Solitude in a noisy world – a book by Anthony Storr

5 Oct

I was attempting to restore some order to my bookshelf when I came across a book I had almost forgotten about but one that deserves a post.

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A couple of years ago, I found myself contemplating my relationship with myself and others .  While I did desire a fruitful social life, my desires didn’t seem the same as other people in their early twenties.  Basically, I was becoming increasingly aware that I frequently craved time alone and often enjoyed spending time alone rather than in the company of many people my own age.  So I did a bit of research and bought ‘Solitude’ by Anthony Storr.  This time I didn’t want something self-helpy; I wanted something more scientific and evidence-based to give me an insight into my own desires and preferences so ‘Solitude’ seemed to tick the right boxes, what with Storr being an eminent psychiatrist.

Quite simply, it’s a very good book.  It explores the various dimensions of ‘solitude’, and brings to light the importance today’s society places on ‘intimate interpersonal relationships as the touchstone of health and happiness’, which Storr points out is a ‘comparatively recent phenomenon.’  Previous generations focused on survival and earning a living, but nowadays, in developed countries, it seems that the arena of personal relations causes the greatest concern.  Storr argues that this ignores the importance of less intimate relations,  the need to feel part of a bigger community, the need for a function and a place.  Too many psychological studies emphasise that life revolves around personal relations but what I like about Storr’s approach is that he sees that this is not always the case.  People that lack intimate relations can still enjoy meaningful lives – although it might be more difficult, it can certainly be managed and such a pervasive belief that personal relations determine meaningfulness is damaging and entirely ignores the fact that people are complex creatures, that come in different shapes and forms.

I found this idea really refreshing and reassuring; reading it felt like a comforting pat on the back against a society that often classes solitude as something to be looked down upon.

Storr also examines the differences between enforced solitude and how something that one can crave becomes torturous when enforced.   However, what I found especially interesting was the relationship between solitude and creativity.  He questions whether individuals that enjoy solitude are more likely to be creative and the causal relationship there isn’t entirely clear.  He discusses the personalities of Kafka (a pathologically introverted, schizoid even), Wittgenstein (depressive and often suicidal) and Newton (transiently psychotic).  I found this exploration fascinating; they all experienced ‘more than the usual share of what is generally deemed ‘psychopathology”.  But they survived and contributed so much to the world; their creativity and genius perhaps flourishing due to their personal battles, their desire to ‘search for coherence.’

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book.   Those that find themselves craving solitude will be reassured, comforted and informed by  Storr’s words and those that are perhaps more extroverted will gain a sharp insight into other personality types.

The last paragraph of the book, taken from Wordsworth’s The Prelude sums up the message of ‘Solitude quite perfectly:

When from our better selves we have too long

Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,

Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,

How gracious, how benign, is Solitude.

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2 Responses to “Solitude in a noisy world – a book by Anthony Storr”

  1. Michael April 21, 2014 at 8:13 am #

    I’m currently reading the book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer (interest, but also to refresh my english a bit). Yesterday I found a quote of Storr’s book “Solitude”. I wanted to get some information on his book which is not that easy because it’s an old book and it was obviously not wide spread in german speaking countries. So sitting here in Austria, I came across you and your blog in search of this book. Funny, isn’t it? Thanks for your overview. Michael

    • jadeinlondon April 21, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

      Thanks for your lovely comment, Michael. I’ve just looked up ‘Into the Wild’ and it looks really interesting with its central theme of solitude; it’s on my ‘Books to read’ list. I hope you’re able to pick up a copy of ‘Solitude’ – it’s a really great book packed with lots of fascinating information. X

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