The Lonely City Quotes

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The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
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The Lonely City Quotes (showing 1-30 of 63)
“So much of the pain of loneliness is to do with concealment, with feeling compelled to hide vulnerability, to tuck ugliness away, to cover up scars as if they are literally repulsive. But why hide? What's so shameful about wanting, about desire, about having failed to achieve satisfaction, about experiencing unhappiness? Why this need to constantly inhabit peak states, or to be comfortably sealed inside a unit of two, turned inward from the world at large?”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“There is a gentrification that is happening to cities, and there is a gentrification that is happening to the emotions too, with a similarly homogenising, whitening, deadening effect. Amidst the glossiness, of late capitalism, we are fed the notion that all difficult feeling - depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage - are simply a consequence of unsettled chemistry, a problem to be fixed, rather than a response to structural injustice or, on the other hand, to the native texture of embodiment, of doing time, as David Wojnarowicz memorably put it, in a rented body, with all the attendant grief and frustration that entails.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“I don't believe the cure for loneliness is meeting someone, not necessarily. I think it's about two things: learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many of the things that seem to afflict us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. It feels shameful and alarming, and over time these feelings radiate outwards, making the lonely person increasingly isolated, increasingly estranged. It hurts, in the way that feelings do, and it also has physical consequences that take place invisibly, inside the closed compartments of the body. It advances, is what I’m trying to say, cold as ice and clear as glass, enclosing and engulfing.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Loneliness is personal, and it is also political. Loneliness is collective; it is a city. As to how to inhabit it, there are no rules and nor is there any need to feel shame, only to remember that the pursuit of individual happiness does not trump or excuse our obligations to each another. We are in this together, this accumulation of scars, this world of objects, this physical and temporary heaven that so often takes on the countenance of hell. What matters is kindness; what matters is solidarity. What matters is staying alert, staying open, because if we know anything from what has gone before us, it is that the time for feeling will not last.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“I wanted very much not to be where I was. In fact part of the trouble seemed to be that where I was wasn’t anywhere at all. My life felt empty and unreal... I felt like I was in danger of vanishing, though at the same time the feelings I had were so raw and overwhelming that I often wished I could find a way of losing myself altogether, perhaps for a few months, until the intensity diminished.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Loneliness feels like such a shameful experience, so counter to the lives we are supposed to lead, that it becomes increasingly inadmissible, a taboo state whose confession seems destined to cause others to turn and flee.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Loneliness is difficult to confess; difficult too to categorise. Like depression, a state with which it often intersects, it can run deep in the fabric of a person, as much a part of one’s being as laughing easily or having red hair.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Why do you put yourself in unsafe places? Because something in you feels fundamentally devoid of worth.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Hopper’s paintings are full of women like her; women who appear to be in the grips of a loneliness that has to do with gender and unattainable standards of appearance, and that gets increasingly toxic and strangulating with age.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Amidst the glossiness of late capitalism, we are fed the notion that all difficult feelings – depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage – are simply a consequence of unsettled chemistry, a problem to be fixed, rather than a response to structural injustice or, on the other hand, to the native texture of embodiment, of doing time, as David Wojnarowicz memorably put it, in a rented body, with all the attendant grief and frustration that entails. I”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“I felt like I was in danger of vanishing, though at the same time the feelings I had were so raw and overwhelming that I often wished I could find a way of losing myself altogether, perhaps for a few months, until the intensity diminished.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Of these latter, desolating states, she comments: ‘Loneliness, in its quintessential form, is of a nature that is incommunicable by the one who suffers it. Nor, unlike other non-communicable emotional experiences, can it be shared via empathy. It may well be that the second person’s empathic abilities are obstructed by the anxiety-arousing quality of the mere emanations of the first person’s loneliness.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“The loneliness of difference, the loneliness of undesirability, the loneliness of not being admitted into the magic circles of connection and acceptance – the social and professional groupings, the embracing arms.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Speech failures, communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, mishearings, episodes of muteness, stuttering and stammering, word forgetfulness, even the inability to grasp a joke: all these things invoke loneliness, forcing a reminder of the precarious, imperfect means by which we express our interiors to others. They undermine our footing in the social, casting us as outsiders, poor or non-participants.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“What did I want? What was I looking for? What was I doing there, hour after hour? Contradictory things. I wanted to know what was going on. I wanted to be stimulated. I wanted to be in contact and I wanted to retain my privacy, my private space.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Cities can be lonely places, and in admitting this we see that loneliness doesn't necessarily require physical solitude, but rather an absence or paucity of connection, closeness, kinship: an inability, for one reason or another, to find as much intimacy as is desired.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“If loneliness is to be defined as a desire for intimacy, then included within that is the need to express oneself and to be heard, to share thoughts, experiences and feelings. Intimacy can't exist if the participants aren't willing to make themselves known, to be revealed. But gauging the levels is tricky. Either you don't communicate enough and remain concealed from other people, or you risk rejection by exposing too much altogether: the minor and major hurts, the tedious obsessions, the abscesses and cataracts of need and shame and longing.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“I wanted very much not to be where I was. In fact part of the trouble seemed to be that where I was wasn't anywhere at all. My life felt empty and unreal and I was embarrassed about its thinness, the way one might be embarrassed about wearing a stained or threadbare piece of clothing.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Loneliness is a very special place. It isn’t always easy to see the truth of Wilson’s statement, but over the course of my travels I’ve come to believe that he was right, that loneliness is by no means a wholly worthless experience, but rather one that cuts right to the heart of what we value and what we need. Many marvellous things have emerged from the lonely city: things forged in loneliness, but also things that function to redeem it.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“This is what's so terrifying about being lonely: the instinctive sense that it is literally repulsive, inhibiting contact at just the moment contact is most required.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“The revelation of loneliness, the omnipresent, unanswerable feeling that I was in a state of lack, that I didn't have what people were supposed to, and that this was down to some grave and no doubt externally unmistakable failing in my person: all this had quickened lately, the unwelcome consequence of being so summarily dismissed. I don't suppose it was unrelated, either, to the fact that I was keeling towards the midpoint of my thirties, an age at which female aloneness is no longer socially sanctioned and carries with it a persistent whiff of strangeness, deviance and failure.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“The city reveals itself as a set of cells, a hundred thousand windows, some darkened and some flooded with green or white or golden light. Inside, strangers swim to and fro, attending to the business of their private hours. You can see them, but you can’t reach them, and so this commonplace urban phenomenon, available in any city of the world on any night, conveys to even the most social a tremor of loneliness, its uneasy combination of separation and exposure.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Sometimes, all you need is permission to feel. Sometimes, what causes the most pain is actually the attempt to resist feeling, or the shame that grows up like thorns around it.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“Collapse, spread, merging, union: these things sound like the opposite of loneliness, and yet intimacy requires a solid sense of self to be successful and satisfying.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“[of Nan Goldin] In an afterword to Ballad written in 2012, she declared: ‘I decided as a young girl I was going to leave a record of my life and experience that no one could rewrite or deny.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
tags: women
“Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“All these people talk about [Vivian Maier's] hoarding, the pack-rat way she went through life. Watching, I couldn't help but feel their reactions were at least partly about money and social status; about who has the right to ownership and what happens when people exceed the number of possessions that their circumstance and standing would ordinarily allow. I don't know about you but if I was asked to put everything I own in a small room in someone else's house, I might well look like a hoarder. Although neither extreme poverty nor wealth makes one immune to craving an excess of possessions, it's worth asking of any behaviour presented as weird or freakish whether the boundary being transgressed is class, not sanity at all.”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. It feels shameful and alarming, and over time these feelings radiate outwards, making the lonely person increasingly isolated, increasingly estranged. It hurts, in the way that feelings do, and it also has physical consequences that take place invisibly, inside the closed compartments of the body. It advances, is what I’m trying to say, cold as ice and clear as glass, enclosing and engulfing. Most”
Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

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