Some years ago I read Sara Maitland’s book A Book of Silence. It’s a beautiful book based on Maitland’s own experiences of living alone in the Scottish highland. Now she is out with a new book, in a way it’s a continuation of the first, but How to Be Alone is also an attempt to better distinguish between the two concepts of silence and solitude. “I am writing this book because I would like to allay people’s fears and then help them actively enjoy time spent in solitude.”
The first chapter is called “Sad, Mad and Bad”, it asks:
How have we arrived … at a cultural moment which values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfillment and human rights, and above all individualism, more highly than they have ever been valued before in human history, but at the same time these autonomous, free, self-fulfilling individuals are terrified of being alone with themselves?
Why is our culture so afraid of solitude? Are people preferring to live alone a threat to society? Must they be sad, mad and/or bad to choose an alternative way of living? (You all know my longing for Antarctica, so obviously I feel it’s my own sanity which is under scrutiny here).
- could some people’s peaceful happy solitude function as an antidote, or even a balance, to the frenetic social activity of others?
- what, exactly, is our social responsibility in a society where most people feel powerless?
- why does other people’s claim to be happy in a different way from oneself provoke so much anxiety?
- why – and how – have we come stigmatize people who prefer to be alone?