February 5, 2015 § Leave a comment


Loneliness lacks a language. Even the shape of the word – those wagging ls like a child’s fumblings at expression, the unbecoming moan of that opening O, the anticlimax of “ness”; an elongated spondee, an open stress followed by nothing but a comic dying fall – invites derision. The temporality of the experience, a monotony without division, dilating into a greyness of indefinite extension, lacks a grammar or syntax, any rhythm that might give it articulation. Any attempt at a vocabulary falls immediately into the kitsch readymades of self-pity. It seems nonetheless to leap all to readily into symbolisation, perhaps because it resembles the primordial situation of what idealists call “the human condition”: “unaccommodated man”, the “bare, forked animal”, stumbling friendless between darkness and darkness under torrential skies. Is this cause or symptom of the fact that loneliness exists primarily in the culture as an excuse for condescension and scapegoating? I could corral examples all day, from Steve Carrell in The 40 Year Old Virgin – incidentally a far funnier movie than I’d thought; I hadn’t known it was a Judd Apatow product – to the inhabitants of “incel”* forums, whose serpentine listings of the wrongs of womankind seem swollen by a kind of gigantism in the effort to – as all ideologies do – close the primal gap between concept & object. These astoundingly unintentionally comic performances, turned into an object of grave panic by Tracy Clark-Flory (check the Daily Mail-worthy headline), pinging between the registers of the lumpen-empirical & the more abstract regions of misogyny (the demonology of the “friendzone” is a really astonishing invention, a work of misdirected intellectual energy to match the cosmologies of medieval Europe) w/out moving through any of the intervening zones where the free exercise of reason might take a hold, are language reified & ordered into desperate holding patterns, to ward off the double-bind of a) a total inability to acknowledge the account that self-awareness might give of them b) the absolute lack of a (phenomenological) language for their experiences that is not simply that wh/ compounds their sense of humiliation. (Compare with the accidentally self-indicting accounts of Alan Partridge.) Clark-Flory, who nominally finds their obsession w/ their lack of affection (i.e. their self-definition via the negative) ludicrous, nonetheless calls them “the dateless and sexless”. They’re “pathetic”, “wankers”, “unfuckable”, wastes of space mired in self-pity. Even Harry Cheadle, both more empathetic and with a better structural critique (though we’re talking merely different ends of the spectrum of liberal comment here, so there’s not that much in it), describes them as “awkward unsexed dudes”, “unhappy masturbator[s]”. Every potential tool of description seems to issue from what is taken to be the enemy camp, what looks, from the isolation of the body, like the hegemonic citadel of fulfilled heterosexuality & its commissars. (The confusion here between the sober critical tools provided by third wave feminism for disspelling the residuum of false consciousness – for so third wavers, despite their protestations, conceive it – in loneliness & the writing of the victors in the sexual economy is profound, telling & immensely unhelpful – another of ideology’s happy “magical solutions”.) I’ve suggested before that the tendency to use the idiom, adjectives, the symbolic & anecdotal repertoire of ‘shared’ experience to describe loneliness is about the least useful thing we can do – that this attempt at formulation leaves the experience opaque to subject & audience; they function merely as a fetish against loneliness itself, against its endless baleful returns. But what would be the alternative, bearing in mind Wittgenstein’s interdiction against the concept of a “private language”, aside from some primal howl or moan or helplessly burdened syllables, without the useful tactic of determined negation that gives shape to utopia?** Or, most painfully of all, the Klein blue of evening.

* I feel I should write something about this term in the future, but really have to leave it for now, for fear of landing myself in the soup politically. For now all I’ll note is that I did actually use the phrase “involuntary celibate” in an access of self-pity & bitterest self-conscious irony several years ago, before I ever heard of its currency in men’s rights circles

** the astonishing lines from Lorca that Lester Bangs appends to the Astral Weeks essay are paradigmatic here:

My heart of silk

is filled with lights,

with lost bells,

with lilies and bees.

I will go very far […]

to beg Christ the Lord

to give me back the soul I had

of old, when I was a child,

ripened with legends,

with a feathered cap

and a wooden sword.


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