Understanding Loneliness: Literature, Philosophy, Theory
How are we to understand loneliness today? It appears that we are facing a mass epidemic of loneliness—one perhaps exacerbated by pandemic and quarantine. Britain has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to counter rising rates of isolation. Approximately 20-43 percent of American adults over the age of 60 experience “frequent or intense loneliness.” And, it is clear from medical research that loneliness has significant health impacts: lonely people are more likely to develop chronic health conditions and die younger. What are the causes of mass loneliness, and what consequences might it have, not only for individuals, but also for cultural and political life?
In this course, we will examine the political and cultural aspects of loneliness through political theory, philosophy, and literature. We will ask: From what does loneliness stem? Is it, as Sigmund Freud argued, native to the human condition; or is it, per Erich Fromm, a function of capitalist life? What does it mean to be lonely? Are there different forms of loneliness? Is there a difference between solitude and loneliness? Is there a connection between the rise of loneliness and the resurgence of nationalism and illiberalism? Does social media exacerbate loneliness? What does a politics of loneliness, whether against or for, look like? As we consider loneliness in its multiple dimensions, we’ll read from works by Hannah Arendt, David Riesman, Arlie Hochschild, William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
June 12 — July 03, 2022