For because a man is alone, he is not for that reason solitary;just as though a man is among numbers, he is not therefore not solitary.
-Epictetus(quoted on page 23)
The Lonely city-adventures in the art of being alone by Olivia Laing has filled my head these last few days. She starts by telling about how she came to feel alone in New York at one point, and I thought that was what “adventures in the art of being alone” referred to; Adventures. But it is rather Art that is the operative word here . (Or maybe it’s both).
What it is is a series of essays on artists and their relation to loneliness in their art but also in their lives. Through that we have an exploration of the different things that loneliness can be, how loneliness has changed but also stayed the same in the last 50 years or so.
The artists(Edward Hopper,Andy Warhol and others) are not chosen in any way to give a comprehensive view of loneliness in art but are very personal choices by Laing; related to New York where she started to think about this, people how have walked the same streets she walked during that period in her life and visited the same places.
This all leads to thoughts about how people are effected by loneliness, how they deal with it and how others deal with it is part of being human. To that must be added those who have loneliness forced upon them; isolation is a punishment for a reason.
By layering the stories of artist with her own anecdotes, and adding research from the fields of sociology and psychology, Laing gave me a lot to think about. And I will continue to think about some of these things.
This book is superbly written in my opinion. It flows and the different narratives blend naturally. I do wonder how someone who is not that well-versed in the imagery of the artists she focuses on would feel; would going online to view them feel necessary? Interrupt the reading or rather be a parallel track? I don’t know: as someone who has seen a lot of works by the people she occupies herself with(and have read a bit about them myself) it just put things in a different context.
In short I recommend this book warmly; at times a difficult read but a good one to feed the mind.