After seeing Olivia Laing speak impressively at July’s Port Eliot festival, I read her brave and remarkable book about a subject that’s almost taboo in our culture: loneliness.
The Lonely City is a study of alienation and estrangement – but also of art, AIDS, attachment and social media – and I recommend it highly. Laing writes of her own bewildered isolation in Manhattan, takes in the work of Warhol, Hopper and others, and says such interesting things about the terrors of aloneness vs. the joys of solitude. Like most of us I’ve experienced intense loneliness in my life – but also a kind of ecstatic solitude. The Lonely City made me think deeply about all of this.
Laing writes beautifully and with piercing honesty. “What’s so shameful about wanting,” she asks. “Why this need to constantly inhabit peak states, or to be comfortably sealed inside a unit of two?” She’s also brilliant on Facebook, Twitter et al: “I wanted to look and I wanted to be seen, and somehow it was easier to do both via the mediating screen.”