Solitude can offer a blissful disengagement from the horrors of modern-day life, even if it’s forced upon us by a government lockdown. Enforced solitude could even be a spiritual blessing, but for the escapism of television, that medium of absolute rubbish, vulgarity, and violence that Hollywood calls entertainment.
As long as we avoid sabotaging diversions, we tend to derive as much good from time spent alone as we do from interpersonal relationships. The Romantic-era poets praised solitude and lone ramblings, while wounded soldiers during World War I looked forward to the peace of solitude after experiencing the tumult of battle. Pursuits such as fishing, reading, even smoking are all the more satisfying because one indulges in them alone. And one would think solitary confinement in prison is preferable to sharing a tiny cell with some ruffian as he goes through his daily ablutions.
Solitary lives are said to damage our physical health as much as smoking, but I don’t buy it. During normal times I go out almost every night of the week. I drink and smoke and stay up late, flirt with women, and live what’s called a social life. The past three months have given me time to think. I’ve come to the conclusion that the last intelligent thing I heard at a party was that the purity of the air in Palm Beach is due to the fact that the people who live there never open their windows.
I’ve been stuck in my Swiss chalet high up in the mountains with some of the worst neighbors, as far as manners are concerned, this side of Noo Yawk: rich Eurotrash and lowlife women abusers from the Persian Gulf. I sent away my staff under full pay and remained alone with my wife and son. And was never happier.
Mind you, the two of them cooked and cleaned up, but I hit the books while they beavered away. No hangovers, no regrets about wasted time, no embarrassment at stupidities uttered under the influence. My eyes are opened: A new Taki is born!
They say that people are social animals and need the company of others. In present society this is obviously true, hence the nonstop puerile blabber one hears in the street nowadays. When I was a child—during the Homo neanderthalensis period 1.5 million years ago—I was told time and again not to speak unless I had something of value to dispense.
What is definite is that solitude can affect the brain in a positive way. Creativity and solitude are as symbiotic as, say, Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff are with mendacity. No artist better captured the condition of solitude, and of course loneliness, than the great American painter Edward Hopper. He created a suspended narrative of solitude and loneliness in Nighthawks, his 1942 dramatic masterpiece depicting a late-night diner in New York.
Hopper was what was known as an American gentleman, an artist who distinguished himself from his peers back at a time when total phonies like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat had not yet surfaced from the gutters. Solitude and unnerving stillness were Hopper’s trademarks.
To be sure, too much solitude can also have terrible effects, as in Joseph Conrad’s 1904 novel Nostromo, in which a character expires after being stranded on a deserted island. “The truth was that he died from solitude, the enemy known but to few on this Earth, and whom only the simplest of us are fit to withstand,” Conrad wrote.
On the other hand, matters would be worse were one stranded on an island with the average New York Times columnist—such as Michelle Goldberg, who seems to think everyone white or Christian is a Nazi.
We’ve known since Aristotle that human beings are social animals and that no war, plague, or catastrophe will ever change that. Well, perhaps exposure to the television programs on the Oprah Winfrey Network could cure the desire to interact with other humans—but there I go again!
For me, the enforced solitude has been like being back in the ’50s again—a tidier, less frantic time, with less noise, less traffic and no toe-curling, embarrassing vulgarity in the streets. I’ve heard fewer F-words during lockdown than there are intellectuals in Hollywood, but then the cows that I live next to in my Gstaad farm are known for having better manners than most visitors—especially the Johnnies-come-lately.
Mind you, this isolation that I praise has been bought at too great a price. The Donald, a man who doesn’t like to be alone, should have never shut the country down in the first place. I’m afraid he may have lots of time to regret it.
above: detail from Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, oil on canvas, 1942 (Art Institute of Chicago / Wikimedia / public domain)