Notes on solitude

Solitude is feared by all wardens – whether they watch over a prison, a church, a factory, an office, or a school. Solitary, that American torture, is the jailkeeper’s mockery of solitude, stripping the self of its senses and making the self bear, weightily, upon the self – a weight that soon enough becomes a torture. Solitary is not, of course, merely a thing of prison basements, but is out there in the fields of everyday life, a scarecrow to enforce subservience in the general population. Schools socialize children, but you will never be taught solitude there.

It may seem tendentious to contrast solitude to individuality, but these are very distinct social modes, and it is the underplaying of solitude that has allowed individuality to dominate the discursive field of the self. Solitude is existential and original, individuality is derivative and legal. Solitude is the release from self interest, individuality is its tightened grip. Solitude tends towards sovereignty or abjection, individuality tends towards the normal.

In Rousseau’s thought (and Rousseau was the poet of solitude), equality, which is tacitly posited against the old order, collapses without solitude. This is not to say that a republican society must purge individuality; but it must never confuse it with solitude. This is the real work of culture. From this, Rousseau thought, sprang real happiness.

This is why Rousseau’s denial of the capacity for solitude to women, a conclusion based on a shady rhetorical move, is at the heart of Rousseau’s sexism. Without solitude, women must always, in the end, be essentially companions – and companions to men. The denial of solitude is the denial of the basis of community.

Notes, these, as aids to reflection.


northanger said…
the canary

"In her four volume 'From Eve To Dawn: A History of Women in the World' Marilyn French talks about the origins of the restrictions of women’s freedom at the beginning of patriarchal culture when men had figured out that they played a role in the creation of children but had not yet figured out how long a pregnancy lasted. In order to be sure of who the father of a child was, they restricted women’s movements so that they could be sure she didn’t come in contact with other men."

With pearly feet shall I delight
Again to dance the livelong night,
Entranced, my throat and bosom bare
Uptilted to the dewy air?
Ah, dancing thus from eve to dawn,
I'd then be like a joyous fawn
That in a mead's glad verdure plays,
When she erewhile, through winding ways,
The terrifying hunt had fled,
Eluding watchers, who had spread
Well-woven nets, concealed from view,
The while the hunters' loud halloo
Cheered on their course the baying hounds.
With bursts of tempest-speed she bounds
Along the river's winding glade,
Till sheltered in the woodland shade,
No more by ruthless man pursued,
She gambols in the solitude.