Thursday, April 22, 2010

Either a Beast or a God

But the really reckless were fetched by an older, colder voice, the oceanic whisper: "I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing. That is how I shall set you free. There is no love; there are only the various envies, all of them sad."

- W.H. Auden

But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.

- Aristotle

From the NYT:

The compulsion to live in isolation can be attributed to any number of factors, said Elaine N. Aron, a psychologist and the author of “The Undervalued Self” and “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.”

Some people might “really need their downtime,” Dr. Aron said, and seek out “isolation that avoids all social intercourse.” Others may have developed an “avoidant attachment style” in childhood, resulting in “a need to prove to themselves that they don’t need anybody,” she said.

For many people, though, the desire for extreme solitude may have simpler roots, she noted: “It could be because they want a mystical experience. You can’t pathologize that.”

O RLLY? That's funny; I would turn that completely around. I can understand and be sympathetic to someone who has had enough of the bitter dregs of intimate relationships and decided that the negatives outweigh the positives. While I think there are many degrees and shades of difference worth exploring between an active social life and utter solitude, I don't think it's completely strange to prefer your own company to an extreme degree.

But as for going off into the wilderness, miles from any other human, in order to find some mystical secret or meaning in life, man, you gotta be one non compos mentis motherfucker. "Meaning" is a human construction. Even the examples of the bitter and the brokenhearted stand as a reaction to social relationships, the photo negative of social engagement. They're still defined by what they oppose. Caspar David Friedrich paintings notwithstanding, wild nature isn't going to reveal anything profound to you about how you should spend your life. Fight, feast, fuck, and eventually die. That's about it. If you want more nuance than that, you're going to have to look to human society.