Sunday, 2 July 2017

The Lonely City

Finished June 29
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing


I started this book in audiobook, but ended up finishing it in hardcover as the audiobook had issues with a couple of discs. Having recently read Solitude, I was wondering how much the two books would have in common.
Olivia is from Britain, but this book, part memoir, is from time she spent in New York City. Her loneliness in this new city led to her exploring the experience of loneliness, both her own and others. The word "art" in the subtitle is a key to the framing of this exploration for Laing. She looks at a number of artists whose lives and art speak to their experiences, many of them intersecting with each other during their careers. Her explorations begin with Edward Hopper and his famous picture Nighthawks. It moves from there to Andy Warhol, who she revisits repeatedly, looking at his famous interviews, and his Time Capsules, among other things. She looks at Valerie Solanas, her SCUM Manifesto, and her unique relationship with Warhol. She explores David Wojnarowicz's art and activism, including his Close to the Knives and photographer Peter Hujar, whom he had a relationship with. This also leads her to the photography of Nan Goldin, and her portraits in Ballad.
She looks deeply at the work and journals of Henry Darger, an outsider artist, whose work was only discovered after his death, and thus a subject of analysis by many.
She also touches on others such as Samuel Delany, and Greta Garbo.
During her time in New York City, Laing lives in various sublets, from the East Village to Times Square, and it is during the period in Times Square that she talks about the influence of the internet, being connected, and disconnected at the same time. It also makes her think of fantasy worlds like Blade Runner, and SimCity.
This book introduced me to so many artists that I hadn't been aware of before, and made me realize just how common loneliness is in our society. For Laing, art was a way of finding connection, or communicating with others. Definitely a book to get you thinking

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