Olivia Laing is on her way to New York from the UK when her love interest calls off the relationship. Laing finds herself adrift and alone in a sublet apartment. “What does it feel like to be lonely? It’s like being hungry when everyone around you is readying up for a feast.
In the absence of love, Laing dives into visual art, exploring physical evidence of loneliness in New York City throughout the past 75 years. Writers, artists, filmmakers, and songwriters have all explored the subject of loneliness and the issues it provokes. Laing focuses on the biography and art history of four artists; Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger, and David Wojnarowicz
Andy Warhol was relentlessly social, nonetheless rarely seen at parties without a camera or his tape recorder in hand. These tools drew people towards him while allowing Warhol to preserve distance. Laing discusses the pain of loneliness; concealing and feeling compelled to hide vulnerability. “Intimacy can’t exist if the participants aren’t willing to make themselves known-to be revealed.” Loneliness is a collective – it’s a city.
Is our pixel age destroying our relationships? Trapping us behind screens? Making us more lonely?
Laing believes that meeting someone isn’t the cure for loneliness. It is being kind, staying alert and being open. Adam Foulds explains this book as a “paradox effect.” It leaves one feeling less alone while understanding social privation.
The Lonely City is a beautiful memoir of the experience of loneliness and the role loneliness plays in art.