I took Loneliness and Revelation – a modestly sized philosophical text by Brendan Myers – with me to a recent weekend Steampunk event. It turned out to be very apt reading. The main theme of the book is loneliness, which Brendan considers to be intrinsic to the human condition. Inside our own heads, each of us is separate and alone. There are some religious traditions that try and overcome this by making us one with everything, but as this book so usefully points out, if everything is one, you have a singular thing that still has every reason and opportunity to experience loneliness. That in many myths, the original creator god creates to deal with being alone, is well worth considering.
This is not, as a consequence, a book about how to never suffer loneliness again. It explores the things we can do to tackle our insularity – both the things that work, and the things that are popular, but don’t. There’s consideration of the ethical side of how we assert ourselves in the world, questions about how to live well and be happy alongside this issue of intrinsic loneliness. There’s a lot of reflection on the relationship between creativity and loneliness as well. Given the size of the book, it is broad and deep in ways that I really liked.
A big public gathering of some 4000 people, was in many ways the perfect setting for reading this. Steampunk is a very creative community, in which hours of work and great care and attention is lavished upon kits and creativity. People do this very specifically to be seen, to be noticed by others. The kit in turn gives permission to start conversations; it’s not just acceptable, but desirable to approach other Steampunks and compliment them on attire, artefacts and the like. Having spent some days in a space that encourages social contact between strangers really brought home to me how generally impossible it would be to walk up to a stranger in the street and start a conversation with them. In most spaces, loneliness is supported, not connection.
Expressing who we are in the world, by word and deed, is a big part of what Loneliness and Revelation explores. The power of manifesting something of who we are and having that seen, known and understood is something Brendan offers as key to overcoming loneliness. And yet modern human interactions push us in the exact opposite direction. Work uniforms, scripts for dealing with ‘clients’, with brands offered to us as self expression, and photo-shopped celebrity mistaken for being seen and recognised. It made me wonder how much online trolling comes from the basic need to be seen and heard, and a loss of any sense that this might have an ethical dimension to it.
That’s a very superficial bit of reflection on a very deep book. It’s changed me and influenced my thinking in ways I have not yet fully digested. There is much here about how to live and how to choose life, and I think it’s a book many people would benefit from reading. If you are the sort of person who likes to reflect and if you lead with the head, and favour a reasoned approach, this is a book that will help you think about how you are in the world, and how you want to be. It’s not always an easy or comfortable read, but if you are the sort of person who doesn’t need it all to be optimistic and upbeat, (and if you’re reading my blog, I rate the chances) you might well want to read this.