CONTRA O GOLPE CIVIL EM CURSO E A FAVOR DA DEMOCRACIA

sábado, 19 de março de 2016

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

“An otherwise unreachable experience of reality.” CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times

THE LONELY CITY
Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
By Olivia Laing
Illustrated. 315 pp. Picador. $26.
The Book of Common Prayer offers an intercession for “our families, friends and neighbors, and for those who are alone.” We tend to put the alone in this separate category, but for Olivia Laing, “the essential unknowability of others” means that to be human is to be lonesome, at least sometimes. So why don’t we talk about it more openly? “What’s so shameful,” she asks, about “having failed to achieve satisfaction, about experiencing unhappiness?” This daring and seductive book — ostensibly about four artists, but actually about the universal struggle to be known — raises sophisticated questions about the experience of loneliness, a state that in a crowded city provides an “uneasy combination of separation and exposure.”
“The Lonely City,” like Laing’s previous books — “The Trip to Echo Spring,” about famous alcoholic writers, and “To the River,” about the Ouse, where Virginia Woolf drowned herself — takes an idiosyncratic approach, merging memoir, philosophy, travelogue and biography. This time she discusses an array of cultural figures, including the singer Klaus Nomi, the Internet entrepreneur Josh Harris, the manifesto writer and Warhol shooter Valerie Solanas, and the installation artist Zoe Leonard, ultimately focusing on Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. Tripping lightly from sociology to cultural criticism to personal anecdote, Laing explores how each of these characters might help her out of her despair, while also considering the possibility that loneliness might transport her into “an otherwise unreachable experience of reality.”
Recently heartbroken, Laing — approaching her mid-30s, “an age at which female aloneness . . . carries with it a persistent whiff of strangeness, deviance and failure” — takes up residence in a series of vacant apartments in New York, mostly on the Lower East Side. “What does it feel like to be lonely?” Laing asks. “It feels like being hungry.” And it looks like this: the author wandering the streets alone on Halloween, turning pages in silent archives, crying because she can’t get a set of blinds to close, sprawling on a sublet couch mesmerized by her computer screen. In her public isolation, she resembles, she says, the woman in Hopper’s “Automat.”
The artist David Wojnarowicz’s work, Laing writes, “did more than anything to release me from the burden of feeling that in my solitude I was shamefully alone.” Reading his diaries, she has the sensation of “coming up for air after being a long time under water.” Laing identifies some commonalities between their two childhoods — “people leaving, people drinking too much, people losing control.” But as an adult, her experience of New York does not mimic his. Where he cruised the West Side piers, she cruises Craigslist, finding her encounters there far more anthropological than erotic. Laing describes the libidinous 1970s outdoor-sex scene not only without judgment, but even with envy, seeing it as a “utopian, anarchic, sexy version of what the city itself offers.” She wonders if this era of anonymous hookups provided an effective strategy for managing urban loneliness, creating “the kind of weak ties that sociologists believe glue metropolises together,” though she admits Jane Jacobs’s followers probably meant regular orders from deli guys rather than sexual favors from strangers.
Inspired by the bravery of the artists she studies, Laing chronicles her own brutal internal monologues and says she feels the growth of loneliness like “mold or fur.” She notes that the American promise of sameness — elusive for a child of Slavic immigrants like Warhol or a Brit like her — can appear “a profoundly desirable state.” Slyly confessional moments, as when Laing bemoans the challenge of looking “unconcerned, or worse, appealing,” make one root for her as for a rom-com heroine, only her affair is with New York and her work rather than with a leading man. In this way, the whole book can be read as a hyperliterate breakup memoir. There are far worse ways to go on the rebound, it turns out, than to get lost in art and a new city.
Recent years have seen a flowering of subversive feminist writing on desire. Laing recalls other personal-political mavericks like Rebecca Solnit and Maggie Nelson. There should be a name for this new crop of women evading standard formats and binaries like serious-or-popular, girly-or-macho, ambitious-or-accessible. Maybe, given their enthusiastic deployment of oblique approaches to Big Ideas, they could be called the Ellipticals. Their confident embrace of a middle ground feels revolutionary. Laing’s in-betweenness extends to her sexual identity. She finds the “gender box” to be too small, saying she always felt “more like a boy, a gay boy . . . somewhere between the binaries of male and female, some impossible other, some impossible both.”
Laing makes a Scooby-Doo reference as effortlessly as she examines D. W. Winnicott’s theory of transitional objects and Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations.” Speaking of, there is an irony to her discourse on language’s failures, when her own — she luxuriates in words: “gneiss,” “spivvy,” “carapace” — is so fluid and playful. In one exceptionally beautiful section, Laing catalogs the contradictory cravings that draw people (including her) to social media. She talks about feeling like “a spy, carrying out perpetual surveillance,” and encountering “images that generated emotion, overlapping the pointless, the appalling and the desirable.” Who wouldn’t want to exist online? “You can reach out or you can hide; you can lurk and you can reveal yourself, curated and refined.” And yet, she sees the screen as simultaneously magnifying suffering. It took only “a few missed connections or lack of likes for the loneliness to resurface, to be flooded with the bleak sense of having failed to make contact.”

Reading this book on a lonesome business trip, I found myself wondering if “The Lonely City” made the exact wrong or exact right companion for forlorn airport loitering and desolate continental breakfasting. I think both. Reading this book made me feel aloneness more acutely, but also exposed its value. As Laing describes finding consolation in the work of artists, so this book serves as both provocation and comfort, a secular prayer for those who are alone — meaning all of us.
Rarely, Laing veers into polemicism, as when, leaning heavily on Sarah Schulman and Susan Sontag, she writes with an atypical lack of humor that “everything becomes steadily more homogenized, more intolerant of difference.” Really? “Everything”? When gay marriage has become legal, transgender issues are at the fore and young people today are, if anything, obsessed with defending difference? She also says Manhattan is becoming “a kind of gated island for the superrich” — an assertion belied by her own “cheap sublets” and her magical walks along (as of press time) still toll-free sidewalks. The stridency of her critique of the “glossiness of late capitalism” feels out of step with the rest of the book’s subtle analysis — for example, of how society routinely fails the loneliest among us, as happened during the AIDS crisis.

Nenhum comentário:

Postar um comentário