11/27/2021

Olivia Laing The Lonely City Epub

When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her midthirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by the most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City investigates this sense of solitude, partly through her own experience and partly through the works of artists such as Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. Author:Olivia Laing Language: eng Format: epub, mobi Publisher: Canongate Books It was hard to square that statement with the things I’d seen: folder after folder attesting to creative decisions, to choices made and problems solved, though if I’d never read anything by David Wojnarowicz, I might have been more likely to accept it.

Buy in the UK:Bookshop.org, LRB, Waterstones, Foyles, Amazon

Buy in the US:Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Macmillan, Powells, Amazon, Apple

Buy in Dutch:De Bezige Bij / Spanish: Capitan Swing / Swedish: Daidalos / Brazilian: Rocco / Turkish: Ithaki / Russian: Ad Marginem / Taiwanese: Business Weekly: /Chinese: United Sky /Korean: Across Publishing / Italian: Il Saggiatore

Audiobook:Audible

Read: extracts in the Observer and BBC Culture, interviews with the New Yorker, Salon, Charlie Porter and Elle

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Listen: interviews on Radio 3, Radio 4, 6 Music and Guardian podcast.

Dance: if you're intrigued by The Lonely City's music I made a playlist.

Coming soon: Arabic, Slovakian, Hungarian, Danish, German, Swedish, French

Book of the year:Guardian, Observer, Telegraph, Irish Times, New Statesman, Times Literary Supplement, Elle, Slate, Globe & Mail, Publishers Weekly, Brainpickings and NPR.

From the reviews...

Olivia Laing Books

‘A continually unexpected, stimulating, beautifully structured book. I am in awe of Olivia Laing's insights, braininess, and that something that feels like recklessness until it lands.’ Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda

‘Ferocious intellect and expansive sympathy are joined in this profound, unclassifiable study of art, urban space, and queerness of various kinds. Thrilling, consoling, essential, this is among the best and most moving books I've read in years.’ Garth Greenwell, What Belongs to You

The Lonely City is a stunning homage to how extreme loneliness can make us more hospitable to the strangeness of others - to the risks and innovations of art and artists. Laing has written a classic that will be cherished for years to come.’ Deborah Levy, Swimming Home

‘Luminously wise and deeply compassionate, The Lonely City is a fierce and essential work. Reading it made my heart ache yet filled me with hope for the world.’ Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

‘One of the finest writers of the new non-fiction... compelling and original.’ Harper's Bazaar

‘Endlessly, compulsively fascinating... The Lonely City changes the way we think about art, the people who make it, and the price they pay.’ Philip Hoare, New Statesman

Olivia laing the lonely city epub online

‘One of the most talented cultural critics of her generation... a brave, vulnerable book.’ Metro

‘Laing's masterpiece... a layered and endlessly rewarding book, among the finest I have ever read.’ Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

‘An uncommonly observant hybrid of memoir, history and cultural criticism... a book of extraordinary compassion and insight.’ San Francisco Chronicle

Olivia Laing The Lonely City Epub Free

‘Laing is an astute and consistently surprising culture critic... absolutely one of a kind.’ Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

‘A brave writer whose books, in their different ways, open up fundamental questions about life and art.’ Telegraph

‘This daring and seductive book—ostensibly about four artists, but actually about the universal struggle to be known— serves as both provocation and comfort, a secular prayer for those who are alone—meaning all of us.’ The New York Times Book Review

‘A wonderfully melancholy meditation on modern art, urban space and the complexity of being alone... Without glamorizing either loneliness or the urban decay of New York in the ’70s, The Lonely City builds an impassioned case for difficulty and difference, for social rebellion and the unpredictable artistic richness that can result.’ Washington Post

‘She writes with lyrical clarity, empathy, and a knack for taking a wandering, edgy path, stretching themes (and genres), while never losing an underlying urgency... Joining disparate motifs and people, without formal strain, is one of the many achievements of this remarkable book.’ Evening Standard

‘Stitching and collaging odd fragments and genres together, Laing goes beyond reparation to offer something beautifully integrated, original, compassionate. She does not pose as a professional expert; her very subjectivity, her own suffering, confer her authority because they are so enmeshed with her powerful intelligence.’ Michèle Roberts, The Independent

‘Laing is always circling back toward a piercingly relevant observation. And, oh, those observations! ... Laing is a great critic, not least because she understands that art can and often does manifest multiple conflicting meanings and desires at once.’ Laura Miller, Slate

‘Especially elegant... The real heart of the book... is in the wonderfully freewheeling elucidation of the artists themselves, and, above all, in the constantly surprising connections Laing discovers between them.’ James Lasdun, Book of the Week, Guardian

‘Olivia Laing... picks up the topic of painful urban isolation and sets it down in many smart and oddly consoling places. She makes the topic her own.’ Dwight Garner, New York Times

‘Extraordinary, and extremely powerful... Laing’s discussions of these matters are considered, authoritative, evocative, empathetic, and full of insight and illuminating comparisons. The attentiveness of her observations, the depth of her feeling, sharpens and enriches your own intellectual and emotional response to the questions she addresses, and does so in an atmosphere of intimate confession, and of gentle but restless rumination.’ The National

‘Laing is an astute and consistently surprising culture critic who deeply identifies with her subjects' vulnerabilities ... absolutely one of a kind.’ Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

‘It's not easy to pull off switching between criticism and confession - and like Echo Spring, The Lonely City is an impressive and beguiling combination of autobiography and biography, a balancing act that Laing effortlessly performs. Her gift as a critic is her ability to imaginatively sympathize with her subject in a way that allows the art and life of the artist to go on radiating meaning after the book is closed.’ Elle

‘A lovely thing... Exceptionally skillful at changing gears, Ms. Laing moves fluently between memoir, biography (not just of her principal cast but of a large supporting one), art criticism and the fruits of her immersion in ‘loneliness studies.’ Her phrasing has a chaste, lyric plangency apt to her topic. She writes about Darger and the rest with insight and empathy and about herself with a refreshing lack of exhibitionism… every page of The Lonely City exudes a disarming, deep-down fondness for humanity.’ The Wall Street Journal

‘Laing goes on to touch on the work and lives of such diverse artists as, ready? Alfred Hitchcock, Valerie Solanas, Nan Goldin , Klaus Nomi, Peter Hujar, Billie Holiday and Jean Michel Basquiat . Quite a list. That she does so with empathy and artistic understanding is impressive enough; that she interweaves a personal record of her own solitary period is masterful. This is a highly recommended read for all manner of urban loners, introverts and semi-loners.’ Bay Area Reporter

‘Laing's descripions of her own loneliness feel unusually brave... Sublime.’ The Times

‘Despite the painful thoughts The Lonely City sometimes triggered, this is a book that left me feeling encouraged. Laing takes all sorts of people, events, cultural attitudes and political items and stitches them together to create a new, compelling whole. I use the word 'stitches' deliberately in an admiring nod to Laing, who sees the act of stitching as both a symbol of protest and an act of healing.’ Chicago Tribune

Olivia

‘Moving effortlessly between subjects, Laing uses everything from biochemistry and urban theory to art criticism and technology...It's a stunning balance... The Lonely City bristles with heart-piercing wisdom.’ NPR

‘Laing writes with a compassion and curiosity rarely seen in any genre.’ The Rumpus

‘Laing... here performs an almost magical trick: Reminding us of how it feels to be lonely, this book gently affirms our connectedness.’ Boston Globe

‘Many passages as bruised and gorgeous as those in the fictions of writers such as Jean Rhys and Sam Selvon... eschewing narcissism and navel-gazing to the end.’ Sukhdev Sandhu, The Spectator

‘Laing cuts close to the bone of a universal yet often unrelatable state, to home in on sensations that, she suggests, we are predisposed to forget; and to find solace in artists who, were it not for their work, would have been forgotten. These are the strokes of Laing’s portraits: glowing souls in the middle of a long night.’ Financial Times

‘Loneliness as a paradox essential to art and civilization is the essence of this remarkable book. It is also conclusive affirmation that its author, Olivia Laing, is one of the most fascinating and unexpected of all current writers… Singular, fiercely candid and rare.’ Buffalo News, Editor's Choice

‘A deep and resounding exploration of loneliness and all that it holds... this book is as dazzling as it is unique.’ Bustle

‘Intensely involving and affecting... Laing's superb study extends far beyond art criticism.’ The Lady

‘Affecting, compelling, deeply humane.’ Herald Scotland

‘Laing perceives that loneliness is not only a sense of isolation but also of brokenness, and that art can be an annealing force. And like the artists she profiles, she refuses to look away from pain or simplify trauma, or deny anyone respect or dignity. Through her ardent research, empathetic response, original thought, courageous candor, and exquisite language, Laing joins the ever-growing pool of writers... who are transforming memoir into a daring and dynamic literary form of discovery that laces the stories of individuals into the continuum of humanity and the larger web of life on Earth to provocative and transforming effect.’ Booklist (starred review)

‘Olivia Laing's soulful blend of biography and memoir makes her one of the most compelling nonfiction writers around... Laing's own wrestling with loneliness, and her readings in psychology and philosophy, weave in and out of these portraits, creating a complex and multilayered narrative. Her experiences... offer a humane and sensitive lens through which to view the life and art of her subjects. This is a stunning book on the nearly universal experience of being alone.’ BookPage(Top Pick)

‘An absorbing melding of memoir, biography, art essay, and philosophical meditation... An illuminating, enriching book.' Kirkus Reviews

‘By focusing on four artists… Laing’s writing becomes expansive, exploring their biographies, sharing art analysis, and weaving in observations from periods of desolation that was at times “cold as ice and clear as glass.” She invents new ways to consider how isolation plays into art or even the Internet . . . For once, loneliness becomes a place worth lingering.’ Publishers Weekly

The Lonely City unpacks, with harrowing depth and impeccable bedside manner, why it is we’re all subletting, which is to say, why we’re all desperate to find a notion of home that sticks, a permanence of feeling content in our own bodies, in an environment that actually wants us there.’ Globe and Mail

‘Connecting becomes less intimidating if the fear of failure is removed. This brave book is a step in that direction.’ The Economist

‘The prose in Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City is so fine it could makes anyone who is not the author’s friend or relative almost glad she suffered so much if it led to a book like this.’ Salon

‘A book about far more than how loneliness shapes art. [If you’re lonely you] will find in these pages an astute friend whose way with words lights up a melancholy subject.’ Mail on Sunday

Related work

The Future of Loneliness: an essay in the Guardian on loneliness and the internet.

Me, Myself and I: an essay in Aeon on art, sex, loneliness, David Wojnarowicz and the Hudson river piers.

This project is supported by the Arts Council England, the British Library, and the Corporation of Yaddo.

“Loneliness is difficult to confess; difficult too to categorise. Like depression, a state with which it often intersects, it can run deep in the fabric of a person.”

By Maria Popova

“You are born alone. You die alone. The value of the space in between is trust and love,” artist Louise Bourgeois wrote in her diary at the end of a long and illustrious life as she contemplated how solitude enriches creative work. It’s a lovely sentiment, but as empowering as it may be to those willing to embrace solitude, it can be tremendously lonesome-making to those for whom loneliness has contracted the space of trust and love into a suffocating penitentiary. For if in solitude, as Wendell Berry memorably wrote, “one’s inner voices become audible [and] one responds more clearly to other lives,” in loneliness one’s inner scream becomes deafening, deadening, severing any thread of connection to other lives.

How to break free of that prison and reinhabit the space of trust and love is what Olivia Laing explores in The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (public library) — an extraordinary more-than-memoir; a sort of memoir-plus-plus, partway between Helen MacDonald’s H Is for Hawk and the diary of Virginia Woolf; a lyrical account of wading through a period of self-expatriation, both physical and psychological, in which Laing paints an intimate portrait of loneliness as “a populated place: a city in itself.”

After the sudden collapse of a romance marked by extreme elation, Laing left her native England and took her shattered heart to New York, “that teeming island of gneiss and concrete and glass.” The daily, bone-deep loneliness she experienced there was both paralyzing in its all-consuming potency and, paradoxically, a strange invitation to aliveness. Indeed, her choice to leave home and wander a foreign city is itself a rich metaphor for the paradoxical nature of loneliness, animated by equal parts restlessness and stupor, capable of turning one into a voluntary vagabond and a catatonic recluse all at once, yet somehow a vitalizing laboratory for self-discovery. The pit of loneliness, she found, could “drive one to consider some of the larger questions of what it is to be alive.”

She writes:

There were things that burned away at me, not only as a private individual, but also as a citizen of our century, our pixelated age. What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we’re not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people, particularly if we don’t find speaking easy? Is sex a cure for loneliness, and if it is, what happens if our body or sexuality is considered deviant or damaged, if we are ill or unblessed with beauty? And is technology helping with these things? Does it draw us closer together, or trap us behind screens?

Bedeviled by this acute emotional anguish, Laing seeks consolation in the great patron saints of loneliness in twentieth-century creative culture. From this eclectic tribe of the lonesome — including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Hujar, Billie Holiday, and Nan Goldin — Laing chooses four artists as her companions charting the terra incognita of loneliness: Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger, and David Wojnarowicz, who had all “grappled in their lives as well as work with loneliness and its attendant issues.”

She considers, for instance, Warhol — an artist whom Laing had always dismissed until she was submerged in loneliness herself. (“I’d seen the screen-printed cows and Chairman Maos a thousand times, and I thought they were vacuous and empty, disregarding them as we often do with things we’ve looked at but failed properly to see.”) She writes:

Warhol’s art patrols the space between people, conducting a grand philosophical investigation into closeness and distance, intimacy and estrangement. Like many lonely people, he was an inveterate hoarder, making and surrounding himself with objects, barriers against the demands of human intimacy. Terrified of physical contact, he rarely left the house without an armoury of cameras and tape recorders, using them to broker and buffer interactions: behaviour that has light to shed on how we deploy technology in our own century of so-called connectivity.

Woven into the fabric of Laing’s personal experience are inquiries into the nature, context, and background of these four artists’ lives and their works most preoccupied with loneliness. But just as it would be unfair to call Laing’s masterpiece only a “memoir,” it would be unfair to call these threads “art history,” for they are rather the opposite, a kind of “art present” — elegant and erudite meditations on how art is present with us, how it invites us to be present with ourselves and bears witness to that presence, alleviating our loneliness in the process.

Laing examines the particular, pervasive form of loneliness in the eye of a city aswirl with humanity:

Imagine standing by a window at night, on the sixth or seventeenth or forty-third floor of a building. The city reveals itself as a set of cells, a hundred thousand windows, some darkened and some flooded with green or white or golden light. Inside, strangers swim to and fro, attending to the business of their private hours. You can see them, but you can’t reach them, and so this commonplace urban phenomenon, available in any city of the world on any night, conveys to even the most social a tremor of loneliness, its uneasy combination of separation and exposure.

You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people. One might think this state was antithetical to urban living, to the massed presence of other human beings, and yet mere physical proximity is not enough to dispel a sense of internal isolation. It’s possible – easy, even – to feel desolate and unfrequented in oneself while living cheek by jowl with others. Cities can be lonely places, and in admitting this we see that loneliness doesn’t necessarily require physical solitude, but rather an absence or paucity of connection, closeness, kinship: an inability, for one reason or another, to find as much intimacy as is desired. Unhappy, as the dictionary has it, as a result of being without the companionship of others. Hardly any wonder, then, that it can reach its apotheosis in a crowd.

As scientists are continuing to unpeel the physiological effects of loneliness, it is no surprise that this psychological state comes with an almost bodily dimension, which Laing captures vividly:

What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. It feels shameful and alarming, and over time these feelings radiate outwards, making the lonely person increasingly isolated, increasingly estranged. It hurts, in the way that feelings do, and it also has physical consequences that take place invisibly, inside the closed compartments of the body. It advances, is what I’m trying to say, cold as ice and clear as glass, enclosing and engulfing.

There is, of course, a universe of difference between solitude and loneliness — two radically different interior orientations toward the same exterior circumstance of lacking companionship. We speak of “fertile solitude” as a developmental achievement essential for our creative capacity, but loneliness is barren and destructive; it cottons in apathy the will to create. More than that, it seems to signal an existential failing — a social stigma the nuances of which Laing addresses beautifully:

Loneliness is difficult to confess; difficult too to categorise. Like depression, a state with which it often intersects, it can run deep in the fabric of a person, as much a part of one’s being as laughing easily or having red hair. Then again, it can be transient, lapping in and out in reaction to external circumstance, like the loneliness that follows on the heels of a bereavement, break-up or change in social circles.

Like depression, like melancholy or restlessness, it is subject too to pathologisation, to being considered a disease. It has been said emphatically that loneliness serves no purpose… Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think any experience so much a part of our common shared lives can be entirely devoid of meaning, without a richness and a value of some kind.

Olivia Laing The Lonely City Epub

With an eye to Virginia Woolf’s unforgettable diary writings on loneliness and creativity, Laing speculates:

Loneliness might be taking you towards an otherwise unreachable experience of reality.

Adrift and alone in the city that promises its inhabitants “the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation,” Laing cycles through a zoetrope of temporary homes — sublets, friends’ apartments, and various borrowed quarters, only amplifying the sense of otherness and alienation as she is forced to make “a life among someone else’s things, in a home that someone else has created and long since.”

But therein lies an inescapable metaphor for life itself — we are, after all, subletting our very existence from a city and a society and a world that have been there for much longer than we have, already arranged in a way that might not be to our taste, that might not be how the building would be laid out and its interior designed were we to do it from scratch ourselves. And yet we are left to make ourselves at home in the way things are, imperfect and sometimes downright ugly. The measure of a life has to do with this subletting ability — with how well we are able to settle into this borrowed, imperfect abode and how much beauty we can bring into existence with however little control over its design we may have.

This, perhaps, is why Laing found her only, if temporary, respite from loneliness in an activity propelled by the very act of leaving this borrowed home: walking. In a passage that calls to mind Robert Walser’s exquisite serenade to the soul-nourishment of the walk, she writes:

In certain circumstances, being outside, not fitting in, can be a source of satisfaction, even pleasure. There are kinds of solitude that provide a respite from loneliness, a holiday if not a cure. Sometimes as I walked, roaming under the stanchions of the Williamsburg Bridge or following the East River all the way to the silvery hulk of the U.N., I could forget my sorry self, becoming instead as porous and borderless as the mist, pleasurably adrift on the currents of the city.

But whatever semblance of a more solid inner center these peripatetic escapes into solitude offered, it was a brittle solidity:

I didn’t get this feeling when I was in my apartment; only when I was outside, either entirely alone or submerged in a crowd. In these situations I felt liberated from the persistent weight of loneliness, the sensation of wrongness, the agitation around stigma and judgement and visibility. But it didn’t take much to shatter the illusion of self-forgetfulness, to bring me back not only to myself but to the familiar, excruciating sense of lack.

Olivia Laing The Lonely City Epub 2017

It was in the lacuna between self-forgetfulness and self-discovery that Laing found herself drawn to the artists who became her companions in a journey both toward and away from loneliness. There is Edward Hopper with his iconic Nighthawks aglow in eerie jade, of which Laing writes:

There is no colour in existence that so powerfully communicates urban alienation, the atomisation of human beings inside the edifices they create, as this noxious pallid green, which only came into being with the advent of electricity, and which is inextricably associated with the nocturnal city, the city of glass towers, of empty illuminated offices and neon signs.

[…]

The diner was a place of refuge, absolutely, but there was no visible entrance, no way to get in or out. There was a cartoonish, ochre-coloured door at the back of the painting, leading perhaps into a grimy kitchen. But from the street, the room was sealed: an urban aquarium, a glass cell.

[…]

Green on green, glass on glass, a mood that expanded the longer I lingered, breeding disquiet.

Hopper himself had a conflicted relationship with the common interpretation that loneliness was a central theme of his work. Although he often denied that it was a deliberate creative choice, he once conceded in an interview: “I probably am a lonely one.” Laing, whose attention and sensitivity to even the subtlest texture of experience are what make the book so wonderful, considers how Hopper’s choice of language captures the essence of loneliness:

It’s an unusual formulation, a lonely one; not at all the same thing as admitting one is lonely. Instead, it suggests with that a, that unassuming indefinite article, a fact that loneliness by its nature resists. Though it feels entirely isolating, a private burden no one else could possibly experience or share, it is in reality a communal state, inhabited by many people. In fact, current studies suggest that more than a quarter of American adults suffers from loneliness, independent of race, education and ethnicity, while 45 per cent of British adults report feeling lonely either often or sometimes. Marriage and high income serve as mild deterrents, but the truth is that few of us are absolutely immune to feeling a greater longing for connection than we find ourselves able to satisfy. The lonely ones, a hundred million strong. Hardly any wonder Hopper’s paintings remain so popular, and so endlessly reproduced.

Reading his halting confession, one begins to see why his work is not just compelling but also consoling, especially when viewed en masse. It’s true that he painted, not once but many times, the loneliness of a large city, where the possibilities of connection are repeatedly defeated by the dehumanising apparatus of urban life. But didn’t he also paint loneliness as a large city, revealing it as a shared, democratic place, inhabited, whether willingly or not, by many souls?

[…]

What Hopper captures is beautiful as well as frightening. They aren’t sentimental, his pictures, but there is an extraordinary attentiveness to them… As if loneliness was something worth looking at. More than that, as if looking itself was an antidote, a way to defeat loneliness’s strange, estranging spell.

For the artists accompanying Laing on her journey — including Henry Darger, the brilliant and mentally ill Chicago janitor whose posthumously discovered paintings made him one of the most celebrated outsider artists of the twentieth century, and the creative polymath David Wojnarowicz, still in his thirties when AIDS took his life — loneliness was often twined with another profound affliction of the psyche: loss. In a passage evocative of Paul Goodman’s taxonomy of the nine types of silence, Laing offers a taxonomy of lonelinesses through the lens of loss:

Loss is a cousin of loneliness. They intersect and overlap, and so it’s not surprising that a work of mourning might invoke a feeling of aloneness, of separation. Mortality is lonely. Physical existence is lonely by its nature, stuck in a body that’s moving inexorably towards decay, shrinking, wastage and fracture. Then there’s the loneliness of bereavement, the loneliness of lost or damaged love, of missing one or many specific people, the loneliness of mourning.

But this lonesomeness of mortality finds its antidote in the abiding consolations of immortal works of art. “Art holds out the promise of inner wholeness,” philosopher Alain de Botton and art historian John Armstrong wrote in their inquiry into the seven psychological functions of art, and if loneliness is, as Laing puts it, “a longing for integration, for a sense of feeling whole,” what better answer to that longing than art? After all, in the immortal words of James Baldwin, “only an artist can tell, and only artists have told since we have heard of man, what it is like for anyone who gets to this planet to survive it.”

Looking back on her experience, Laing writes:

Olivia Laing The Lonely City

There are so many things that art can’t do. It can’t bring the dead back to life, it can’t mend arguments between friends, or cure AIDS, or halt the pace of climate change. All the same, it does have some extraordinary functions, some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich each other’s lives. It does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and better yet of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly.

If I sound adamant it is because I am speaking from personal experience. When I came to New York I was in pieces, and though it sounds perverse, the way I recovered a sense of wholeness was not by meeting someone or by falling in love, but rather by handling the things that other people had made, slowly absorbing by way of this contact the fact that loneliness, longing, does not mean one has failed, but simply that one is alive.

Olivia Laing Home

But as profoundly personal as loneliness may feel, it is inseparable from the political dimensions of public life. In a closing passage that calls to mind Audre Lorde’s clarion call for breaking our silences against structural injustice, Laing adds:

There is a gentrification that is happening to cities, and there is a gentrification that is happening to the emotions too, with a similarly homogenising, whitening, deadening effect. Amidst the glossiness of late capitalism, we are fed the notion that all difficult feelings — depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage — are simply a consequence of unsettled chemistry, a problem to be fixed, rather than a response to structural injustice or, on the other hand, to the native texture of embodiment, of doing time, as David Wojnarowicz memorably put it, in a rented body, with all the attendant grief and frustration that entails.

I don’t believe the cure for loneliness is meeting someone, not necessarily. I think it’s about two things: learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many of the things that seem to afflict us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted.

Loneliness is personal, and it is also political. Loneliness is collective; it is a city. As to how to inhabit it, there are no rules and nor is there any need to feel shame, only to remember that the pursuit of individual happiness does not trump or excuse our obligations to each another. We are in this together, this accumulation of scars, this world of objects, this physical and temporary heaven that so often takes on the countenance of hell. What matters is kindness; what matters is solidarity. What matters is staying alert, staying open, because if we know anything from what has gone before us, it is that the time for feeling will not last.

The Lonely City is a layered and endlessly rewarding book, among the finest I have ever read. Complement it with Rebecca Solnit on how we find ourselves by getting lost, David Whyte on the transfiguration of aloneness, Alfred Kazin on loneliness and the immigrant experience, and Sara Maitland on how to be alone without being lonely.

Thanks, Emily