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The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone    by Olivia Laing Amazon.com order for
Lonely City
by Olivia Laing
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2016 (2016)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Carrol Wolverton

Lonely Angst in the Big Apple ...

Olivia Lating is obviously an accomplished scholar with a deep understanding of emotional pain. This work came about because of the personal loss of a relationship after moving from England to New York to be with a love who failed her. She found herself immersing herself in the artistry and writings of authors and artists expressing loneliness to provide some type of personal journal therapy. New York City is a perfect place to be very alone among throngs of people. It doesn't take long to get the picture. She delves extensively into the works of those who spoke to her state. Her writing is not for anyone suffering from depression.

She investigates in depth loneliness as expressed by such authors as Andy Worhol, and keeps referring back to him, going to the point of explaining his angst when some prankster came up behind him, pulled off his wig, and ran off. Exposing his bald head was the height of humiliation for the man. Other artists such as Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz provide abundant fodder as well. What the loss of a wig has to do with loneliness is never explained.

The subject of loneliness even has biological roots, too, as evidenced by experiments in the late fifties at the University of Wisconsin with rhesus monkeys. The experimenters put babies with wire mothers with bottles attached. The babies all went for the wire wrapped in cloth mothers. In short, even on the primate level, we seek closeness, warmth, and nurturing. What if it's not there? In its absence we create and express loneliness through sometimes strange art. Laing even traveled to Chicago to view a recreation of the bedroom of Henry Darger in an attempt to feel his personal turmoil. She is most definitely into her subject with tenacity. She was not supposed to go into this display bedroom but managed to do so to get closer to her subject.

Her conclusion is a couple of pages long in which she tells us 'that loneliness, longing, does not mean one has failed, but simply that one is alive.' The cure, she says, is to befriend oneself and to remember that we are all in this together. What matters is kindness, solidarity, staying open. 'The time for feeling will not last.'

What happened to her life that so strongly inspired this book is ignored. Why? Did the scum run off with a blond? The reader wants to know. I'm certain Laing researched this as well. She's too good a scholar not to have done this. She does note that there is a gentrification happening in cities and to emotions as well with 'a homogenizing, whitening, deadening effect.' Is she proving her own personal thesis?

This work is an excellent piece of well-researched discussion and documentation on loneliness unless you are depressed. In fact, loneliness may well be the driving force behind many great artists as well as scholars, particularly those living on the edge of mental stability. Minus the author's domestic problems, the work would make an excellent dissertation. For her it provided some type of journal therapy. And, isn't that what scholars do when hurt - immerse themselves in research? She did, and it appears to have worked for her.

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