involves strong nostalgia of time and place; attachment to memories of past experiences of love and well-being that in the present evokes mixed feelings of happiness and sadness combined with a sense of missing. One can have saudade of someone whom one is with, but experience this nostalgia as a projection of a future loss. It manifests as a ‘vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.’


“Sehnsucht” by Nicolas Balcazar

Sehnsucht is a German term very similar to saudade that involves a profound emotional state of “longing”, “craving” or “intensely missing”. It’s object is rather less specific and more philosophical, being directed to all aspects of life that are ‘unfinished or imperfect, paired with a yearning for ideal alternative experiences.’ It has been called “life’s longings”; a person’s search for happiness while grappling with the reality of unattainable aspirations.


“Sturm und Drang” by Kristin Baker

Sturm und Drang  is a German term literally meaning “Storm and Drive”, though sometimes translated as “Storm and Urge” or “Storm and Stress”. It was a proto-Romantic movement in German literature and music in from 1760s to 1780s that exalted personal feelings, nature and individualism and encouraged free expression of emotional extremes ‘in reaction to the perceived constraints of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment’. It often involved an ‘individual’s revolt against society.’ The movement’s inherent rejection of self-discipline disallowed any formal continuity and led to its demise.


‘Weltschmerz’ by Talat Darvinoğlu

Weltschmerz is a German term that means “world pain” or “world-weariness”. It is related to sehnsucht though with more philosophical overtones. It denotes a feeling of someone who understands that the external world cannot ever match the ideal of the imagination. It also denotes the sadness in face of cruelty in the world, and a painful awareness that the cause of this cruelty is the obstinate imperfection of the world itself. This word is the hay of the romantic poets. It does not necessarily inspire apathy and depression but may lead to such, as illustrated by the handy noose under the chair in this work by Talat Darvinoğlu.

About subincontinentia

writer and eternal optimist
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1 Response to A dictionary of suffering

  1. vontoast says:

    L’ennui wrote a poem and used the word saudade and through my search to find what it meant I stumbled gladly onto your blog.

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