Tuesday, January 30, 2007
(7:58 PM) | Brad:
Shut Up and Sit Here Alone With MeThe Weblog Hall of Justice is filled with debris from the latest salvo in its epic struggle for, um, for control of, eh, the oil fields of, oh wait, wrong war. Well, whatever, it's just our headquarters qua sweat shop qua den of masculinity is a little trashed at the moment, so I don't think anybody will mind my adding a little more to the heap.
I posted most of what follows elsewhere, on a blog not to be named, and I'm sure some of you have passed over it already. But what good is having administrative privileges at a group blog if you don't abuse the power from time to time? Also, I thought that more people here might identify, or I suppose disidentify, with it.
After living in sin in Brussels & Glasgow for two years, I married a Belgian back in 2004. It's taken over four years of being in a committed relationship, but I can finally say I'm learning how to breath on my own again. I'm the sort of person who enjoys quiet, but not isolation. I like to go to movies by myself, provided I'm not the only person in the theatre. I like to walk without talking, but love having the dog with me. I love looking at a piece of art with the explanatory headphones on my ears but with the sound turned so low that it is nearly a whisper.
What took me so long, I guess, was figuring out if and how one can possibly live in solitude next to a loving partner in a happy relationship, or, more abstractly, when surrounded by neighbors in a community you are happy to call your own -- when one is happy even though neither the relationship nor community are necessarily perfect. The hard part, as I found it anyway, was learning how to celebrate this imperfection, its very fragility; and to understand solitude as an attunement and attention not to what is lacking in these relationships and communities, to their existence in some perfect state, but to one's place in the midst of their reality, in all its imperfect fragility. Which leads me to wonder whether it might actually be that much more difficult, impossible even, to achieve solitude in a relationship and community one regards as nothing short of horrible, for in these one's attention tends to be drawn effortlessly to its lack, its deficiencies, and thus to some imagined 'something' that might fix it. It is this culture of remedy, of self-help and cures, of redemption from weakness rather than redemption of weakness, that is really the culture of isolation -- isolation from the reality that the people with whom we intentionally surround ourselves (which may, I'm not sure, exclude our workplaces) are, well, people.
Solitude is a form of self-consciousness, which is not the same as a self-centeredness or a self-presence, borne of self-reflection. Too commonly, self-reflection is thought to mean isolation. This is a lie. When one looks in a mirror, one sees something. But this something that we call a "a reflection of me," is only understood as such if we are a part of something far greater than ourselves: a community of others, of other "me's," through whom I can identify myself as "me" and them as "not-me." If this is true, a meditative self-reflection is not nearly as narcissistic as some might think it, for it is in such a practice, be it specifically religious or philosophical or whatever, it matters not, that we are most aware of not only others but the constant creation of oneself as an other. Aware, that is, that we are, if anything, weak-kneed versions of ourselves -- even when playing the hero -- of all that we aspire to be, of our confessions and ideals. We, in short, tell the truth when we lie, for it's in this lie that we are finally being ourselves; and we lie most tellingly, betraying ourselves most fully without even the benefit of thirty pieces of gold, when we unsuccessfully try to tell the truth about ourselves. This is the Buddhist insight that not even Zizek can take away. It's not that we don't know this truth -- oh, we're well beyond self-discovery and finding of ourselves, but two of the self-perpetuated frauds that expose much more truth about ourselves than we'd like to admit.
Solitude draws one's attention to this because it is an intentional living, and thus a life truly lived; one lived aware of oneself as being amongst others who are different creatures, with their different stories, joys and heartbreaks, but all bearing the same weight of his or her creaturely life. It is an attunement to a harmonious dischord. The beauty of living in a city, be it Brussels, Glasgow, Chicago, Cincinnati, is that this dischordant voice falls upon all of the senses for -- it is a voice that can be seen, touched, and smelled -- and the one who lives in a kind of solitude cannot miss its atonal horror. Such is the beauty, which is surely not the appropriate word here, but neither really is the sublime, we can't stand most of the time, that often repulses and angers us, but that is the torturously cruel heart of life's mad melancholy -- which is to say, this life's capacity to create itself anew.
Postscript: I've way too many friends who live outside the country to claim that urban living has exclusive rights either to solitude or creativity. Claiming that is madness. Rural life may be immediately pastoral, with its dumb simplicity and splendor, sunrises and sunsets, but I am certain that there are those (though certainly not me) who know better. We get a hint of this, I think, when we watch movies like Fargo, read novels like In Cold Blood or anything by Cormac McCarthy or Flannery O'Connor, or when we drive south from the opulent horsefarms of Central Kentucky and stay in Harlan County, Kentucky for a week and learn about the social injustices & reality of rural poverty. No, solitude, the pulse of imagination and anything resembling hope, or if not hope, love, is beyond a division so simple as urban & rural, a fact exposed (ironically) by the masquerade of solitude in that mediated space between rural & urban: that is, the neither/nor, the medicated isolation of our communities of the car and suburban kingdoms.