website statistics The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone - PDF Books Online
Hot Best Seller

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

Availability: Ready to download

What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we're not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people? Does technology draw us closer together or trap us behind screens? When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we're not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people? Does technology draw us closer together or trap us behind screens? When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving fluidly between works and lives -- from Edward Hopper's Nighthawks to Andy Warhol's Time Capsules, from Henry Darger's hoarding to the depredations of the AIDS crisis -- Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone, illuminating not only the causes of loneliness but also how it might be resisted and redeemed.


Compare

What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we're not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people? Does technology draw us closer together or trap us behind screens? When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we're not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people? Does technology draw us closer together or trap us behind screens? When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving fluidly between works and lives -- from Edward Hopper's Nighthawks to Andy Warhol's Time Capsules, from Henry Darger's hoarding to the depredations of the AIDS crisis -- Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone, illuminating not only the causes of loneliness but also how it might be resisted and redeemed.

30 review for The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    It took me some time to read this simply because I found it riveting, beautifully written, and I wanted to savour it. Olivia Laing is a British writer and critic who moved to New York to be with her American partner only to find the relationship disintegrating. She falls prey to a crippling loneliness which gives rise to this hybrid memoir and art history on the theme of loneliness; and how she finds an alleviation of her loneliness through the visual arts. Given her family history, she focuses It took me some time to read this simply because I found it riveting, beautifully written, and I wanted to savour it. Olivia Laing is a British writer and critic who moved to New York to be with her American partner only to find the relationship disintegrating. She falls prey to a crippling loneliness which gives rise to this hybrid memoir and art history on the theme of loneliness; and how she finds an alleviation of her loneliness through the visual arts. Given her family history, she focuses primarily on LGBT artists from New York's East Village with the exception of the odd Henry Darger from Chicago. She knits together a profound, moving and multilayered narrative. It covers her life, the work and lives of the artists, psychological insights and speculation, the state of being lonely specifically in a urban setting and a picture of New York through her eyes. She looks primarily at four artists whom she is particularly drawn to. Edward Hopper whose work epitomises urban loneliness as exemplified through his most famous work Nighthawks, Andy Warhol whose life was spent hiding his sense of being apart through his entourages and equipment and the hoarded art of Henry Darger depicting the bizarre and the strange amidst a life of disintegration, violence and mental illness. Laing's particular favourite is David Wojnarowicz who experienced a particularly brutal childhood and life spent suffering as the eternal outsider. He was gay and contracted Aids. He channelled his rage at being stigmatised and silenced by a punitive rather than compassionate society by connecting with the group Act Up, to counter his loneliness until his death. His art and personal response is political to the cards life dealt him, he equates silence with death. His openness about his fear, pain, failure and grief has an honesty that allows him both to be vibrantly alive and counters loneliness. The author looks at technology and its potent ability to connect whilst at the same time draws our attention to the solitary figure addicted to their phone and computer with its contradictory picture of the illusion of connection. There is the frustrations of social media, incessant social pressures, of people under constant surveillance and being judged rather than understood. The sense of loneliness is being compounded in our world today, with its shame and fear giving rise rise to concealment of the condition and carries heavy costs to public health. Laing writes with empathy, humanity and curiosity pulling together disparate pieces of knowledge in her quest to understand and address loneliness. It raises as many questions as it answers. I did not always agree with the author but I did find the book intensely thought provoking and marvelled at its wide subject matter. I particularly engaged when near the end Laing says that amidst the shine 'of late capitalism, we are fed the notion that all difficult feelings - depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage - are simply a consequence of unsettled chemistry, a problem to be fixed, rather than a response to structural injustice..' She leaves us by saying 'Loneliness is personal, and it is also political. Loneliness is collective; it is a city'. Laing finds her own answers but prescribes no universal panacea whilst lauding the values of kindness and solidarity. A highly recommended book which I loved reading. Thanks to Canongate for an ARC.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. As a person who spends a fair amount of time by himself, I was drawn to the subject matter of this book. I would say that I'm very comfortable in my own company but there are periods of isolation that I don't always enjoy. God I'm making myself sound like a total recluse here! To be clear I am blessed with lots of terrific friends but as an introvert I always need What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. As a person who spends a fair amount of time by himself, I was drawn to the subject matter of this book. I would say that I'm very comfortable in my own company but there are periods of isolation that I don't always enjoy. God I'm making myself sound like a total recluse here! To be clear I am blessed with lots of terrific friends but as an introvert I always need plenty of personal space. However I also live in a large city nowadays and to feel an emotional disconnect despite being among the presence of thousands is not uncommon. In this thought-provoking study, Olivia Laing reflects on a period of intense loneliness which she endured in New York after a break-up. During this difficult time she turned to art for answers and explored the interpretations of urban isolation created by some notable and other lesser known artists . They saw themselves as outsiders amid the city's multitudes and channeled their piercing, heartaching loneliness into their work. Some of her subjects I found more interesting than others - Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol's ideas on the theme particularly intrigued me. There is a lengthy examination of Hopper's seminal Nighthawks which revealed many new observations that I had not previously considered. The others I found less interesting - the chapters on David Wojnarowicz and Henry Darger didn't grab me as much. Maybe this is down to ignorance on my part as I am less aware of their work. The book is part memoir, part art appreciation but I actually found Laing's findings and experiences of loneliness more compelling than the artists she describes. In fact I feel like the study would have been more complete if she fully opened up on her side of things. Her own thoughts on the seeming contradiction of isolation in a huge, bustling city intrigued me most of all and I wanted to know more about her personal situation. What really happened with the man who left her stranded in New York? How did she end up overcoming her exclusion from the world? What advice would she give to a person who finds themselves in the same predicament? Loneliness is never an easy thing to admit - society tends to attach a sense of shame and failure to the condition. I believe that Laing is holding back a little about her own experience, but I feel this book presents some valuable insights into the subject and the important role that art plays in understanding it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog. Incisive but uneven, The Lonely City thoughtfully examines loneliness as it appears in the works of Hopper, Warhol, Wojnarowicz, and Darger. Laing mixes together biography, psychology, criticism, and cultural history, to consider how these men’s abusive upbringings and marginalized milieus informed their works’ complex representations of loneliness, connection, desire, and violence. Reminiscent of Rebecca Solnit’s w My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog. Incisive but uneven, The Lonely City thoughtfully examines loneliness as it appears in the works of Hopper, Warhol, Wojnarowicz, and Darger. Laing mixes together biography, psychology, criticism, and cultural history, to consider how these men’s abusive upbringings and marginalized milieus informed their works’ complex representations of loneliness, connection, desire, and violence. Reminiscent of Rebecca Solnit’s work, Laing’s analysis is insightful, if a bit derivative of thinkers like Solnit and Sontag. As successful as these pieces are, though, the book feels aimless. Interspersed throughout the collection are bits of memoir—about Laing’s recent break-up, her experience of New York, her childhood identification with gay males. While interesting, the life writing comes across as disconnected from the rest of the book. The work, focused mostly on gay and avant-garde art/lit during the seventies and eighties, also erases the contributions of people of color to transgressive subcultures, reenacting the gentrification Laing rightly identifies as dehumanizing and alienating.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Whereas alcoholic writers were the points of reference for her previous book, the superb The Trip to Echo Spring (2013), here outsider artists take center stage: Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger, and the many lost to AIDS in the 1980s to 1990s. It’s a testament to Laing’s skill at interweaving biography, art criticism and memoir when I say that I knew next to nothing about any of these artists to start with and have little fondness for modern art but still found her bo Whereas alcoholic writers were the points of reference for her previous book, the superb The Trip to Echo Spring (2013), here outsider artists take center stage: Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger, and the many lost to AIDS in the 1980s to 1990s. It’s a testament to Laing’s skill at interweaving biography, art criticism and memoir when I say that I knew next to nothing about any of these artists to start with and have little fondness for modern art but still found her book completely absorbing. For several years in her mid-thirties, British author Olivia Laing lived in New York City. A relationship had recently fallen through and she was subletting an apartment from a friend. Whole days went by when she hardly left the flat, whiling away her time on social media and watching music videos on YouTube. Whenever she did go out, she felt cut off because of her accent and her unfamiliarity with American vernacular; she wished she could wear a Halloween mask all the time to achieve anonymity. How ironic, she thought, that in a city of millions she could be so utterly lonely. Loneliness feels like such a shameful experience, so counter to the lives we are supposed to lead, that it becomes increasingly inadmissible, a taboo state whose confession seems destined to cause others to turn and flee. … [L]oneliness inhibits empathy because it induces in its wake a kind of self-protective amnesia, so that when a person is no longer lonely they struggle to remember what the condition is like. Several of the artists shared underlying reasons for loneliness: an abusive childhood, mental illness and/or sexuality perceived as aberrant. Edward Hopper might seem the most ‘normal’ of the artists profiled, but even he was bullied when he shot up to 6 feet at age 12; his wife Jo, doing some amateur psychoanalyzing, named it the root of his notorious taciturnity. His Nighthawks, with its “noxious pallid green” shades, perfectly illustrates the inescapability of “urban alienation,” Laing writes: when she saw it in person at the Whitney, she realized the diner has no door. (It’s a shame the book couldn’t accommodate a centerfold of color plates, but each chapter opens with a black-and-white photograph of its main subject.) Andy Warhol was born Andrej Warhola to Slovakian immigrants in Pittsburgh in 1928. He was often tongue-tied and anxious, and used fashion and technology as ways of displacing attention. In 1968 he was shot in the torso by Valerie Solanas, the paranoid, sometimes-homeless author of SCUM Manifesto, and ever after had to wear surgical corsets. For Warhol and Wojnarowicz, art and sex were possible routes out of loneliness. As homosexuals, though, they could be restricted to sordid cruising grounds such as cinemas and piers. Like Klaus Nomi, a gay German electro-pop singer whose music Laing listened to obsessively, Wojnarowicz died of AIDS. Nomi was one of the first celebrities to succumb, in 1983. The epidemic only increased the general stigma against gay people. Even Warhol, as a lifelong hypochondriac, was leery about contact with AIDS patients. Through protest marches and artworks, Wojnarowicz exposed the scale of the tragedy and the lack of government concern. In some ways Henry Darger is the oddest of the outsiders Laing features. He is also the only one not based in New York: he worked as a Chicago hospital janitor for nearly six decades; it was only when he was moved into a nursing home and the landlord cleared out his room that an astonishing cache of art and writing was discovered. Darger’s oeuvre included a 15,000-page work of fiction set in “the Realms of the Unreal” and paintings that veer towards sadism and pedophilia. Laing spent a week reading his unpublished memoir. With his distinctive, not-quite-coherent style and his affection for the asylum where he lived as an orphaned child, he reminded me of Royal Robertson, the schizophrenic artist whose work inspired Sufjan Stevens’s The Age of Adz album, and the artist character in the movie Junebug (2005). A few of the chapters are less focused because they split the time between several subjects. I also felt that a section on Josh Harris, Internet entrepreneur and early reality show streaming pioneer, pulled the spotlight away from outsider art. Although I can see, in theory, how his work is performance art reflecting on our lack of true connection in an age of social media and voyeurism, I still found this the least relevant part. The book is best when Laing is able to pull all her threads together: her own seclusion – flitting between housing situations, finding dates through Craigslist and feeling trapped behind her laptop screen; her subjects’ troubled isolation; and the science behind loneliness. Like Korey Floyd does in The Loneliness Cure, Laing summarizes the physical symptoms and psychological effects associated with solitude. She dips into pediatrician D.W. Winnicott’s work on attachment and separation in children, and mentions Harry Harlow’s abhorrent rhesus monkey experiments in which babies were raised without physical contact. The tone throughout is academic but not inaccessible. Ultimately I didn’t like this quite as much as The Trip to Echo Spring, but it’s still a remarkable piece of work, fusing social history, commentary on modern art, biographical observation and self-knowledge. The first chapter and the last five paragraphs, especially, are simply excellent. Your interest may wax and wane through the rest of the book, but I expect that, like me, you’ll willingly follow Laing as a tour guide into the peculiar, lonely crowdedness you find in a world city. (See also Laing’s list of 10 Books about Loneliness, chosen for Publishers Weekly.) With thanks to Canongate for sending a free copy. (A version of this review was originally published with images at my blog, Bookish Beck.)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Not a bad book, but not what I was looking for. I didn't realize to what extent the book would focus upon sexuality, AIDS and abused individuals. Even ordinary people, people with less serious problems than those studied in this book, are troubled by loneliness, lack of communication and meaningful contact with others. The author wanted to get a handle on the loneliness she felt when her partner left her. She was in her mid-thirties and she felt utterly alone, alone in NYC. We are told that she w Not a bad book, but not what I was looking for. I didn't realize to what extent the book would focus upon sexuality, AIDS and abused individuals. Even ordinary people, people with less serious problems than those studied in this book, are troubled by loneliness, lack of communication and meaningful contact with others. The author wanted to get a handle on the loneliness she felt when her partner left her. She was in her mid-thirties and she felt utterly alone, alone in NYC. We are told that she was raised in a lesbian family, but we are not told the sex of her partner. While this is a memoir of sorts, it has in fact very little specific information about the author. You may ask what sex has to do with all of this. I mention sex only because in this book it plays a central role. Sex is a key component of the entire book. Another book on loneliness might focus more on age, on one’s ethnic background, on physical or psychological disabilities and less on sex. The author looks at four artists: Edward Hopper (1882 - 1967), Andy Warhol (1928 – 1987), David Wojnarowicz (1954 – 1992) and Henry Darger (1892 – 1973). She states that the loneliness they felt affected their art. She does not make the claim that art can be seen as a means to remedying one’s feeling of loneliness, isolation or alienation. Why these four artists? Hopper because his paintings reflect a sense of separation between individuals. Take one glance at his painting Nighthawks and you see this. Here is a link: https://www.google.fr/search?q=nighth.... Those he paints are not communicating with one another, there are no crowds and we observe through a window. Asked if his paintings are meant to express loneliness Hopper’s reply was ambiguous. Perhaps subconsciously, is the most we can get for an answer. The other three are LGBT artists, thus sharing common ground with the author’s own background. They all are from urban environments, NYC for three and Chicago for Darger. Their lives and their art forms are reviewed. All share problems relating to sexual, physical and/or mental disabilities and abuse. Yet regardless of the similarities that do exist, each one’s art is completely different from the others’. I don’t see any revolutionary conclusions that can be drawn from the study, except maybe one – that society must take an active role toward abolishing sexual discrimination and it must actively work toward helping the weak, the mentally disabled, the poor and those physically and sexually abused. It doesn’t say all that much about loneliness though, and that is what I thought was to be the central focus of the book! For me the book has a political message rather than a philosophical one. The author queried how it could be possible to be lonely when living in an urban environment. This was for me self-evident. We all know that one can be alone in the middle of a crowd. Just because one has people around it doesn’t mean there is communication. I cannot say I necessarily agree with all the ideas the author proposes on art, on loneliness or on social media. I grant that her ideas can be used as a starting point for further discussions. I suppose the book might have engaged me more if I had loved the art of the artists described. Hopper’s I like but the others do little for me. A word about the writing, the prose, the lines. If I say the writing is excellent, and it is, I don’t mean that it is lyrical. It is instead lucid, coherent, expressive and utterly clear. The audiobook is narrated by Zara Ramm. Her reading is fluid. What is said flows into your head and you completely understand. You feel as though you are thinking the thoughts yourself, but the speed is so rapid you get exhausted and it is necessary to take breaks. You are left no time to think on your own. I prefer a slower speed. Let me point out that my view of the narration has not influenced my rating of the book. Even if there are commonalities between the different artists, the book lacks cohesion. It is neither a memoir about the author, nor does it provide complete biographies on the four artists and I do not see how this book has helped the author resolve her own sense of loneliness. If it has, she has not explained how. It does make a political statement, mentioned above in the third paragraph.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    Ali Smith pointed me to Olivia Laing—I think she was planning to introduce her at a conference in Edinburgh. I knew nothing about Laing when I opened this book to the essay about Henry Darger, “the Chicago janitor who posthumously achieved fame as one of the world’s most celebrated outsider artists, a term coined to describe people on the margins of society, who make work without the benefit of an education in art or art history.” It is very creepy and disturbing, the whole story of the three hu Ali Smith pointed me to Olivia Laing—I think she was planning to introduce her at a conference in Edinburgh. I knew nothing about Laing when I opened this book to the essay about Henry Darger, “the Chicago janitor who posthumously achieved fame as one of the world’s most celebrated outsider artists, a term coined to describe people on the margins of society, who make work without the benefit of an education in art or art history.” It is very creepy and disturbing, the whole story of the three hundred paintings and thousands of pages of writing Darger left behind at his death, about sex and children and abuse and neglect. Laing’s description of it, and her close research into his life, reminded me of the work of New Yorker writer Ariel Levy: one doesn’t really want to read it, but once begun, it is hard to tear oneself away. This book itself is about lonely people, lonely artists, herself as a lonely person. Such a repellant topic; Laing notes the psychoanalyst Fromm-Reichmann, a contemporary of Freud, writes “Loneliness seems to be such a painful, frightening experience that people do practically everything to avoid it….Loneliness, in its quintessential form, is of a nature that is incommunicable by the one who suffers it.”Exactly, exactly, exactly, I want to say as I turn my attention away. It makes me uncomfortable, suffering from it or not. So why, then, does Laing want to write a book about loneliness? The truth is, if one can suffer through the sensation of skin-being-sanded while Laing chooses Edward Hopper to discuss during her own period of estrangement, alone in New York City, irreparably separated from her fiancé, her discussion of Hopper’s paintings and his life leave an indelible impression. Hopper met his wife in art school, and they each were forty-one-year-old virgins when they married one another. The chapter becomes a queerly voyeuristic biography of Hopper, his art, and his journal-writing wife whose painting was so derided by Hopper that she stopped painting and became his model. When Laing moved from Brooklyn to the Village—she can’t have been so lonely, by the way, that she didn’t just return to England unless she likes a little bit that sensation of sandpaper-on-skin—she turned her gaze on Andy Warhol. At first Laing detested his work but after seeing him struggling to speak in a biopic once, she realized his Pop Art, the repeating images in different colors, was the attempt of a lonely boy to fit in. "Sameness, especially for the immigrant, the shy boy agonisingly aware of his failures to fit in, is a profoundly desirable state; an antidote against the pain of being singular, alone, all one, the medieval root from which the work lonely emerges. Difference opens the possibility of wounding; alikeness protects against the smarts and slights of rejection and dismissal."Laing does not neglect Valerie Solanas, the shooter who nearly ended Warhol’s life, who was also “drawn to the excessive and neglected.” Solanas’s work on the SCUM Manifesto puts her smack dab in the middle of a resurgent feminist movement, and yet decidedly outside the mainstream headed by Betty Friedan. Laing provides context to and critiques of the work of Warhol contemporaries, photographer/artists Nan Goldin, David Wojnarowicz, Peter Hujar, and demonstrates how their work fits in with the alienation developed through loneliness. Laing’s searing chapter on the AIDS epidemic reminds us how the scourge played out in New York, and how it enveloped Warhol and his milieu. The discussion of “Strange Fruit (for David)”, an art installation created by Zoe Leonard for Wojnarowicz in 1998, is somehow eye-opening, and mind-changing. The creepiness of that avant garde art scene melts to reveal the humanity and real pain in the expression of this art. So Laing’s own journey through loneliness becomes a meditation on loneliness expressed through the art of others. "It was the rawness and vulnerability of [Wojnarowicz’s] expression that proved so healing to my own feelings of isolation: the willingness to admit to failure or grief, to let himself be touched, to acknowledge desire, anger, pain, to be emotionally alive. His self-exposure was in itself a cure for loneliness, dissolving the sense of difference that comes when one believes one’s feelings or desires to be uniquely shameful." Laing’s skill on this difficult subject of outsider art keeps us curious and bearing our discomfort as she leads us to a deeper understanding of our human condition. "Loneliness is personal, and it is also political. Loneliness is collective; it is a city…the pursuit of individual happiness does not trump or excuse our obligations to each other. We are in this together…What matters is kindness; what matters is solidarity. What matters is staying alert, staying open…"

  7. 4 out of 5

    Frances

    I will always be lonely. And this book just validated that feeling some us have had and still having and will continue to have, for the rest of our lives. While some may think that it is a weakness, artists mentioned in this book (which I never knew existed, thanks Olivia) used loneliness as their means of doing their artworks to its best. At the time that technology hasn't reached its peak yet, these people turned their pain into something beautiful—art. Instead of looking for a way to dismiss t I will always be lonely. And this book just validated that feeling some us have had and still having and will continue to have, for the rest of our lives. While some may think that it is a weakness, artists mentioned in this book (which I never knew existed, thanks Olivia) used loneliness as their means of doing their artworks to its best. At the time that technology hasn't reached its peak yet, these people turned their pain into something beautiful—art. Instead of looking for a way to dismiss that particular feeling, they've come to terms with what the society thought was an illness. Add to it the pressure of the society that happiness is all there is and that people who experience loneliness on a deeper level has no place to be in. In a city full of people, it can also be isolating. It has always been a belief that living in a city means having everything; which is not always the case. Olivia Laing points out how living in big city could just as much make you feel (more) alone despite surrounding with so many people. "You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people. One might think this state was antithetical to urban living, to the massed presence of other human beings, and yet mere physical proximity is not enough to dispel a sense of internal isolation." This book will not tell you how not to be lonely. This book will not tell you how to feel less alone. And neither this book will tell you how to get rid of that feeling but this book will tell you, that loneliness is not a bad thing after all.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    3.5 stars I would give the last three pages of this book 20 stars if I could, for exploring the under-discussed topic of loneliness with such wisdom and compassion. In The Lonely City, Olivia Laing writes about her experience with loneliness after moving to New York City. She blends her time in New York with analyses and biographies of various artists, including Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, and more. I loved portions of this book because Laing opens herself up to such a probing, 3.5 stars I would give the last three pages of this book 20 stars if I could, for exploring the under-discussed topic of loneliness with such wisdom and compassion. In The Lonely City, Olivia Laing writes about her experience with loneliness after moving to New York City. She blends her time in New York with analyses and biographies of various artists, including Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, and more. I loved portions of this book because Laing opens herself up to such a probing, poignant examination of being lonely. After graduating from undergrad last May, I get the sense that we all try to act as happy as we can, such as by portraying images of perfection and satisfaction on social media even when we feel sad or distraught. I know I have felt and still feel isolated and lonely at times. Through her smart thinking and honest self-disclosure in The Lonely City, Laing shows that it is okay not to be okay, to feel lonely or lacking. In fact, we can learn a lot from not being okay. This brilliant quote exemplifies this message: "There is a gentrification that is happening to cities, and there is a gentrification that is happening to the emotions too, with a similarly homogenising, whitening, deadening effect. Amidst the glossiness, of late capitalism, we are fed the notion that all difficult feeling - depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage - are simply a consequence of unsettled chemistry, a problem to be fixed, rather than a response to structural injustice or, on the other hand, to the native texture of embodiment, of doing time, as David Wojnarowicz memorably put it, in a rented body, with all the attendant grief and frustration that entails." I only give this book 3.5 stars instead of 5 stars because Laing's sections about artists felt like tangents at times. I understand that she drew inspiration and meaning from these artists' work, and I love the idea of using art to cope with and honor loneliness. But I wish these sections had been more integrated with her own story, instead of separate chunks pulling us away from the narrative. I wanted to know more about her recent breakup after moving to NYC, her past experiences with loneliness, or her relationship with writing and loneliness. I appreciated the chapters that dealt with the AIDS crisis and social media, as Laing connected these parts with the overarching themes of the book well. Specifically, I appreciated how Laing writes that instead of rushing into romantic relationships to escape loneliness (an unfortunate pattern I have seen way too many people enact), we can befriend ourselves instead and focus on fighting for social justice: "I don't believe the cure for loneliness is meeting someone, not necessarily. I think it's about two things: learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many of the things that seem to afflict us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted." Overall, recommended to anyone who has ever felt lonely - so all of us, I suppose - and wants to explore that feeling. Artists and art lovers would get an additional kick out of this book. I am grateful to Laing for this kind, intelligent discourse on loneliness, a topic I hope we can all engage with with more compassion to ourselves and others. People partake in such maladaptive actions to hide away from or deal with loneliness (e.g., abusing substances, staying in abusive or dissatisfying relationships, etc.) and Laing offers great alternatives in The Lonely City, with a focus on befriending yourself, creating and appreciating art, and advocating for social justice. I will end this review with one more brilliant quote: "Loneliness is personal, and it is also political. Loneliness is collective; it is a city. As to how to inhabit it, there are no rules and nor is there any need to feel shame, only to remember that the pursuit of individual happiness does not trump or excuse our obligations to each another. We are in this together, this accumulation of scars, this world of objects, this physical and temporary heaven that so often takes on the countenance of hell. What matters is kindness; what matters is solidarity. What matters is staying alert, staying open, because if we know anything from what has gone before us, it is that the time for feeling will not last."

  9. 5 out of 5

    7jane

    Music: House Of Love - "Loneliness Is A Gun" At first, you might think this is just the author talking about her loneliness when she spent some time in New York City somewhere around 2000s. Then you realise that it's not only about that, but how artists dealt with their loneliness through art and different gadgets, from Edward Hopper to Josh Harris. It's true that Laing chooses mostly white, mostly male, examples of them, but I somehow feel it doesn't matter too much, since the books variety of m Music: House Of Love - "Loneliness Is A Gun" At first, you might think this is just the author talking about her loneliness when she spent some time in New York City somewhere around 2000s. Then you realise that it's not only about that, but how artists dealt with their loneliness through art and different gadgets, from Edward Hopper to Josh Harris. It's true that Laing chooses mostly white, mostly male, examples of them, but I somehow feel it doesn't matter too much, since the books variety of material is still quite good in other ways. I seem to have chosen another book based in New York since my book before this was also there most of the time (Ling Ma's "Severance"). For the author, investigating on the artist gave her comfort in her loneliness; for the artists, art gave them relief and a way to express this, express themselves, to make a mark, to be a way to change society. Some were more approved than others, some were only known after their death (being outside artists). The loneliness here is big city loneliness. Some of the artists here area listed early, some come along as you read. Some appear briefly, some stay on, especially Andy Warhol. All sorts of angles about loneliness are talked about: loneliness as a hunger, loneliness because you are different, loneliness because you are ill (mentally, having HIV etc.), loneliness because you are difficult or hard to figure out or just reclusive. The psychology of it is mentioned, it's ways of damage are mentioned. Loneliness because you are an immigrant, you don't talk quite good English, you don't want to be forced into a gender (here some comment on the film "Vertigo" and the forcing within it). You do sometimes feel the need for sameness. To be liked. To get likes, comments. To be watched on film, Youtube, on stage. You use machines to protect you, to get you through people, to make people be with you talking, performing. Different subjects flow in and out: Rimbaud masks, the experience of visiting the sex scene at Chelsea pier (and the consequences in first waves of HIV), the marks of childhood causing further loneliness ways in adulthood. Online 'company, online loneliness, online as control, online being watched and a watcher. The film "Her". - this, the last two sentences above, the point in the book brought reality of mine firmly in front of me... and like many, I've had: loneliness in school, lack of friends, lack of understanding social rules, lack of current friends etc. etc. etc. "Loss in the cousin of loneliness", and we lose some of the people as the book comes towards the end, but we realise what art brings to lonely people, to the artists. To inform, to be remembered. To move us to certain emotions, like that piece of fruits stitched back together, like those Warhol boxes of hoarded stuff. There's the memory. There's the art that makes us less alone, both the watcher and the maker of them. Art is useful - we are useful. Some way, some day(s).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Helene Jeppesen

    This was my first non-fiction book for a long time, and I was very curious both about the subject of loneliness, but also to see what was hidden behind the beautiful cover. Basically, Olivia Laing explores how it is to be lonely in a city surrounded by people. She has lived in New York City for a certain period of time herself, and during that time she felt extremely lonely. This non-fiction book isn't just about her personal experiences, though, because it also dives into other artists' experie This was my first non-fiction book for a long time, and I was very curious both about the subject of loneliness, but also to see what was hidden behind the beautiful cover. Basically, Olivia Laing explores how it is to be lonely in a city surrounded by people. She has lived in New York City for a certain period of time herself, and during that time she felt extremely lonely. This non-fiction book isn't just about her personal experiences, though, because it also dives into other artists' experiences with loneliness, artists such as Andy Warhol as well as some people whose work I didn't already know of - and this is when things got interesting. I loved how this exploration educated me and made me aware of dark places and diverse art and people that I never even knew of. While you might think that the exploration of loneliness must be a dark one, I was happy to find out that Olivia Laing actually finds positives to this phenomenon that a lot of us fear. It was truly a remarkable piece of literature that made me think a lot, and I am intrigued to read more from Olivia Laing just to learn more of her interesting thoughts and view on life.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    In her mid-30s, Olivia Laing moved from England to New York to live with a new boyfriend. The relationship didn't work out, and she found herself stranded on her own in an unfamiliar city, dealing with an almost crippling lack of daily human interaction. Having spent sizeable chunks of my own life being lonely in unfamiliar cities, I immediately liked the idea as well as the melancholy tone of this book. Laing has all kinds of interesting insights to offer on how loneliness manifests itself – but In her mid-30s, Olivia Laing moved from England to New York to live with a new boyfriend. The relationship didn't work out, and she found herself stranded on her own in an unfamiliar city, dealing with an almost crippling lack of daily human interaction. Having spent sizeable chunks of my own life being lonely in unfamiliar cities, I immediately liked the idea as well as the melancholy tone of this book. Laing has all kinds of interesting insights to offer on how loneliness manifests itself – but it should be noted that while The Lonely City presents itself as a memoir of this time in her life, under the hood it's really a book of art criticism, examining the life and work of visual artists (mostly) who addressed loneliness as a subject. Her main case studies are Hopper, Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger and Klaus Nomi, some of whom I had never heard of, but all of whose work emerges in this study as full of the pain and the hypersensitivity of loneliness – infused with (in a phrase she uses about Hopper) ‘an erotics of insufficient intimacy’. You can look at my updates for some visuals on their stuff – unfortunately it is necessary for the reader to put these references together for themselves, as the book itself is critically short of illustrations. I loved the memoir bits and thought the criticism bits were only OK, which meant I found the book as a whole a little uneven, though often fascinating. Although Laing has a load of interesting things to say about the artists she discusses, I couldn't shake off the feeling that they sometimes appeared to act as a cover, or safety net, for when talking about herself became too difficult. Tracing Wojnarowicz's nocturnal excursions into the New York gay scene of the 1980s, for instance, leads Laing to a moody consideration of her own sexuality – her sense that she is ‘in the wrong place, in the wrong body, in the wrong life’ – in terms that are first allusive, and finally more direct: I'd never been comfortable with the demands of femininity, had always felt more like a boy, a gay boy, that I inhabited a gender position somewhere between the binaries of male and female, some impossible other, some impossible both. Trans, I was starting to realise, which isn't to say I was transitioning from one thing to another, but rather that I inhabited a space in the centre, which didn't exist, except there I was. The narrative really comes alive at these points; but it isn't long before Laing ducks back behind another artist again and retreats, if that's not an unfair word, into more analytic criticism. And again – the criticism was interesting! – I just felt that the art and the memoir got in each other's way as often as they reinforced each other. Which was a shame, because I found her really excellent when concentrating on the life writing – on, for instance, the way loneliness has been mediated, yet in some ways worsened, by the modern online world – especially when it comes to the contradictory impulses that drove her on social media: I wanted to be in contact and I wanted to retain my anonymity, my private space. I wanted to click and click and click until my synapses exploded, until I was flooded by superfluity. I wanted to hypnotise myself with data, with coloured pixels, to become vacant, to overwhelm any creeping anxious sense of who I actually was, to annihilate my feelings. At the same time I wanted to wake up, to be politically and socially engaged. And then again I wanted to declare my presence, to list my interests and objections, to notify the world that I was still there, thinking with my fingers, even if I'd almost lost the art of speech. I wanted to look and I wanted to be seen, and somehow it was easier to do both via the mediating screen. Laing's neat summary of the internet – ‘what seemed transient was actually permanent, and what seemed free had already been bought’ – is perhaps a clue to the appeal of the artists she focuses on, who were either far outside any corporate influence or, like Warhol, were making commodification the whole point of their work. Seeing these lonely artists through Laing's gaze is enlightening – but the links and segues are so good that I spent much of the book pining for a straight-up memoir.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    The subtitle of The Lonely City, 'Adventures in the Art of Being Alone', has a double meaning: as well as being a book about the experience of loneliness itself, this is a book about the role of loneliness in art. The starting point is Olivia Laing's own period of intense loneliness, living in New York after the end of a relationship, bringing to life the so-often-true cliche of being alone in a crowd, isolated and displaced in the centre of one of the world's most populous cities. She makes a s The subtitle of The Lonely City, 'Adventures in the Art of Being Alone', has a double meaning: as well as being a book about the experience of loneliness itself, this is a book about the role of loneliness in art. The starting point is Olivia Laing's own period of intense loneliness, living in New York after the end of a relationship, bringing to life the so-often-true cliche of being alone in a crowd, isolated and displaced in the centre of one of the world's most populous cities. She makes a study of several artists and photographers, chiefly Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz and Henry Darger, and also talks peripherally about the work of Valerie Solanas, Josh Harris, Zoë Leonard, Peter Hujar and others. The resulting reflections touch on everything from the evolving role of the internet in society to Laing's own gender identity. I loved The Lonely City, but it's unusually hard to pin down what's so good about it, partly because it's just such a patchwork of genre components - creative non-fiction, memoir, art history, psychology and sociotechnological commentary are all thrown into the mix. Rather than making the book seem like a hodgepodge of nothing much, this makes it stronger, and like the best of this type of writing, it made me keen to find out more about some of the subjects it touches on. The depth of Laing's research is apparent, but it's the personal ruminations that hit home the hardest. There is a clear line drawn - repeatedly - between solitude and loneliness, a distinction that isn't made often enough. Laing also writes incisively about how an online existence can alleviate and/or crystallise individuals' isolation, avoiding the tedious 'the internet is making everyone lonelier' proselytising that typically pervades writing about that particular subject. Along with her openness about her own thoughts and feelings, these points make Laing's observations feel fresh. When I came to New York I was in pieces, and though it sounds perverse, the way I recovered a sense of wholeness was not by meeting someone or falling in love, but rather by handling the things that other people had made, slowly absorbing by way of this contact the fact that loneliness, longing, does not mean one has failed, but simply that one is alive. Recently, when I (briefly) reviewed Emma Jane Unsworth's Animals, I mentioned that I felt so relieved and validated by the ending that I was overwhelmed by a feeling of wanting to actually thank the author for it. I had the same feeling upon finishing The Lonely City. Laing emphasises how much solace she found in the work of her beloved artists, but doesn't suggest this ought to be seen as some sort of cure; there are no solid conclusions about how one 'should' experience, or seek to combat, loneliness. Despite this - actually more likely because of it - The Lonely City is an incredibly reassuring read for anyone who has ever been lonely or struggled with their own experience of solitude. I received an advance review copy of The Lonely City from the publisher through NetGalley.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Vartika

    I first read this book some time after moving to a new, 'flashy' city, one that made me feel isolated and lonesome despite being surrounded by some part of its 12-million-strong population at all times. Olivia Laing wrote The Lonely City after a similar move to the city of New York, except she moved towards a love that didn't work out, while I had to move away from one that can't help but. Now, a few months later, the island of isolation calcifying around this global pandemic and a crisis of i I first read this book some time after moving to a new, 'flashy' city, one that made me feel isolated and lonesome despite being surrounded by some part of its 12-million-strong population at all times. Olivia Laing wrote The Lonely City after a similar move to the city of New York, except she moved towards a love that didn't work out, while I had to move away from one that can't help but. Now, a few months later, the island of isolation calcifying around this global pandemic and a crisis of intimacy looming right before my 22nd birthday has driven me to this book again. Just as the first time, it moved me — often to tears and always to a sense of calming reflection. A unique and riveting piece that offers solidarity for solitude, The Lonely City: Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone is part memoir and part meditation on a pervasive sense of loneliness and what it says about the world we grow to live in each day. Laing explores here different mores of loneliness and seclusion through the lives and art of artists like Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger and Klaus Nomi; alongside many others weaving in and out; highlighting gentrification as the fountainhead of loneliness as we experience it today. From Hopper's Nighthawks to Darger's Realms, from Valerie Solanas' self-published manifesto, Josh Harris' experiments with the blurring lines of the real and the social and Greta Garbo's solitary walks through the streets of NYC, to AIDS and Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" (as well as Zoe Leonard's eponymous artistic tribute to Wojnarowicz); Laing walks through and appreciates the experience of loneliness and the human need for intimacy, understanding, and contact comfort without voiding it of its pathos, its raw edges, or its sense of hope. This book takes one on a journey from the loneliness as a private hell behind glass walls and devices to inhabiting the trauma and communal sense of alienation that accompanied the experience and injustice of AIDS, while at the same time making space for the misunderstood and the disregarded — such as Jo Hopper, whose own career ended in submission to that of her husband; or Valerie Solanas and Henry Darger, whose unceasing creativity was a refuge from the mistreatment and harassment of the outside world — as well as infamously contradictory people like Andy Warhol. Laing looks at loneliness as something that is both a curse and a mark of defiance. The Lonely City is also a map, in both space and time, of New York; a portrait of the city through its loners, whose lives filled with its exhilarating charm and distance in equal measures. In including here her own experience of getting lost and lonely, Laing's nuanced mapping of the pains of solitude and loss through music, art and biography in this book lends to it a sense of catharsis. What touched and resonated with me the most, however, was the sheer brilliance of the chapters in the latter half of this book which talk about the growing loneliness in a world of instant messaging, screens and fragmented personalities. These open an empathetic discussion on the sensitivity and shame that make the lonely unreachable and even repulsive, and exploring the personal, political and collective aspects of this feeling. In one particularly insightful passage, she writes: "Amidst the glossiness of late capitalism, we are fed the notion that all difficult feelings — depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage — are simply a consequence of unsettled chemistry, a problem to be fixed rather than a response to structural injustice or, on the other hand, to the naive texture of embodiment, of doing time, as David Wojnarowicz put it, in a rented body, with all the attendant grief and frustration that entails." Beautiful, lucid and deeply poignant, the emotions and insight that flare throughout every reading of The Lonely City remind me of Fernando Pessoa, my favourite literary 'outsider', and the only one whose sense of abandonment and disquiet could touch and resonate with my own — until now, that is. This book makes me feel a little less lost — I hold this book and it feels like being held. When the feeling of being alone in a crowd beckons once more; as it soon will; I will pick it up again.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Laura Ilkiw

    While Liang's writing and research are impressive, this didn't come across as a cohesive work for me. The loneliness theme felt forced, and every time it was introduced I often felt that the artists discussed weren't in fact lonely but simply dedicated to their craft. In addition, I was put off by the amount of content that seemed to be directly pulled from Wojnarowicz's " Close to the Knives". I'd like to read this book in the future, and Liang seems to have simply summarized the plot points an While Liang's writing and research are impressive, this didn't come across as a cohesive work for me. The loneliness theme felt forced, and every time it was introduced I often felt that the artists discussed weren't in fact lonely but simply dedicated to their craft. In addition, I was put off by the amount of content that seemed to be directly pulled from Wojnarowicz's " Close to the Knives". I'd like to read this book in the future, and Liang seems to have simply summarized the plot points and turned that into a chapter. I'm not sure what her analysis (or lack there of) added to Wojnarowicz's story, or why she felt the need to re-tell his book and strip others of the opportunity to hear the story in his words. Overall an annoying read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    julieta

    I really enjoyed this book. It's about loneliness, and through lives of different artists, most of who I knew very little about, she speaks of the need in all people in general, to feel a part of something. Wonderful read. I really enjoyed this book. It's about loneliness, and through lives of different artists, most of who I knew very little about, she speaks of the need in all people in general, to feel a part of something. Wonderful read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Laura Leaney

    I live alone, and by alone I discount two barnacle-like cats who obviously think I'm the tops. So I was attracted by Olivia Laing's title, especially the subtitle "Adventures in the Art of Being Alone." I thought, hmm, is there an art to it? Am I missing something that might make me feel less isolated from the teeming world? And at first I believed the book might be headed in the direction I assumed, towards artful solitary living. Despite the great writing, I was left slightly disappointed. The I live alone, and by alone I discount two barnacle-like cats who obviously think I'm the tops. So I was attracted by Olivia Laing's title, especially the subtitle "Adventures in the Art of Being Alone." I thought, hmm, is there an art to it? Am I missing something that might make me feel less isolated from the teeming world? And at first I believed the book might be headed in the direction I assumed, towards artful solitary living. Despite the great writing, I was left slightly disappointed. The subtitle is not about the art of being alone, it's about loneliness as depicted in art. Thus, the author moves through an examination of the lives and output of artists like Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Zoe Leonard, and Henry Darger, all the while weaving her own experiences of loneliness into the narrative. This is not to say that a reader could not relate to the lonely realities of these artists - it's just that I could not relate. Still, I enjoyed Laing's analysis of some of Hopper's better known paintings and I most definitely learned about artists that had been unknown to me. Loneliness is a universal condition. You don't have to live alone to feel it. Laing's book has many insightful offerings that could strike a chord in a reader particularly susceptible to isolation. In the final chapter, Laing writes: "I don't believe the cure for loneliness is meeting someone, not necessarily. I think it's about two things: learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many of the things that seem to afflict us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted."

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    This had an interesting premise and started out promising, with the author reflecting on her own experience lonely in NYC after moving there from overseas. In the first couple chapters, it was somewhat interesting, albeit depressing, to learn more about some well-known artists and how loneliness shaped them and their work. By the third chapter, however, I gave up. When another artist's biography quickly devolved into a list of the many specific horrible ways he was abused by his parents, I had e This had an interesting premise and started out promising, with the author reflecting on her own experience lonely in NYC after moving there from overseas. In the first couple chapters, it was somewhat interesting, albeit depressing, to learn more about some well-known artists and how loneliness shaped them and their work. By the third chapter, however, I gave up. When another artist's biography quickly devolved into a list of the many specific horrible ways he was abused by his parents, I had enough. I quickly glanced at the end to see what the author came to with all this. That was more than enough for me. I actually wish I'd stopped sooner. I don't know how long it will take for some of those awful images to leave me, and wish I had never let them in. Make sure you're up for some really depressing, awful stuff if you decide to read this book. All the people who loved this must be much hardier than me.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Scott Burrus

    Powerful, relevant, timely and resonates with where our society finds itself, especially in urban communities. Great quote, "learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many things that seem to affect us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted. Loneliness is personal, and it is political. Loneliness is collective, it is a city." Another great aspect of this book was how the author not only weaved in contemporary Powerful, relevant, timely and resonates with where our society finds itself, especially in urban communities. Great quote, "learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many things that seem to affect us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted. Loneliness is personal, and it is political. Loneliness is collective, it is a city." Another great aspect of this book was how the author not only weaved in contemporary American experience, but selected lives and experiences over time, especially in New York. It was great to be reminded of the friendship between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Makes me want to see the movie "Basiquait" again.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    A pretty rare 5 star rating for me but this was a terrific book, very poignant and moving but at the same time it was educational and informative - and beautifully written. After a love affair goes suddenly and badly wrong, Laing finds herself living in a small sublet apartment in New York. Nothing new about a writer describing the feeling of being alone in the midst of a bustling city. And yet Laing's meditations are wonderful and lead in so many directions - for example the use of a mask to hid A pretty rare 5 star rating for me but this was a terrific book, very poignant and moving but at the same time it was educational and informative - and beautifully written. After a love affair goes suddenly and badly wrong, Laing finds herself living in a small sublet apartment in New York. Nothing new about a writer describing the feeling of being alone in the midst of a bustling city. And yet Laing's meditations are wonderful and lead in so many directions - for example the use of a mask to hide identity, or how to really describe what loneliness is. Laing forces herself out into the city each day, often walking for miles and remembering how Garbo too used to walk for miles, sometimes twice a day, often stalked by a photographer who waited outside her apartment for over a decade to capture her solitude. Laing feels loneliness can easily draw people into a heightened mood of sensitivity to imagined slights. She describes the humiliation she feels when, almost daily, she has to repeat her coffee order because the café owner can't quite work out her English accent. Interspersed with Laing's personal story and meditations we have 8 'biographies' of modern artists, some well known, some completely unknown to me (I was forever googling images and more information). The loneliness (and 'shame' she feels because of this feeling) draws her to art - not just staring at the pictures but also visiting the places where these artists lived and worked. As Laing says in her book dedication "If you're lonely, this one's for you".

  20. 5 out of 5

    unknown pokemon

    "Loneliness is by no means a wholly worthless experience, but rather one that cuts right to the heart of what we value and what we need. Many marvellous things have emerged from the lonely city: things forged in loneliness, but also things that function to redeem it." Rating: 5/5 stars. I had an intense inner debate about which quote should open this review because god damn it, there were so many possibilities and at the same time, none truly showed how wonderful this book was. I'm in awe with Oli "Loneliness is by no means a wholly worthless experience, but rather one that cuts right to the heart of what we value and what we need. Many marvellous things have emerged from the lonely city: things forged in loneliness, but also things that function to redeem it." Rating: 5/5 stars. I had an intense inner debate about which quote should open this review because god damn it, there were so many possibilities and at the same time, none truly showed how wonderful this book was. I'm in awe with Olivia Laing for fully painting the picture of loneliness, for studying the most outstanding artists and succeeding into translating their complicated and conflicted views on the subject. It's something, that as an art amateur doesn't always understand when confronted with an Andy Warhol painting. "The writer who wishes to elaborate on loneliness is faced with a serious terminological handicap: loneliness seems to be such a painful, frightening experience that people do practically everything to avoid it." And yet, Laing manages to dive right in and paint all those different shades and layers of loneliness I didn't even think existed and describe the feeling with such a precise vocabulary that it achieves an indescribable, universal, eloquence. The most interesting thing is that every artist as a different view on loneliness and a different way to express it, which allows us as omniscient readers to see a full panel, a contrast of answers and reasons and feelings. There isn't just one answer to loneliness, one reason for its existence, one way to express it. "Loneliness profoundly affects an individual's ability to understand and interpret social interactions, initiating a devastating chain-reaction, the consequence of which so further estranges them from their fellows." "The vicious circle by which loneliness proceeds does not happen in isolation, but rather as an interplay between the individuals and a society in which they are embedded, a process perhaps worsened if they are already a sharp critic of that society's inequities." But she doesn't just describe happiness as a whole, she also makes us understand that loneliness is closely linked to gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and also upbringing. "Women who appear to be in the grips of a loneliness that has to do with gender and unattainable standards of appearance, and that gets increasingly toxic and strangulating with age." "Bearing in mind that both loneliness and rejection are stressful experiences which have ravaging effects on the body, it's shocking but not exactly surprising to discover that being subject to stigma has a powerful physical effect. In fact, psychologists at UCLA working on the relationship between stigma and AIDS discovered that HIV-positive people who suffered social rejection also experience accelerated HIV progression, both proceeding to full-blown AIDS faster and dying more quickly from Aids-related infections than those who are not exposed to or who are protected from social rejection." This book discusses gender issues, race, immigration, sexual orientation in a way that feels very inclusive. It's the first time that I read a collection of essays which doesn't focalize on sexism or homophobia that still tackles these issues and the lot of loneliness they bring. If you're worried to find this book boring and out of your comfort zone, I can assure you that it's only 280 pages long, you fly by it and sigh in relief because someone finally, spoke the truth. I wish I could just copy past the book to you and shove it into everyone's faces because really, it's so underrated for reasons that I don't understand. The Lonely City is now my favourite collection of essays and I can't wait to read more by Laing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Satkar Ulama

    This book had me at its title. And lost me at chapter three. While the readers' reviews and introduction chapter promise me a fun discussion about loneliness from the perspective of psychology and philosophy, this book is more about artists' lives than the concepts of loneliness itself. Laing tries to interpret loneliness by analyzing, say, Andy Warhol's paintings and his appearance on TV and so on. I expected empirical research findings of loneliness instead of short memoirs, though. This is a This book had me at its title. And lost me at chapter three. While the readers' reviews and introduction chapter promise me a fun discussion about loneliness from the perspective of psychology and philosophy, this book is more about artists' lives than the concepts of loneliness itself. Laing tries to interpret loneliness by analyzing, say, Andy Warhol's paintings and his appearance on TV and so on. I expected empirical research findings of loneliness instead of short memoirs, though. This is a good book, but maybe not for me.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    Olivia Laing launches her book with the idea that “loneliness might be taking you towards an otherwise unreachable experience of reality,” which may be true and worth avoiding whenever possible. A longtime bachelor myself, I tend to distinguish between loneliness and solitude. (For me the difference depends on having a cat.) But I’m happy to be convinced, à la Laing, that the saving grace is art. The Lonely City begins as an earnest exercise in ekphrasis. In the wake of endless monographs on Edwa Olivia Laing launches her book with the idea that “loneliness might be taking you towards an otherwise unreachable experience of reality,” which may be true and worth avoiding whenever possible. A longtime bachelor myself, I tend to distinguish between loneliness and solitude. (For me the difference depends on having a cat.) But I’m happy to be convinced, à la Laing, that the saving grace is art. The Lonely City begins as an earnest exercise in ekphrasis. In the wake of endless monographs on Edward Hopper, Laing points out the unmissable loneliness of the paintings, particularly of solitary women in urban rooms – all of which, it turns out, may be portraits of Hopper’s wife, an artist whose career he aborted. Laing cites various psychological studies to illumine the afflictions of being alone, disconnected, phobic, and more interestingly (as the book continues) her own experience as a woman alone and adrift in New York City, remarkably adept at enhancing her isolation. I read the first couple chapters – on Hopper and Andy Warhol (and Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot him) – with a cold heart. Warhol has always struck me as an icon of frigidity. Everything shifted for me in the chapter on David Wojnarowicz, whom I remember from the days of ACT UP and his reading at A Different Light in San Francisco. He was an artist in extremis, tragic, inventive, angry. The fragments of his work become a method for Laing to engage her own loneliness, and evoke some surprising reflections.Reading David’s diaries was like coming up for air after being a long time underwater. There is no substitute for touch, no substitute for love, but reading about someone else’s commitment to discovering and admitting their desires was so deeply moving that I sometimes found I was physically shaking as I read.Laing evokes phantasmagoria of gay life in the 70s and 80s – Wojnarowicz recalls the piers and dives of Manhattan, but that erotic carnival existed in some form across the urban centers of the Western world. Laing quotes Samuel Delany, who describes that time and place as “a space at a libidinal saturation impossible to describe to someone who has not known it.” Did this world assuage the loneliness of gay men? I would say that it certainly transformed it. Laing’s reaction is sharp:God I was sick of carrying around a woman’s body, or rather everything that attaches to it… Sometimes you want to be made meat; I mean to surrender to the body, its hungers, its need for contact, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to be served bloody or braised. And at other times, like Wojnarowicz’s Rimbaud, you want to cruise, to pass unnoticed, to take your pick of the city’s sights.A few pages later she pushes harder.I’d never been comfortable with the demands of femininity, had always felt more like a boy, a gay boy, that I inhabited a gender position somewhere between the binaries of male and female, some impossible other, some impossible both.”I don’t think this is odd or perverse or damaged; I think it is a genuine state of perception, of the kaleidoscopic consciousness of the artist. And loneliness is constitutive of this state. I read the rest of Laing’s book in this light; she’d won my commitment. There are several more disturbing, desperate stories – the outsider artist Henry Darger and Klaus Sperber, aka Klaus Nomi. Laing opens the chapter on Nomi with a nod to Arthur Russell and Justin Vivian Bond (whom I recall from the 90s in her original incarnation as Kiki) – I’m on Laing’s frequency now. She circles back to Hopper, Warhol and Wojnarowicz and now I’m receptive, even to Andy. She immerses herself in their worlds, physically when possible, picking up their diaries, artworks, detritus. Given that she centered herself in New York City among dead gay artists, there was no escaping the liminal apocalypse of AIDS, which I now recall as an extraordinary time of fear, grief, unexpected compassion, courage, and rage. But also a time of incandescent illumination: the proximity of death, watching beautiful talented friends disappear from our lives, leaving holes in the fabric. And silence. And whatever you call what remains of those once vital scuzzy urban centers, now insulated by wealth and conformity against all outsiders. Art, as Laing implies from the start, is the presence of the absence, not as a deconstructionist cliché but as something closer to Walter Benjamin’s ideas of “aura” and “ruin.” She concludes with the observation thatThere are so many things that art can’t do… all the same [art has] some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich each other’s lives. This is not the bromide it appears; she’s demonstrated how the process works throughout her book. It’s an experience the luckiest among us have had – being able, because of our loneliness, to find company in a book or a painting or a film or a piece of music, among friends, among artists who’ve turned their pain into art. Laing reaches for an unreachable reality and, here and there, hands it back to us.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lotte

    The Lonely City is a mix between memoir, biography and cultural criticism. Using her own personal experiences of loneliness and alienation living in New York as a jumping-off point, Olivia Laing explores the lives and works of various artists whose experiences with loneliness have shaped their art — Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol and David Wojnarowicz, to name a few. In trying to build "a map of loneliness" pieced together from her own experiences and those of others, she wants to dismantle the sham The Lonely City is a mix between memoir, biography and cultural criticism. Using her own personal experiences of loneliness and alienation living in New York as a jumping-off point, Olivia Laing explores the lives and works of various artists whose experiences with loneliness have shaped their art — Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol and David Wojnarowicz, to name a few. In trying to build "a map of loneliness" pieced together from her own experiences and those of others, she wants to dismantle the shame and stigma that surround this very experience. She sees loneliness as something that's not entirely negative, but as an experience "that cuts right to the heart of what we value and what we need". I found this re-evaluation of what it can mean to be lonely very moving and impactful and I loved how it informed her view on everything she discussed in this. In her essays that each focus on a different artist but also intersect in some ways, she also examines why some people are more prone to experience loneliness than others. She mostly focuses on the gay community in New York in the 1970s and 80s and in doing so, she looks at how structural oppression and marginalization work to alienate some and not others. I thought this was very interesting, but her focus wasn't broad enough in my opinion. She almost exclusively discusses white male artists and never really considers how issues such as gender and race might play into this. I wish she'd included more female artists and artists of colour and if she wrote a companion book or a sequel focusing on a more diverse spectrum of people, I'd definitely read it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    For me, if I am in the right city, even if I am utterly alone there, I can be blissfully happy. Because the city feeds me, the city becomes my friend, and I feel too full of myself and life to even want anything else. Montreal, for me, is the greatest friend I’ll ever have. She’s still home, and I miss her so very much. Glasgow. Glasgow is another city that, for me, makes it impossible to even remember what it feels like to be lonely. Berlin, too. And, to a lesser extent, London. Then there are For me, if I am in the right city, even if I am utterly alone there, I can be blissfully happy. Because the city feeds me, the city becomes my friend, and I feel too full of myself and life to even want anything else. Montreal, for me, is the greatest friend I’ll ever have. She’s still home, and I miss her so very much. Glasgow. Glasgow is another city that, for me, makes it impossible to even remember what it feels like to be lonely. Berlin, too. And, to a lesser extent, London. Then there are some cities that make you feel lonelier than an angel’s sin. New York is the bitterest of them. I lived there for a time and it felt like a stranger always. And Boston, who I am currently trying to love. He’s not a friend yet. He’s more like an ex-husband who I am still forced to deal with until our kids are 18. It was a neutral divorce. We can see the good in each other, but we just don’t connect, we don’t hang out, we don’t have heart-to-heart conversations at midnight that move us. We’re polite. We’re civil. We’re patient with each other and with ourselves. But that is all. Where am I going with this? I’m saying that I think, deep down, that this is a critical component Laing left out of her memoir. Some places, the places themselves, are unfriendly to you. Those places will be different for everyone, but it matters. Even if you have many loved ones around you, sometimes particular cities themselves, the ones you don’t connect to, can instill a deep feeling of loneliness that, in some ways, is worse than lack-of-human-connection loneliness. It makes you feel aimless and lost and homeless and identity-empty. Maybe that’s just me. I don’t know. The other criticism I have of this book is the… entitlement of it. Now, I related to a lot of Laing’s experiences, but I also can see how, in a certain light, it’s a little absurd. For both of us, not just her. She goes to the same cafe every morning for breakfast before wandering about most of the day. She lives in an apartment overlooking Times Square. She spent “whole days” scrolling through Twitter or Craigslist. How nice! How nice you get to spend money eating out every single day of your life. How nice that you can live in Times Square and spend your time at something other than a grueling job like most Americans. How nice that you have time to muse over your loneliness and drift around art museums, viewing art made by artists often raised in poverty, put on display for our benefit, for us to wax lyrical about how they speak to us. Most people have to cope with their loneliness while fighting practical issues on every front. Spouses, children, back-breaking jobs. Most people can't just spend a year grappling with their feelings. On the other hand, from a mental health perspective, I think Laing’s project is a good one. It’s not comforting, it doesn’t offer a hand or a friend for your loneliness, but it restructures the possibilities of loneliness: loneliness as a tool, loneliness as a gateway to understanding yourself in a way no other emotion can be, loneliness as practical. It allows you to view your loneliness with a cerebral perspective, an outsider’s lens.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jake Goretzki

    So there I was, all braced for this to be a slightly tiresome, stream of conscious outpouring on Sontag/Derrida/de Frou Frou/Kugelschreiber and the heuristics of contemporary post-feminist discourse, in Brooklyn and some fantastic coffee shops - or summat. What a pleasant surprise to find instead a readable, thoughtful journey through the worlds of a range of canonical artists - the focus very much on the material and the artist. And that this is art - Edward Hopper, Warhol, Klaus Nomi, Basquiat So there I was, all braced for this to be a slightly tiresome, stream of conscious outpouring on Sontag/Derrida/de Frou Frou/Kugelschreiber and the heuristics of contemporary post-feminist discourse, in Brooklyn and some fantastic coffee shops - or summat. What a pleasant surprise to find instead a readable, thoughtful journey through the worlds of a range of canonical artists - the focus very much on the material and the artist. And that this is art - Edward Hopper, Warhol, Klaus Nomi, Basquiat - that we mortals can know and see (including stuff on Youtube)...well, I sure wasn’t expecting that. Think of this as a thoughtful guided tour or set of documentaries on US 20th century art and the study of isolation. They’re all working with, processing and medicating against the social isolation of the modern age. Laing has chosen some absolute crackers: Warhol is never not fascinating (he comes out of this much less of a twat than I’m used to); Edward Hopper is glorious, and how fitting that he was such a fucked up man (I mean, your wife! You git!). Henry Darger is an absolute revelation to me - I’d never heard of him and that giant obsessive, semi-pornographic mountain of work (are we absolutely sure he wasn’t a Scout leader?). The chapter on Klaus Nomi and the dawn of the AIDS epidemic was especially touching and troubling; particularly disturbing that period where we’re pretty much talking about something even his own peers considered leprosy (and that’s ‘the good guys’ talking, e.g. Warhol). I also loved the chapter on Josh Harris (another I’d never heard of) and the early harbingers of the mass loneliness and illusory, modulated communion that our screen lives now offer (some good inspiration here for anyone looking to learn about technology-led social isolation). This, for me, helped tie the book up and relate our artists to the wider malaise and question of our times: what are social media and the connected world doing to our heads (and how do we deal with that isolation?). It’s always a sign for me of reading a fine book when I come away with a list of must-watches and must-reads - and this one’s about twelve books and five galleries long. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or its writer’s biography. Or its title. This is splendid work.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Sometimes a book will serendipitously meander into your life at the exact moment you need it, and that's exactly what happened with this one. Threading together art history, cultural analysis, and autobiography, Laing's book is a unique hybrid that documents artists and artwork that address loneliness and isolation through a prism of personal loneliness and isolation that she herself experienced while briefly living in New York City. The book became my companion during a period of personal solit Sometimes a book will serendipitously meander into your life at the exact moment you need it, and that's exactly what happened with this one. Threading together art history, cultural analysis, and autobiography, Laing's book is a unique hybrid that documents artists and artwork that address loneliness and isolation through a prism of personal loneliness and isolation that she herself experienced while briefly living in New York City. The book became my companion during a period of personal solitude and sadness that unexpectedly unfurled over my summer and then lingered into autumn; my intermittent reading exactly coincided with a very specific period of necessary withdrawal for introspection and personal repair. Laing is particularly gifted at making historical figures come alive through her words, of contextualizing their work and honoring their artistic intentions while never losing sight of the deep and complicated humanity that enabled such creation. I found the chapters on Warhol and Wojnarowicz particularly insightful, though all held endless pleasures and fascinations. A wonderful model of how rigorous analytical writing can indeed be subjective and accessible and exquisitely written. "People make things - make art or things that are akin to art - as a way of expressing their need for contact, or their fear of it; people make objects as a way of coming to terms with shame, with grief. People make objects to strip themselves down, to survey their scars, and people make objects to resist oppression, to create a space in which they can move freely. All the same, there is art that gestures towards repair; that, like Wojnarowicz's stitched loaf of bread, traverses the fragile space between separation and connection."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dan (aka Utterbiblio)

    A beautifully written thought piece on loneliness that is a must read for anyone who identifies with the concept of being lonely. As a mental health sufferer (depression, anxiety, OCD) I have to face feeling lonely every day. What Olivia Laing does here, is look at the factors of life that can cause us to feel this way - whether it's from our childhood situations lingering with us or whether it's our modern addiction to the connectivity of electronic devices. Throughout the book Laing looks at se A beautifully written thought piece on loneliness that is a must read for anyone who identifies with the concept of being lonely. As a mental health sufferer (depression, anxiety, OCD) I have to face feeling lonely every day. What Olivia Laing does here, is look at the factors of life that can cause us to feel this way - whether it's from our childhood situations lingering with us or whether it's our modern addiction to the connectivity of electronic devices. Throughout the book Laing looks at several case studies and delves into the lives of artists who gave off a feeling of loneliness through their work. She explores their life history and compares it with her own life and thoughts, to paint a picture of how society stigmatises those who feel like outsiders. While most of the focus is on the LGBT community from New York around the time of Andy Warhol, she also explores how stigma affects those with illnesses and people of colour. She spends a great deal of the book discussing the societal and governmental attitudes during the outbreak of AIDS in the 1980's - it's terrifying to see how people ostracised those sufferers of this sudden, fatal, illness. (It's also rather scary that if you replace AIDS with refugees or black lives, nothing much seems to have really changed!) Reading this book has helped me to deal with my own issues (or at least to begin dealing with them) and I think it will be an important book to many who feel alone in our current chaotic and busy world.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    It’s difficult to write about books that affect me the most. Of course I was drawn to this non-fiction book because the title is so in line with my blog’s title. As well as being a platform for me to ponder what I’m reading, I like to think of my blog as an ongoing exploration on the conflicted relationship I have to literature – how it can make me feel so connected to our larger shared humanity. At the same time, it makes me physically alone and reading itself can serve as a self-imposed barrie It’s difficult to write about books that affect me the most. Of course I was drawn to this non-fiction book because the title is so in line with my blog’s title. As well as being a platform for me to ponder what I’m reading, I like to think of my blog as an ongoing exploration on the conflicted relationship I have to literature – how it can make me feel so connected to our larger shared humanity. At the same time, it makes me physically alone and reading itself can serve as a self-imposed barrier to social interaction. Therefore, “The Lonely City” is exactly the kind of extended meditation on loneliness I crave to better inform me and expand my understanding of this condition. It’s a heavily researched book focusing on a choice selection of artists’ work and biographies to enhance Olivia Laing’s arguments about why we might frequently feel lonely, what loneliness means and how it’s a manifestation of living in society. This book is also highly personal with sections which are startlingly candid and touchingly vulnerable. In the same way that Helen Macdonald used an electric range of sources and personal experiences to broaden our understanding of grief in “H is for Hawk”, Laing uses fascinating research to inform a dynamic portrait of her intimate reality and make strong observations about loneliness. This made reading “The Lonely City” a deeply meaningful experience for me and made it a riveting book. Read my full review of The Lonely City by Olivia Laing on LonesomeReader

  29. 4 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    Laing, the author of the wonderful The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, is back with a part cultural criticism, part memoir on the subject of loneliness. What is loneliness? What constitutes being alone? Laing takes a look at lives in the era of electronic connections, and shares her personal experiences of being lonely in NYC, the city that never sleeps, and how she used art to explore the concept of loneliness, and learn what things bring people together. Fascinating and poignant. Laing, the author of the wonderful The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, is back with a part cultural criticism, part memoir on the subject of loneliness. What is loneliness? What constitutes being alone? Laing takes a look at lives in the era of electronic connections, and shares her personal experiences of being lonely in NYC, the city that never sleeps, and how she used art to explore the concept of loneliness, and learn what things bring people together. Fascinating and poignant. Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books: http://bookriot.com/category/all-the-...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jess Kibler

    It took me AGES to finish this book, not because I didn't like it but because I did so, so much. While reading it, I'd stop periodically to marvel at the density of research--so clearly presented--packed into each gorgeous sentence. I'd reread entire pages so I could feel the rhythm of them again. On the bus, I'd stop reading to stare out the window a bit, watch my own city go by, and then suddenly I'd be at my destination, the time passed thinking about the ideas on loneliness and art and selfh It took me AGES to finish this book, not because I didn't like it but because I did so, so much. While reading it, I'd stop periodically to marvel at the density of research--so clearly presented--packed into each gorgeous sentence. I'd reread entire pages so I could feel the rhythm of them again. On the bus, I'd stop reading to stare out the window a bit, watch my own city go by, and then suddenly I'd be at my destination, the time passed thinking about the ideas on loneliness and art and selfhood Laing had just presented. This book is remarkable and fascinating and I can't recommend it enough.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.