Solitude in Huck Finn #
Mark Twain has Huck Finn celebrate the isolation of the raft:
Sometimes we’d have that whole river all to ourselves for the longest time. Yonder was the banks and the islands, across the water; and maybe a spark – which was a candle in a cabin window; and sometimes on the water you could see a spark or two – on a raft or a scow, you know; and maybe you could hear a fiddle or a song coming over from one of them crafts. It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened. Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to MAKE so many. Jim said the moon could a LAID them; well, that looked kind of reasonable, so I didn’t say nothing against it, because I’ve seen a frog lay most as many, so of course it could be done. We used to watch the stars that fell, too, and see them streak down. Jim allowed they’d got spoiled and was hove out of the nest Besides the tranquility and serenity, it allows them the opportunity to contemplate their place in the universe.
Most emerging societies place a lot of emphasis on tribal unity and conformity providing mutual support and protection, however, mature societies are more secure and foster the rights of citizens to assert their individuality, distinctiveness and self assertion. In today’s western society people have to find a satisfactory balance between being themselves and yet belonging to groups of their choice, a luxury many of our ancestors did not have.
As **Ayn Rand **observed:
“Civilisation is the progress toward a society of privacy; The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of the tribe. Civilisation is the process of freeing man from men”
While we have a need to belong, it is counterpointed by a need for independence, individuality, self reliance and a private identity. At times in our lives we need introspection - solitude – alone time - to sort out issues, ponder difficult choices or reflect on past crises. Blaise Pascal maintains that “All the unhappiness of mankind arises from the simple fact that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber”.
The need for privacy predominates during the pressures of study, illness, grief, or when we contravene society’s restrictions, we tend to be surreptitious or furtive and desire anonymity and seclusion. Before he started his ministry, Jesus spent a month alone in the desert. Don Dellio writes: “The true life takes place when we are alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamily self-aware…”
“If you are alone you belong entirely to yourself. If you are accompanied by even one companion you belong only half to yourself or even less in proportion to the thoughtlessness of his conduct and if you have more than one companion you will fall more deeply into the same plight.” *** Leonardo da Vinci*
Perhaps the most famous hermit was Henry David Thoreau.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Other lovers of solitude include: Socrates, Isaac Newton, William Wordsworth, Albert Einstein, Stanley Kubrick….
We may need to differentiate between purposeful and enforced solitude. Many people are required to spend time on their own due to work or their own choice. Richard Byrd in his book Alone describes spending many months living alone in a shack in Antarctica, manning an outpost. He described it as “splendid isolation” and concluded that “solitude is an excellent laboratory to observe the extent to which our manners and habits are conditioned by others”.
Another writer, Sara Maitland in A Book of Silence desires a quiet life without the empty chatter of trivial matters which she calls “white noise”. She has fallen in love with silence. It can be calm or frightening, lonely or joyful, deep or thin. There is a religious silence; a self-emptying silence, a romantic silence – what Wordsworth would call the “bliss of Solitude”.
In a new book, Alone Together, Sherry Turkle argues that our hyper-connectedness threatens our ability to be ourselves. We are threatened by aloneness because it may reflect our lack of acceptance or likeability.
Anneli Rufus in Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto, argues that society is suspicious of people who enjoy being alone or solitary persons. Rufus believes the hectic pace of society makes it necessary to recharge our emotional batteries, to sort out our values, priorities, to clarify our creative instincts and spiritual longings. (Judith Ireland, Going it Alone, Spectrum, March 26-27)
In 1921, Carl Jung identified a core personality trait; introversion, a temperamental inner-directedness. This could include all who are “reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned.”
Introverts who are the subject of Susan Cain’s new book, “Quiet,”¹ don’t experience their inwardness in a self-congratulatory way. They and others view their tendency toward solitary activity, quiet reflection and reserve as* “a second-class*” when compared to the Extrovert Ideal — the omnipresent belief that “the ideal self is gregarious, garrulous, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight,” Cain’s introverts are overwhelmed by the social demands thrust upon them. They’re also underwhelmed by the example set by the voluble, socially successful go-getters in their midst who “speak without thinking,”.
Introverts — who, according to Cain, can count among their many virtues the fact that “they’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame” — must learn to “embrace the power of quiet.” And extroverts should learn to sit down and shut up.
¹QUIET - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking - By Susan Cain. Reviewed by By JUDITH WARNER, New York Times Book Reviews, February 10, 2012.
The simplified difference between an introvert and an extrovert is this:
An extrovert is re-charged by social interaction.
An introvert is re-charged by solitude.
Solitude has a transcendent power. It gives a person time and space free of distraction to come up with creative solutions to problems. RENEE BRACK
Coleridge’s ***Rime of the Ancient Mariner ***depicts:
Alienation or existential isolation evocatively through repetition, the sound effects of awed vowels and the eerie sibilants of
* Alone, alone, all, all, alone*
* Alone, on a wide, wide sea*
* And never a saint took pity on*
* My soul in agony.
After the success of The Catcher in the Rye, his first and only novel, J.D. Salinger turned himself into the most famous recluse in the world. Holed up in his cabin in Cornish, New Hampshire, he issued a trickle of increasingly sterile short stories. Finally he fell silent altogether. When he died in 2010, aged 91, he had not published a word in 45 years.
Two years after Catcher’s publication, Salinger began his retreat from society. Fulfilling a wish of Holden Caulfield’s, he bought his cabin in the woods. Then he built a large fence around it. He began to shun worldly things, such as publication and medicine that worked. He embraced Buddhism, macrobiotics, Scientology, hom0eopathy, Christian Science and, ultimately, Vedanta Hinduism. He drank his own urine in a bid to purify himself.
Salinger couldn’t have been clearer about his wish to be left alone.
But if Salinger wasn’t a true recluse, who was? Howard Hughes, the 20th century’s other great shut-in, was an even more committed womaniser than Salinger. Nobody, it seems, can do without human contact altogether.
David Free – The Australian –Review Sept. 28 29 2013
Other Quotes on Solitude and Individuality
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife. *** Thomas Gray*
*Only dead fish swim with the current. *Anon
THE DOORS OF PERCEPTION
We live together,, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves.
* The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone.*
Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self -transcendence. In vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy solitude.
Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies — all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable.
We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves.
From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.
The Doors of Perception Aldous Huxley
In this age the mere example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom. is a service.
Precisely because a tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach. it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric.
Eccentricity has always abounded: and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour and moral courage it contained.
That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
Motto of Sorbonne University (Paris)
Fluctuate / Nee / Mergitor
-Be individual /but / mingle
-unique / also / adaptable
- Belong but be true to yourself
* I don’t care to belong to any club that will have someone like me as a member. *Groucho Marx
No man is an island
No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, ….
…..any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language.
** John Donne Meditation XVII**
** The late Geoffrey Tozer: pianist**
Orchestra managers have said that alcohol was making Tozer so erratic and unreliable that concert standard performances were becoming difficult to arrange. Tozer, was, by all accounts, lonely and isolated, prone to obsessive infatuation rather than love, and on endless retreat from the world.
The Late Alexander McQueen
Often called an ‘’enfant terrible’’ and yet the hugely influential British designer, aged 40, who was found dead on Thursday, was honoured four times by the British Fashion Council as designer of the year, and was made a CBE in 2003. He was the bad boy of fashion beloved by the establishment.
McQueen’s shows were innovative, unexpected and much anticipated.
In 1996 he took up the role of chief designer at the Paris fashion house Givenchy, but his time there was not happy. He said: ‘‘It’s been difficult for me because I never learned to arse-lick.’’ His first couture collection for the label was not well received, with the designer playing up to his irreverent image by describing the collection to Vogue in October 1997 as ‘‘crap’’. However, the money it brought him helped him to build up his own label.
Guardian News & Media
Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto by Anneli Rufus
Being alone feels calming, invigorating and normal to me. We need solitude just the way tuna need the sea. Here we are not sad or lonely but having the time of our lives.
The subway during evening rush hour. What I see of the people are tired faces and limbs, hatred and anger. I feel someone might at any moment draw a knife — just so. They read, or rather they are soaked in their newspaper or magazine or paperback. And yet, a couple of hours later, the same people, deodorised, washed, dressed—up or down, maybe happy and tender, really smile, and forget (or remember). But most of them will probably have some awful togetherness; or aloneness at home.
from ‘One Dimensional Man’ by Herbert Marcuse, U.S.A. 1960s.
I am terrified by the enormous gap between me and every other individual - I hate to think that my mother can’t know my needs without having to tell her or that my father could rape my best friend. I want to set up a home and family with the person I love, but I hate the idea of promising to feel the same way 30 years later, when your proposed partner for life is in effect a complete stranger, as both of you are sure to have changed.
** 17 year—old girl**, in a survey of attitudes to modern Society, England 1970s.
*There is the day-in, day-out loneliness at the end of the day; the dark flat, the silent rooms. You may have plenty of people to do something with; but no one to do nothing with. For that you need a lover. ** ***Esther Rantzen
*** We are products of our Physical Surroundings*
*For all that the revolution in communications has wrought – a connectedness that transcends all physical limitations – we live most of our lives in a small physical world, from childhood on, and in a sense we know each other only to the extent that we know that world and can relate to it. *Annabel Crabb’s profile of Turnbull
We are all aliens to ourselves, and if we have any sense of who we are, it is only because we live inside the eyes of others. The Book of Illusions -** Ed Wright**
Modern life a recipe for loneliness MALCOLM BROWN
April 5, 2010 SMH
LONELINESS is one of the major problems confronting society, the result of an emphasis on the individual at the expense of a commitment to other people, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, said.
Dr Jensen, preaching at the Easter service at St Andrew’s Cathedral, said a growing number of people did not have ‘‘a significant other person’’ in their lives.
‘‘It is what I would expect and what we all may expect to occur and what we have embraced as a society. Our secularist philosophy emphasises the individual and individual entitlements and invites us to invent our own lives and it considerably undervalues the importance of commitment to other human beings.
‘‘Far fewer people have a deep friend. This modern cultural mood is a recipe for loneliness and a path to a lonely old age.’’
Reverend Bill Crews, whose Uniting Church at Ashfield thought that the increasing isolation of individuals affected both believers and non-believers. But he was gratified that there was a reaching out when people came to his church, even connecting over the free meal
Niall Clugston writes in Crikey 04/08/10
If the decline in “joining things” is “one of the basic social changes of the last 50 years”, affecting not just political parties, but unions, churches etc, it seems worthwhile considering it at length. For a host of reasons, our society has become very atomised.
Furthermore, many people are dissociated from their local communities, thanks in part to information and communication technology. It’s not uncommon for a news consumer to know more about American politics than Australian. Or an “environmentalist” to have no knowledge of their local environment. And, of course, it’s hard to lure people to a meeting or a rally when they can join a cause online with the click of a mouse.