The Value of Solitude: The Ethics and Spirituality of Aloneness in Autobiography


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'Let him who cannot be alone beware of community,' wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 'Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.' Bonhoeffer's warning from Life Together nicely balances the 'fruitful tension' John Barbour advocates between an ethics of solitude and a spirituality of the same. 'A spirituality without ethics becomes irresponsible self-indulgence,' he writes, 'and ethics without spirituality can degenerate into joyless duties to others and become disconnected from much of what gives life meaning, vitality, and beauty.' As solitude is necessarily situational, Barbour studies famous autobiographies (and their autobiographists) to examine specific experiences of solitude, especially those qualities of aloneness that unfold over time and are best plotted and understood through narrative. Thoreau's Walden, Rousseau's Reveries of the Solitary Walker, Augustine's Confessions, Paul Auster's Invention of Solitude, and Thomas Merton's written accounts of modern hermetic life act as ballast for Barbour's construction of an original and substantial poetics of solitude. He also gathers scattered written accounts of Christian solitude from the Bible, early Christian legend, and sayings of the desert fathers as well as works from the humanist tradition (Petrarch, Montaigne, and Gibbon) and twentieth-century experiences (Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, Rainer Maria Rilke, May Sarton, Carl Jung, and Alice Koller). Autobiography, Barbour maintains, best gathers the crucial insights and wisdom needed to combine solitude and relationship and 'how to get their rhythm right.' 237 pp.

An Eighth Day View:

Most people feel ambivalent about solitude, both loving and fearing it depending on how they experience being alone at certain points in their lives. In The Value of Solitude, John Barbour explores some of the ways in which experiences of solitude, both positive and negative, have been interpreted as religiously significant. He also shows how solitude can raise ethical questions as writers evaluate the virtues and dangers of aloneness and consider how social interaction and withdrawal can most meaningfully be combined in a life.

Barbour's work differs from previous books about solitude in two ways: it links solitude with ethics and spirituality, and it approaches solitude by way of autobiography. Barbour ranges from the early Christian and medieval periods to the twentieth century in examining the varieties of solitary experience of writers such as Augustine, Petrarch, Montaigne, Gibbon, Rousseau, Thoreau, Thomas Merton, and Paul Auster. For many authors, the process of writing an autobiography is itself conceived of as a form of solitude, a detachment from others in order to discover or create a new sense of personal identity. Solitude helps these authors to reorient their lives according to their moral ideals and spiritual aspirations.

The Value of Solitude both traces the persistence and vitality of the theme of solitude in autobiography and shows how the literary form and structure of autobiography are shaped by ethical and religious reflection on aloneness. This work should appeal to scholars in the fields of religious studies and theology, to literary critics and specialists in autobiography, and to readers interested in the experience of solitude and its moral and spiritual significance.

Title:: The Value of Solitude: The Ethics and Spirituality of Aloneness in Autobiography


Categories: Essays, Criticism & Memoir,

Publisher: University of Virginia Press: September 2004

ISBN Number:: 0813922895

ISBN Number: 13: 9780813922898

Binding:: Paper Back

Book Condition:: New

Seller ID:: 172531