Exercises in Loneliness. Unfinished Essays - Delvaux Julie

Exercises in Loneliness. Unfinished Essays
Julie Delvaux

Exercises inLoneliness is acollection ofphilosophical essayson acommon topic ofsolitude that started as aseries ofblog posts.

There is something romantic and legendary about loneliness because every knight searches for the Holy Grail on hisown. Even the best fairytales are born outofan extreme loneliness. So the secret is tostop asking tobe saved and tostart saving others. Before longyou will see how your own loneliness subsides like atide that runs away with sunrise.

Exercises inLoneliness

Unfinished Essays

Julie Delvaux

Julie Delvaux, 2015

Julie Delvaux, , 2015


Exercises inLoneliness

For my grandmother (19242014) and my mother


This is my first book. Like some ofthe first books, its taken awhile towrite. The genre ofunfinished essays meant for quite along time that I was writing occasional posts on my blog without aspecific goal toturn them into acollection. Then it became obvious that it was possible toassemble them into acollection and just about that time I gradually began tolose interest inthe topic.

Regardless ofcircumstances, the essays are now ready toface the world. It consists entirely ofmy essays and poems. Inwriting and then assembling the essays I went from irregular sketches on the topic ofloneliness and solitude toamore concerted effort toshare my views inthe hope that someone may find them useful and benefit from my opinion or experience. Ofcourse, this method can also be regarded as ameans tocombat loneliness. However, I genuinely believe there is something tobenefit from inthese texts. Ive got along way togo toreach the age and experience ofCasanova, but on occasion ofthese essays I share the same attitude toletting others see into my inner world: my life is my subject, and my subject is my life.

Throughout the book you will find references topeople whose work and thought has influenced, supported and developed me, so I wont mention them here. And I dont mention byname anyone who participated increating the experiences that prompted me towrite the essays. Some ofthem are physically gone, others I dont want toname for areason. Strictly speaking, although I couldnt help drawing on some ofmy personal experiences, I never considered them as mine only. They were mine as far as my own circumstances were concerned, but they could be yours, too. The way I look at it, I described some typical situations that one ofmy readers may have experienced.

I want todedicate this book tomy family. I published enough work for my grandma tosee her prediction coming true, for I have become awriter. But I never managed tocomplete abook for her toknow about it, at least. My mother will undoubtedly be proud. I owe her abigger part ofthe home library and an undying support ofmy efforts and projects, even if it doesnt always feel this way. (I know she wants things tobe beautiful and perfect, thats why). Last but not least, I shall follow inthe footsteps ofthose eccentric academics who thank their pets. I am very thankful tomy pets for blissfully sleeping, while I was finishing the collection, and proving me right: loneliness subsides when you help and share your time and effort with those who need it. This is why, after some thinking, I added ashort story, Felina Petrarcae, at the end ofthe book. It wasnt composed as acomplement toExercises inLoneliness, but as it touches upon asimilar subject, I thought it was afitting addition.

Julie Delvaux, Moscow, February2015


I am writing aseries ofessays, Exercises inLoneliness. The title came from out ofthe blue, but I like its ambiguity, or better put the variety ofinterpretations that the title has inother languages. I think, inone way or another, I will be writing this series forever, yet now I must stop somewhere tomake further reflection possible. So I stop here tocontinue again oneday.

The series has started on my blog, Los Cuadernos de Julia, with asmall note about afilm director whom I interviewed in2005. He asked me what I was doing apart from journalism. I write, I told him. I cant be awriter, he said, its avery lonely experience.

I remembered this well. Then there was aquote from Huysmans, that literature is away tosave those who write it from the tedium ofliving. There were afew phrases from LHistoire de Ma Vie byCasanova, inwhich he admitted that he took towriting his memoirs inorder toonce again experience his incredible adventures. There was hardly another reason for an old librarian todo so, except loneliness exacerbated bystomach problems.

Then there was apost about Pascal Quignard that started, as amatter offact, with my musings on the desire toread something inspiring and the obligation towrite something as daunting as the history ofSikh martyrs!

Then there was atext composed over atwo-hour dictation at Cornerhouse art centre inManchester, soon tobecome extinct, probably. I contemplated the inevitability ofloneliness as equivalent tobeing unique.

There were notes written on the train, arather suitable draft from the year 2004, atext about female loneliness inspired bythe works ofV. Woolf, A. Schopenhauer and F. Nietzsche. Then an essay about apoem Caf and Music. And little bylittle all other essays followed.

They are all united, first and foremost, bythe fact that I wrote them alone, both literally and metaphorically, with no recourse toanothers opinion. This was rarely solitude or loneliness inastrict sense ofthe word: I was invariably surrounded bypeople who could distract me. They could be neighbours or the folk at the next table inacaf. But there was no collaboration, and I never discussed these ideas with anyone, so you may say that loneliness has become amethod. All essays were written differently: some on computer, the fourth essay was written entirely byhand, others have got some hand-written drafts, and all poems have got autographs. The fourth essay was written intwo hours and marks not merely the flow ofthinking but the passage oftime, if you like. Interestingly, half ofthis introduction was written inRussian, as I considered making this collection bilingual but discarded the idea. Hence, what you have been reading up tonow is atranslated text. The remaining essays were written inEnglish. It is abit complicated with poems. Ever since my first fairytale that I composed at the age ofsix, I have been writing both poetry and prose. Poetic lines intercepted the fairytale, and here you will also find afew poems, some originally written inEnglish, some translated into English byme that, apart from one or two exceptions, were composed at the time when I was writing the essays and therefore serve as the addenda.

I call these essays exercises because they have always been conceived as sketches. Making them acomplete, detailed study ofloneliness has never been intended. Today we live inthe world where there is always someone near you: unless it is aguy at the next table, your pet or God (provided you are abeliever), then it is almost certainly your virtual acquaintance who either communicates with you on Facebook or Twitter or reads the posts byyou and others. This also means that loneliness is always fleeting, it comes and goes. Therefore, what is loneliness? When does it occur? When and why do we start feeling it? How do we experience it? When does it end? Does it end at all? My experience suggests that answers toall these questions are so personalized that it would be extremely audacious ofme totry and offer any complete study ofsuch condition. Inaddition, being awriter, the last thing I wanted was toturn this collection into apsychology book. Writing hardly needs tobe any more psychologically underpinned than it naturallyis.

As for me, I have no problem with loneliness, ingeneral. I see loneliness as arather normal type ofhuman activity. It cannot be discarded as astate, but loneliness is initself aby-product ofsome fundamental craving. However, there is acertain linguistic interest for me here, for the English language has at least three words that can all be translated into Russian as loneliness: solitude (being, or living alone, without any particularly negative connotation), loneliness per se (sometimes with avery negative connotation) and uniqueness (if we are tothink ofloneliness insome creative sense). That being said, uniqueness is apersonal characteristic, while creativity is not necessary connected toartistic sphere. Still, loneliness is normally taken insocial or strictly physical sense. We therefore talk about the necessity tocommunicate, the aim tobelong toasociety. Very few mention loneliness on occasions when you are surrounded bypeople, despite the fact that most ofus have experienced this at least once inour lives, and dare I say it is this kind ofloneliness that most ofus find the least bearable. Nonetheless, most people I know find loneliness aterribly awful accident that occurs when there is no-one around and as such should be avoided at all costs.

Meanwhile I am not sure about self-sufficiency that arises from solitary living, as it follows from Schopenhauers work. Perhaps, the reason for this is that there is not much true self-sufficiency around. My uncertainty is also due tothe fact that every person needs aconversation with real people toarrive at unbiased conclusions. Writers need this all the more so. We need real people from past and present, with their jokes, hopes and weaknesses. There is no place for arrogance inliterature as far as the knowledge oflife is concerned. Every hyperbole conceals something very realistic, which usually presents itself inthe society, that huge common room where women used towrite insecret until Virginia Woolf announced that we needed money and aroom ofour own. As awoman, I entirely agree with her. However, since then many writers, both men and women, acquired money and shut themselves intheir own rooms, whereby the style and subjects oftheir works have suffered dramatically. This is why I am not sure about Schopenhauers aloofness, as it leads some folk tothink they can get bywith their intuition and the little knowledge oflife theyve got. Indeed, we can imagine many things bygoing through the Panoptikum ofour brain, but for that you need some examples ofwhat things can be. Reading will not suffice, and infact, athoughtful, attentive reading is no less alonely experience than writing.

The essays therefore are meant togiveus food for thought, and what can be better food than the one that comes from aperson who has been alone for the better part oftheir life? Being the only child does not necessarily predispose you tosolitude or the perpetual feeling ofloneliness, but as you live on and discover people, habits and modi operandi, you realize that solitude is salubrious, and loneliness is not the end ofthe world. Inthe end, as Joseph Brodsky put it inThe Great Elegy for John Donne, if there are people and things that share our lives, what then shares our death and after-life? Is this not an indication that we are always infinitely alone? Is this not also ahint at the divine nature ofaman because if the man is created after Gods own image, he has tobe alone and tolearn tolive with his solitude and loneliness, as this is what God has been doing since the time before Time? This is not tosay, stop moaning! loneliness isnt the worst thing that can happen. Depending on circumstances and your predisposition, it can be the worst thing. But perhaps something inthese essays will provide consolation, and each one being unfinished is akey tothis. Loneliness, solitude, uniqueness are essentially permanent states; but, like tides, they can subside. All we need todo is tolearn tolive bythesea.


I remember speaking toone film director who complained that he had towrite an article about his film. Inhis words, hed be happy totalk about it as much as he could, but writing was weighing him down. As the person who, instead ofasilver spoon, was probably born with apen, I obviously asked what it was that he didnt like about writing. His answer was that writing was alonely experience.

Ofcourse, as Im writing this at an ungodly hour I have toadmit that, physically, writing is the lonely experience. But mentally it can be quite stimulating and even scandalous, if one considers the works ofMarquis de Sade, some ofwhich he wrote inprison, and some inan asylum.

Back in2006being alone felt exhilarating. I craved independence, and I had got my hands full. Not that I didnt want toshare work or success, but I was determined tosucceed alone, first and foremost.


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