Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Of Loneliness and Longing

Normblog has an interesting post today. It's rare that Norm, an enviably mild-mannered, principled thinker, resorts to any form of sarcasm. But he does, here:

And a big part of the postmodern predicament, for so many people, is that we find ourselves very sophisticated, very evolved and developed, but very much alone and experiencing a deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual sense of alienation. We all long for deeper connections, but we are unwilling to give up our attachment to our self-importance in order to be able to experience that connection. One extreme example of this is in Holland...

I'm really glad I'm not as evolved as he is. His interlocutor is hot on the same themes:

Relationship seems to be more important than ever and yet more elusive than ever. That's the real irony of the postmodern situation, that the thing that is probably valued most highly, which is relatedness - everything is contextual, everything is relational - is the thing that people have the least of in any authentic sort of way.

Things didn't used to be so relational, you understand - in the old days. But now they are.

I don't disagree with Norm's comment. But I think what the guys are saying is rather heavy-handed and overdecorated with the usual jargon, so the gist of the sentiment expressed is all but missed. They are talking about longing, loneliness and alienation in modern societies. I have my own take on this issue, since this is a very familiar condition for me.

Modernity has taken away the sense of the close-knit community and strong mutual bonds that characterized erstwhile societies and still characterize many traditional ones. This sense of community could hardly be defined as "intimacy" in the way we consider it today, but it did offer a reliable support system to its members. This very rarely exists these days in modern cultures. People do not feel beholden to each other. Alienation is a mark of the modern emphasis on the individual. Intimacy between individuals is how we compensate for the loss of that "belongingness" (sometimes known as "tribalism").

In our society, individuals who value their individualism find that true intimacy with like-minded people is getting harder to find. And when found, to establish or consolidate. Too much suspicion and distrust mark relationships. Even when you feel you have somehow been fortunate enough to encounter such a kindred spirit, you are being too bogged down by the anxieties that our modern life has taught us, to give yourself fully to that encounter. There is nothing like the seed of distrust to ruin friendships with the potential for the best of intimacies.

Due to this alienation, we have come to look to these intimate friendships and cherish them. They are the supports of our life now. But they are hard to find and to establish. They are much more demanding in as much as they require going out on a limb, entrusting your weaknesses to the care of someone else. And when they are broken, they can be very painful. Which is why we become even more careful next time around and may miss therefore opportunities to enlarge this circle of amity in our life.

My friends always tell me that I have too great expectations from these relationships that I must learn to be more careful in how I give my heart. But then, I don't see it this way at all. First of all, these very friends who urge me to restrain myself are the best reason why I shouldn't. Because they are proof that my opening up can be and is fully reciprocated. And secondly, my expectations are never greater than what I'm offering. If I'm not willing to risk, then I cannot expect others to. I happen to put huge emphasis on intimate friendships. They are like a chain, and so far I've noticed that the intimate friends of my friends are nearly always people I would have chosen for myself, so that means that something is being sustained, a grid of sorts. But it does require a lot of work and maintenance, especially when these are not next-door dwellers but living in the four corners of the earth.

You may not get it

but I'm all there is

offered here. And what

that amounts to won't
be clear until you

offer yourself too.

(Cid Corman)


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