I have come, recently, upon two very different ideas of loneliness. Hannah Arendt explores "organized loneliness" as the common ground for terror. The foundation for totalitarianism is laid, she argues, when people are separated from each other by ideology, and from reality by the inability to tell fact from fiction. Such isolation makes us, by definition, impotent. But isolation exists in the public and political realms. It is when private life, too, is taken, when "the most elemental form of human creativity, which is the capacity to add something of one's own to the common world" is destroyed, that isolation becomes loneliness.
The Origins of Totalitarianism is as fiercely relevant now, as nationalism sweeps the Western world, as it was in the aftermath of WWII. But as I turn these ideas of isolation and loneliness, of community and the role of civil society in democratic life, over in my mind, it is not crowds I crave, but the solitude to think.
In her essay, "When I Was a Child I Read Books," Marilynne Robinson writes of loneliness as a value of the American West. She writes of the loneliness of open spaces and of the night sky, of summers at her grandparents' home in Idaho, when "the cows came home, and the wind came up, and Venus burned through what little remained of the atmosphere, and the dark and the emptiness stood over the old house like some unsought revelation." Yes, I thought, reading her words again. Yes, this is true. And when I closed my eyes, I savored the dark.
The loneliness of wild places, of knowing myself so small I'm hardly there at all, places me firmly in the world. It is the opposite of isolation. Can this vast, heart-filling loneliness live side by side with the small, bitter loneliness born of fear and division? Can the loneliness of poets and mystics be cousin to the loneliness of despots and ideologues?
We still live in the geometric world built by the Greeks, where the linear logic of Non Contradiction argues that if one definition is true, its opposite must be false. But string theory builds layers upon parallel layers to our reality, and even the empty spaces between the stars are now full. We need not settle for either/or. We live in a world wide enough to encompass both/and. Loneliness can be brutal and dehumanizing. In loneliness we may, at last, hear "the singing of the real world."
And while I've been listening to Marilynne Robinson and hanging out in the kitchen, I've also done a little baking...
Red & White, Mountain Rye, Vollkornbrot, Country Rye
Bittersweet Chocolate and Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Strawberry Rose Danish
Black Sesame & Fennel Palmiers
Oats & Honey
Brown Butter Shortbread
and other pastries
See you soon!
Owner | Baker