The ordeal of solitude

History of the Human Sciences 27 (2):118-132 (2014)


I try to understand the ordeal of solitude by beginning with Marc Augé’s usage on transitional sites as a provocation, which leads us to rethink solitude as a condition of subjectivity and its various inflections, most conventionally as loneliness and, in sociology, as fragmentation, anonymity, alienation, privatization and the various opinions that link it to the deprivation of separation that longs for connection, or, more fundamentally in Simmel, as the ontological view of the tragedy of human limitation. Instead of restricting us to sites, Augé’s provocation suggests that if solitude is one of a family of such usages related to the experience of being alone or apart in such a space, we might then examine ways in which it is oriented to as a condition that can vary according to extremes, say, in the way Arendt and others have contrasted the pain of loneliness with the creativity of solitude. In linking solitude to transitional sites, Augé suggests that there is something about the experience of the in-between, whether of time or space, that illuminates solitude and that makes any relationship to it a potential ordeal. I test the notion by asking how the ordeal pertains to language itself and the intermediacy of a human subject in linguistic space.

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