‘What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we’re not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people? When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Fascinated by the experience, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving fluidly between works and lives – from Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks to Andy Warhol’s Time Capsules, from Henry Darger’s hoarding to David Wojnarowicz’s AIDS activism – Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone, illuminating not only the causes of loneliness but also how it might be resisted and redeemed. Humane, provocative and deeply moving, The Lonely City is about the spaces between people and the things that draw them together, about sexuality, mortality and the magical possibilities of art. It’s a celebration of a strange and lovely state, adrift from the larger continent of human experience, but intrinsic to the very act of being alive.’
Laing is one of the authors whom I wanted to focus upon reading during 2017. The Lonely City is the book of hers which I’ve heard the most about, so it seemed a good choice with which to begin. The entirety of the essay collection, woven around the central theme of loneliness at play within the city, is beautifully written.
I’m not personally somebody who suffers with loneliness, but having recently moved to the centre of a big city, I’m conscious that mixing with neighbours and the like is something which seems rare. It’s astounding that people can be so lonely within the bustle of the city, when so many people live and work close by, but I have a fuller understanding of the reasons which drive one to feel alone since reading this.
Well-measured, and with a series of great examples given, Laing, who focuses upon a lot of famous people as well as her own story within New York City, is rather enlightening upon the subject. In taking into account art, the homeless, and feeling acutely alone whilst using the Internet, for instance, Laing really makes her readers think, and reconsider those around them.