Deep Feelings Seek for Solitude

Having finished the first part of Thomas de Quincey’s memoirs, I came across this passage in his autobiographical sequel, Suspira de Profundis, in which the author discusses his bereavement following the death of a beloved sister.

Interesting it is to observe how certainly all deep feelings agree in this, that they seek for solitude, and are nursed by solitude. Deep grief, deep love, how naturally do these ally themselves with religious feeling; and all three – love, grief, religion – are haunters of solitary places. Love, grief, the passion of reverie, or the mystery of devotion, what were these, without solitude?

With so many writers encouraging us to “unplug” from the world, so that we can calmly sort through the jumble of daily experiences – especially ones that are emotionally demanding – it is interesting to see how few people prefer not to avail themselves of virtual private space. I am thinking of a study reported in The Atlantic magazine:

Considering the many challenges life has to offer, entertaining yourself with your own thoughts for a few minutes seems like one of the easier hurdles to overcome. You could recall your favorite childhood memory, plan your weekend, or try to solve a problem from work. But it turns out that people find this assignment incredibly hard. And, according to new research, they’ll even resort to giving themselves electric shocks to keep themselves entertained.

Not long ago I borrowed a copy of Solitude: A Return to the Self, which treats of this subject at length. It was written by psychologist Anthony Storr in 1988 at a time when personal electronica was just beginning to take over our lives in the guise of portable cassette players and handheld games (though we were blissfully ignorant of smartphones!). The comparatively bucolic pace of life during my youth is no doubt highly subjective hindsight. In the long run, people are capable of denying the blessings of solitude even in the most primitive conditions: it is a state of mind one must cultivate with deliberation.

For related commentary, see The Love of Retirement and Solitude and the Private Life.

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