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Bliss of solitude

Since divergence is a quintessential feature of creativity, loneliness is a kind of divergence, a sort of deviation from a normal and conformist way of living

Bliss of solitude

Creativity isn’t and must not be expected to be a normal phenomenon. It is bound to have aberrations, disruptions and subversions. It fearlessly investigates — and sometimes sees no harm in defying — those norms, rules, styles and techniques that are invested with an authoritative position.

Therefore, politico-socio-religious authorities are seriously afraid of creative people. Not only can they challenge and contest societal constructs and system of dispensation, creative people can also disrupt the very ways of perceiving reality by providing a centre-stage to the libido or unconscious archetypal world.

Creative people are the most unpredictable folk in a society. Predictability is a hallmark of conformity. Divergence is a quintessential feature of creativity. Loneliness is a kind of divergence, a sort of deviation from a normal, healthy, customary and conformist way of living.

Creative writers do not only need a room of one’s own, an uninterrupted space and a ‘safe yet aesthetic’ distance from the bustle of daily life, they also require to build a ‘sanctuary of solitude’. This could make them listen to what is worth listening but goes unheard amid the flurry of noisy voices spewing out of political talk shows aired non-stop on tv or musical performances or the market place.

It is true that loneliness can prove fatal to many, especially to those who are all the time in dire need of confirmation and endorsement of their views from fellows or particularly those who occupy some authoritative position in society. These are the people who have rarely worked out their way; they have just derived or borrowed views from textbooks, popular fiction, mainstream media and social media. They remain terribly scared of being alone.

In the absence of the company of ham khial (like-minded) people, they abruptly get to know the presence of an unbearable void within deep layers of their psyche, an existential experience. Moreover, they experience loneliness as a state of being segregated from society, forced to live alone with a feeling that they have been ousted from society — from their comfort zone. To them, disassociation from their fellows or dear ones becomes synonymous with death of all sorts of relations, including communicative ones. Their miserable psychological state has been masterfully captured in one of Iftikhar Arif’s couplets:

Nasir Abbas Nov 4

[Loneliness is so grave that (I) wish to be scattered like a dream(in dream things appear dispersed and rules of logic disrupted) and wish to embrace death]

Solitude is more than just being alone; it is a psychological state that can be experienced even in the company of friends and it can remain elusive even when someone is confined to a solitary place. In Ghalib’s words: we feel ourselves among communicants even when we are unaccompanied.

Nasir Abbas Nov 41

Solitude has a paradoxical nature. It is the seedbed of death and re-birth, death of old, meaningless, redundant relations with the outside world and re-birth of meaning and import of association with oneself. Silence is a prototypical feature of both loneliness and creativity. Only in silence can one get abreast of the dark sides of being and also listen to the music of the spirit.

To achieve enlightenment, one must first embrace the darker aspects of psyche, to bear the terrors of solitary living. While traversing the land of devils, you come to sense the holy presence of godly spirits. Art is not just composed of aggregation of words, colours, sounds or movements of body; it is the music of the spirit that the artists infuse in their works or performances.

Solitude is more than just being alone; it is a psychological state that can be experienced even in the company of friends and it remains elusive.

It is not words, colours, sounds, movements or their combinations that speak to us; rather it’s the gaps and silences created within them that whisper in the ears of our spirit. We all know whispering is more communicative than loud speech and suggestion is more provocative than bare statements.

A cursory look at a category of works of literature produced from prisons shows how confinement spurs to achieve the best. There is a long list of best books written in jail cells, ranging from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, Hitler’s Mein Kampf,  Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos, Nelson Mandela’s Conversation with Myself to Abol Kalam Azad’s Ghubar-e-Khatir to Nehru’s Discovery of India to Faiz’s Zindan Nama.

One thing about these books needs to be noted in particular — they do not usually contain pitiful description of misery, torture and other dreadful experiences of jail life. Though living alone in jail cells for a long period, these provide an opportunity to meditatively introspect about many things, ranging from past noble deeds to follies, love for family, friends to the purpose of life to ways to deal with hardships of the present to ways to find true meaning of life.

Books in prisons testify that rather than succumbing to fiends and beasts sprouting from solitary confinement, these people succeeded in triggering creativity. A lone person is the most silent one. By writing a book in loneliness, one establishes an everlasting communication with the outside world.

Also read: How not to be lonely

Tagore says one who writes for himself writes for everyone. Following Tagore, we can say one who speaks to himself speaks to everyone. Perhaps this is the reason that soliloquy is not only the most intimate kind of communication but also bears deep, everlasting insight. Unaccompanied characters talk freely and fearlessly because there is no one to intercept them. They don’t talk merely to themselves but to an ideal addressee too, a creature fostered by their undeterred imagination. For instance, following are oft-quoted lines from Hamlet’s monologue that still seem to talk to our heart:

“To be, or not to be—that is the question:/Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep-”

Twentieth century literature is characterised by themes of displacement, homelessness and exile. Host of Asian, African and Latin American writers had to seek exile in Western countries or they were pushed to live a life of exiled person in their own country. Exile is yet another modern kind of loneliness tinged with postcolonial frailties. Like prison literature, these writings also seek to rediscover and reclaim, in nostalgic or ironic tone, the society, culture and traditions of the world left behind.

The major streak behind feminist writings seems to have sprouted out of their intensely-felt experience and critical cognition of marginalisation and loneliness thrust upon them by patriarchal structure of society. This sort of link between loneliness and creativity cannot be taken as an argument in favour of loneliness; it just shows how the impulse of living with productivity and prestige is ignited under lethal conditions — reminiscent of a mode of survival adopted during evolution.

(This an edited version of the article that appeared in print)

Nasir Abbas Nayyar

Dr-Nasir-Abbas-Nayyar copy
The writer is a Lahore-based critic, short story writer and author of Urdu Adab ki Tashkeel e Jadid (criticism) and Farishta Nahi Aya (short stories).

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