The more we think about all that has been and will be, the paler grows that which is. If we live with the dead and die with them in their death, what are our ‘neighbors’ to us then? We grow more solitary, and we do so because the whole flood of humanity is surging around us. The fire within us, which is for all that is human, grows brighter and brighter – and that is why we gaze upon that which immediately surrounds us as though it had grown more shadowy and we had grown more indifferent to it. But the coldness of our glance gives offense!
Behavior that is excited, noisy, inconsistent, nervous constitutes the antithesis of great passion: the latter, dwelling within like a dark fire and there assembling all that is hot and ardent, leaves a man looking outwardly cold and indifferent and impresses upon his features a certain impassivity. Such men are, to be sure, occasionally capable of neighbor love – but it is a kind different from that of the sociable and anxious to please: it is a gentle, reflective, relaxed friendliness; it is though they were gazing out of the windows of their castle, which is their fortress and for that reason also their prison – to gaze into what is strange and free, into what is different, does them so much good!
But the really reckless were fetched by an older, colder voice, the oceanic whisper: “I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing. That is how I shall set you free. There is no love; there are only the various envies, all of them sad.”
— W.H. Auden
Cool article. My favorite part:
“Solitude is a healthy way of being alone with oneself. One engages in an inner dialogue,” Dumm says. “One of the things that our culture really tries to discourage is thinking, reflection, seriousness. I think that we have to have more confidence in our ability to be thoughtful people. We spend an enormous amount of time worrying about ourselves, but not an awful lot of time caring for ourselves. Caring for ourselves means thinking very seriously and carefully about the conditions under which we’re living our lives, and how others are living theirs, and taking instruction from the way that others have lived their lives.”
The part I would take issue with:
While technology has given us all sorts of novel ways to connect and stay in touch — from Facebook to texting to Twitter — Cacioppo contends that such digital communications are great if they facilitate and enhance face-to-face interactions, but they can increase feelings of loneliness if they are a substitution for in-person interaction. He compares online communication as a balm to loneliness to eating celery when you’re hungry; it’s food, but it’s not going to fill you up like a nutritious meal.
I’ve always been a solitary person, content to spend hours or even days alone with only superficial social contact, and I’ve never considered it a problem. Others have, as I’ve been accused of being everything from rude to mute to mentally retarded for my tendency to speak very little to strangers or mild acquaintances, and then only when spoken to. I have very little ability or patience for meaningless small talk, and wish other people didn’t feel the need to drown out the sound of the wind whistling through their heads by jabbering about nothing in particular. I am definitely one of those who most often feels “lonely” in a crowd or a social gathering where I don’t really have time or freedom to be alone with my thoughts. I don’t know whether it’s a question of being overly cerebral or intellectual (not in the “good lord, I sure am a genius” sense, but in the sense of being analytical and dispassionate) or perhaps some genetic factors, but it is as close to being an essential part of my being as I think a person can have. Personally, the Internet (and especially the blogs) has been a godsend for a social misfit like me. I suppose I would be considered by Cacioppo to be one of those who use it as a substitute for face-to-face interaction, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve found just as much, if not even more intellectual stimulation and interesting characters online in the last several years than I have in the previous few decades of real life. I feel just as much affection for Roy Edroso, Scott & S.Z. Heywood J. and IOZ as people I encounter in the course of a day; maybe in a different way, but no less meaningful. I wouldn’t claim that I “know” people I interact with on the blogs in the same way that I would in person, but who cares? This sort of medium allows you to distill the most interesting parts of what people are all about, their better essence, without the dross that makes up much of their lives. I don’t “know” the artists whose work I treasure either, but my life is no less enriched just because I haven’t seen them sitting around in their underwear scratching themselves. In fact, that might lessen the effect they’ve had on me, might diminish some of the magic. I don’t doubt that for most people, they need to regularly see a smiling face or feel a warm body near theirs to feel well-adjusted, but I’ll take passionate written exchanges of ideas over up-close-and-personal yammering about the weather any day and feel completely satisfied.
“When evening comes, I return to my home, and I go into my study; and on the threshold, I take off my everyday clothes, which are covered with mud and mire, and I put on regal and curial robes; and dressed in a more appropriate manner I enter into the ancient court, of ancient men and am welcomed by them kindly, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born and there I am not ashamed to speak to them, to ask them the reasons for their actions, and they, in their humanity, answer me; and for four hours I feel no boredom, I dismiss every affliction, I no longer fear poverty nor do I tremble at the thought of death; I become completely part of them.”
Speaking of art…I’ve been single for the last few years, and long ago passed the grace period where people left you alone out of respect for a recently failed long-term relationship. Now I get hints from everyone from my mom to my friends, who ask if I’m dating again, who was that girl they saw me talking to, don’t I get lonely around this time of year, and so on. It’s a shame that thanks to centuries of moping Romantics, the epigones of Young Werther disingenuously turning all the best reasons for being a lone wolf into hackneyed clichés, nothing I could say won’t sound like sour grapes or desperate posing or overcompensating. But the truth is, I realized some time ago that music is what makes me happier than anything on earth, with literature a close second. The most transcendent moments I’ve ever experienced have been in the grip of a song or a beautiful passage in a book. I know what it’s like to be in romantic love, of course, and I’ve had moments in a relationship where I felt very happy and content, but still, that sublime sense of dissolving in something much bigger than my tiny ego, of almost existing temporarily somewhere beyond space and time – that belongs to art. Perhaps for all the pleasure Nietzsche has given me with his grandiose, bombastic literary style and quirky insights into the nooks and crannies of life that make me laugh at the discovery of things I never would have thought of on my own, I’m moving more towards a Schopenhauerish view of life, to escape the horrors of the world via the contemplation of art. (I haven’t thrown any talkative old ladies down a flight of stairs yet, but there’s still plenty of time for that.)
So, yes – I might be the only person bounded in the nutshell of my house on Christmas Day, but as long as I have a rack full of CDs and shelves full of books, I will count myself a king of infinite space.