Members of The Lonely City

It is the second time that I am reading the book - THE LONELY CITY

Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

By Olivia Laing


“So much of the pain of loneliness is to do with concealment, with feeling compelled to hide vulnerability, to tuck ugliness away, to cover up scars as if they are literally repulsive. But why hide? What's so shameful about wanting, about desire, about having failed to achieve satisfaction, about experiencing unhappiness? Why this need to constantly inhabit peak states, or to be comfortably sealed inside a unit of two, turned inward from the world at large?” 
― Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

It is not often that you get to identify with an abstract topic such as loneliness with such obsession and intensity.  Yes, I have been in hiding for a while, mostly from myself. I am well travelled in the streets of the abandoned. Here was an outcry, a confession so vivid and close to my psyche.  Laing’s  experiences portrayed in memoir-like chapters grabbed me in a such a way that I simply could not get enough of her gut gripping  honesty. Sometimes it was as if the narration came from deep within myself. Almost as if I' was speaking out. For the first time someone explained what it felt like to be alone through the eyes of an artist. When the world around you is so busy going forward progressing and you cannot even hang onto a ray of sunlight. I am fascinated by her choice in masters and wanted to study them intimately…  I wanted to be close to them. I have always been an admirer of Andy Warhol's sadness and this ocean of emotional writing all of a sudden put a whirlpool of unquestionable feelings into perspective. It was okay to feel this way. Let me try and share some of this by quoting incredible and relevant articles.

“You are born alone. You die alone. The value of the space in between is trust and love,” artist Louise Bourgeois wrote in her diary at the end of a long and illustrious life as she contemplated how solitude enriches creative work. It’s a lovely sentiment, but as empowering as it may be to those willing to embrace solitude, it can be tremendously lonesome-making to those for whom loneliness has contracted the space of trust and love into a suffocating penitentiary. For if in solitude, as Wendell Berry memorably wrote, “one’s inner voices become audible [and] one responds more clearly to other lives,” in loneliness one’s inner scream becomes deafening, deadening, severing any thread of connection to other lives.

Edward Hopper

Photography credits Archives of American Art  Arnold Newman, Whitney Museum


The Lonely City takes an idiosyncratic approach, merging memoir, philosophy, travelogue and biography. This time she discusses an array of cultural figures, including the singer Klaus Nomi, the Internet entrepreneur Josh Harris, the manifesto writer and Warhol shooter Valerie Solanas, and the installation artist Zoe Leonard, ultimately focusing on Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. Tripping lightly from sociology to cultural criticism to personal anecdote, Laing explores how each of these characters might help her out of her despair, while also considering the possibility that loneliness might transport her into “an otherwise unreachable experience of reality.”

David Wojnarowicz (September 14, 1954 - July 22, 1992) was an American painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, and AIDS activist prominent in the New York City art world.

Photo credits: Peter Hujar, Tom Rauffenbart

Inspired by the bravery of the artists she studies, Laing chronicles her own brutal internal monologues and says she feels the growth of loneliness like “mold or fur.” She notes that the American promise of sameness — elusive for a child of Slavic immigrants like Warhol or a Brit like her — can appear “a profoundly desirable state.” Slyly confessional moments, as when Laing bemoans the challenge of looking “unconcerned, or worse, appealing,” make one root for her as for a rom-com heroine, only her affair is with New York and her work rather than with a leading man. In this way, the whole book can be read as a hyperliterate breakup memoir. There are far worse ways to go on the rebound, it turns out, than to get lost in art and a new city.

Henry Joseph Darger, Jr.  c. April 12, 1892 – April 13, 1973) was a reclusive American writer and artist who worked as a hospital custodian in Chicago, Illinois.

Photograph of Henry Darger taken by David Berglund in 1971[1]