On being alone.

Is there a difference between being lonely and being alone? Can this loneliness be productive? Today I’ve been writing down some things I’ve been thinking about for some time.

Alone is an occupation where you choose to be apart from other people (At least in a normal setting). If you’ve purposely been put into a room, you might be alone, but you are also isolated – So there’s a new word too; Isolation. We have now Loneliness, alone, isolation and why not also solitude. Can solitude be a collected term to contain the others?

I’d say loneliness is a feeling of not belonging, and to be kept outside of something. What this ‘something’ is, is arbitrary, but it can be a social circle, a physical place you’re not allowed to enter or not being able to fullfil criteria etc.  If you are lonely, you probably want to engage in activities to make you less lonely. You have not chosen to be lonely. If you have chosen to be lonely, I argue that you have in fact chosen to be alone.

Jonathan Franzen wrote in his book How to Be Alone that

“Every writer is first a member of a community of readers, and the deepest purpose of reading and writing fiction is to sustain a sense of connectedness, to resist existential loneliness; and so a novel deserves a reader’s attention only as long as the author sustains the reader’s trust.”

I am aware of this being about writers and readers, and not random people. But aren’t we all readers? And sometimes we are the writer. We can perhaps replace the writer with the teller, and the reader as the listener. The book needs a reader, as the writer needs one. And the reader longs for a writer. This relationship is to me symbiotic. The reader needs to be trusted, and must take great care of his position. Loneliness brings people together through others experiences with loneliness. We circle around the bonfire, which in this metaphor is the great pit of raw unrefined loneliness.

Des Esseintes, the main character of Joris Karl Huysmans novel, Against the Grain decides to close himself inside with his books, his art and his music. He becomes a true follower of the aesthetic. He is more concerned about what to wear, what to read and how to be perceived as better than to address his troubles of loneliness and moral decay. This is also the point of decadence in general. A shift from the before where we move away from nature and God, and accept artificiality and hedonistic views. He chooses to be alone, and is therefore not lonely. On the other hand, ‘aloneness’ makes you socialize less, and makes people less likely to come to you, begging for you to join them, and is therefore making you lonely as an end result. Des Esseintes isolates himself so that he can hide from all the grimness reality has in store. This is also his downfall.
Des Esseintes is also a rich heir, with nothing to do, and with to much money. Being alone is for him, his job. He has the time and resources to be alone. One can argue that the occupation of being alone, is a privilege.

Solitude is a word with both positive and negative connotations. For introverts, solitude is a safe word. Solitude is (I argue) also a self-made predicament to find oneself in. On the other hand one might be trapped inside a cabin when an avalanche hits your front door. This is accidental solitude, but not loneliness.Solitude is a bit like religious asceticism where you seek the silence, and the stillness. It’s also the wish of being alone and undisturbed for a while.

To be alone and to be in solitude can reap many rewards in terms of calming oneself, and being in touch with oneself on a deeper level. This is not meant to be a cheesy conclusion. I just wanted to share some thoughts about solidity. I think people should learn to become more content with being alone. Sure, we love as a species to be social, but when was the last time you just sat down without any form of entertainment like a book, a movie, music, computer etc.? When was the last time you just sat and listened to nothing except for your own heartbeat and breath? It’s in the downtime you can hear the white noise of your life. And you would want to keep that tone as harmonious as you can, right?


Franzen, J. How To Be Alone. 2001, Harper Collins. London.


Thoughts around Now – the Present.

(it just felt right)

I am here now. My heart is pumping blood to my veins, and my intestines are working hard to keep my body nourished. I have taken a shower, and I am clean and fresh. I am new, for every day that goes by, for every shower that I take. The weather outside is fantastic; the sun is shining bright, there are absolutely no clouds to see, and it`s probably very warm. (I wouldn`t know – I haven`t been outside to check.) I am alive. There are no immediate traumas in my life. No accidents, and no misfortunes. The sun is shining – in every sense of the expression. There is no reason for me to feel sad, or depressed.

On the other side of the globe, a mother is also alive. The weather might be just as fantastic there as it is here. (I wouldn`t know – I am not there.) It doesn`t matter – the sun is shining bright at least figuratively, and for her, that`s all that matters. It`s been a while since she has taken a shower, but that doesn`t matter either – she is just as new and fresh as I am. She has no reason to feel sad, or depressed. She recieves a call. Her son, starting a year as an exchange student in a country far, far away, has just killed himself. Before he left, they said goodbye to each other, see you come Christmas. And now, the mother`s life has completely and utterly changed. It has, in every sense of the expression, been turned upside down. Not only for today, but for forever. She has every reason to feel sad, and depressed.

Somewhere in Eritrea a young woman sits in a corner of a dark, hot basement. The weather outside the basement is fantastic. The sun is shining bright, and the temperature is nearly 45 degree C. The woman keeps her arms around her knees, and she is crying. She doesn`t care the slightest about the weather, though. She is waiting for the inevitable to happen; for him to come down again. Maybe today he won`t use any tools to hit her. The woman doesn`t know when he will come down; it might take a while still – but she knows it will eventually happen. She knows the routine so well she can recount it in her head; first he will say some pleasant things to her to make her feel calmer. (Failing, of course). Then he will bash her up to the wall, screaming and shouting at her to take her clothes off. (He will undoubtely tear them off her, anyway). Then the insanity will begin. And when that`s over, he will throw her to the ground, spit at her and leave. If she`s lucky, he will leave some water and a piece of bread. She has every reason to cry.

I do not know the mother. Neither did I know her son. Nor do I know the girl. I do know that everyone is fighting their own battles. This is happening all the time – not just during the evening news report on TV, or at some undefined, undimensional, fleeting period of time. There is no period of time reserved for any bad thing to happen. It is happening right now, everywhere, to everyone. It is true what they say; It`s important not to let the small things get in your way. But sometimes the small things aren`t small at all. Never, then, forget to appreciate what you have now, no matter how small they seem, there is someone out there who would do literally anything to have what you have right now.

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(is there any connection between these two sections? maybe, maybe not. you decide)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Thoughts around Then – and Philosophy.

(not a review)

The female lead of the movie Lost in Translation, Charlotte is played by Scarlett Johansson. In the movie, Charlotte is a newly graduated philosophy student. She struggles to find out what she wants to do in terms of work, but also in terms of what the reason for her existence is. (wow, a bit of a jump there, no?) She is stuck in a seemingly hopeless marriage, her husband ignoring her for his photography career, and her family seemingly doesn`t have time to listen to her on the telephone. She doesn`t know where she is headed in life. She feels alone on more than one plane; not only does she struggle to get the people who were supposed to be closest to her, to recognize her – she also needs someone to acknowledge her intellectual existence.

After having seen this movie not so long ago (for the second time in my life, mind you.) I couldn`t help, as always after having seen a great movie, but to become inspired. And the ways in which Lost in Translation inspired me this time, was to read some philosophy myself. And (at least try) to write about it. So I have spent much of today reading up on philosophy. Don`t get me wrong; I have by no means cracked the philosophical code. I have in no ways found the ultimate truth that all of cosmos is governed by. (If such a thing even exists.) No, nothing like that; I have merely flipped through a few pages of a book, doing what I can with what I have to try to maybe come to the tiniest of understandings of what has in fact fascinated me a long time.Disclaimer;  I will not deny that this fascination was boosted after seeing Lost in Translation. Socrates would be proud – an unexamined life is, after all, not worth living.

The book I`ve flipped through is written by this guy Nigel Warburton (maybe you`ve heard of him?), and is called A Little History of Philosophy. In it, Warburton dedicates a few pages to every major philosopher in the Western tradition, starting with Socrates and, ultimately, ending with Peter Singer. (I have gotten as far as Machiavelli – as you can tell, indeed, it is a very, very easily read book!) There are a lot of interesting stuff so far. In order to try to organise it, here`s a list of some of what I found interesting;

  1. The Problem of Evil; how and why can a presumably good God allow evil?
  2. Free Will; do we have free will, or are we in fact ruled by some..thing other than ourselves?
  3. Free Will 2: if we have free will, how do we decide what is good and right?
  4. The meaningful life: what does it mean to live a good and meaningful life?
  5. Death: how are we supposed to deal with the idea of being dead, or, as the book calls it, non-existence?
  6. Death 2: is death a part of our humanly existence, or is it something that happens outside of it? (Apparently (and might I add, interestingly), Wittgenstein was under the opinion that death was in fact not a part of life)

I probably forget something, but most of these things are things Warburton has covered up til now. Some topics I presume Warburton is coming back to after a while. For example nr. 3 here, how do we decide what is good and right – I presume he will talk about this when he later covers the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

But! Let us not get carried away here (he said, as he writes about philosophy). This is where it gets tricky. I want to try to discuss philosophical stuff now. Or, «discuss» is stretching it; I just want to vent some thoughts I have on this. Or, no, that would be misleading as well. Maybe what I`m trying to say, is I want to write down my understanding of some of what I`ve read. Even if it`s going to be practially paraphrasing exactly what I have read. Anyway… Let`s see where this takes me, shall we?

A lot of people worry about dying. They think it might hurt. A reasonable reason to be worried. But maybe more importantly, they are worried that when they die, that`s the end. They will not have another chance of doing what they truly want to do. They might unconsciousy be scared that they might not be able to fullfill their truest, deepest dreams. There is only this life, and one will have to do what one truly wants to do in it in order to have a good and meaningful life. But Warburton writes that there is an asymmetrical way of looking at life and death. (p. 26) In writing about the philosopher Epicurus, he states that people are generally more worried about the time after their death, than what they are worrying about their time before their birth. And it`s true. Think about it. People generally do not worry about the time they did not exist before their birth. If death is just another «pre-birth», just another way of non-existince that took place before we were born, then what reason is there to worry about it? A quote, to prove to you that I am in fact merely copying, and have no thoughts of my own whatsoever; «We don`t usually worry about not existing for all those millenia before our birth.» (Warburton, p. 26) Epicurus thought this worrying about death was wrong for exactly this reason. Warburton again: «Once you see this, you should start thinking of the time after your death in the same sort of way that you do the time before it. Then it won`t be a big concern» (p 26) This is all to show that once one stops worrying about death, (something, as we understand, we can not do anything about in the first place) it will be easier to start living life in a better way. Instead of worrying about things we can`t do anything about, we can spend more energy focusing on what we want in life in order for it to be a good and meaningful one. For Socrates, that was to «examine» life, to understand why we do what we do. For Epicurus, as I`ve understood, that was to have as little worries as possible. The only things worth worrying about, are things we can do something about ourselves.

Immanuel Kant was (and is) a very influential philosopher. His ideas and theories still live and thrive in the philosophical academic enviroment. Presently, they have stood the test of time. Before I started reading this book by Warburton, I was not as aware of what these ideas of Kant actually were. I knew who he was, and I had a sense of what they were, but not so much as I`d like to believe I have now, after reading about them. Kant believed there are two realities; a noumenal and a phenomenal. (yes, there might be some spelling mistakes here. and just general mistakes in Kant`s theories as such.) The noumenal reality is out of reach to us humans. Our senses do not have accsess to it. It is the «real» reality – a reality were nothing is fragmented, plastered over, or faked in any way. Don`t misunderstand me; the noumenal reality is not necessarily a perfect one – it is just one that has not been fondled with. It is the raw, realy reality. The phenomenal world, however, is the one we percieve on a daily basis. The phenomenal world is the one that our senses do have accsess to, a reality that has been plastered over with a plastic film, if you will. By this, we understand that Kant did not think we could trust our senses. Which is weird to think about. Our senses are the only thing we have to percieve the world, and we can`t trust them. If we can`t trust them, how are we supposed to go on and trust anything or anyone else? If I burn my hand, it will surely hurt and I might even have to get treated against it. But not according to Kant, he would not care. Am I at all understanding this correct? I don`t know, I`m probably misunderstanding him. I don`t think (or, I`d like to not think) that Kant would not care if he got his hand burned. Or whatever.

Anyway – however well I understand him, it struck me how similar this noumenal/phenomenal reality is to Plato`s very early cave theory. Plato thought that everything around us is not what it seems; we are merely percieving a shadow (or, indeed, the idea) of what the real thing is. We are merely cavemen tied to chains, unable to see the actual thing held up in front of the fire, we can only see the shadow. The philosopher, however, could untie himself of these chains, and be blinded by the sun, as it were, when he got out of the cave, to see the reality of everything. (And, of course, to try to explain the reality to us cavemen would be futile. Which is also an interesting thought, even in our postmodern, metaphysical/metatextual lingvistical, literal and philosophical society – how can we use language, a thing that is not a part of us integrally, to explain anything at all?)