Tiago Clariano
School of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon
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The Powers of Solitude: two cases of decadent solipsism
Dedalus 24 (2020), pp. 111-129. Download PDF

Solipsism is the belief that only a subject’s impressions and reflections of the world can be known. George Santayana describes it as follows: “The solipsist is an incredulous spectator of his own romance, thinks his own adventures, fictions and accepts a solipsism of the present moment” (1955: 15). If loneliness, on the one hand, provides conditions for cleaner reflections upon the world, solipsism implies a different kind of loneliness which can be described as modern: it is a pretension to solitude in the middle of the multitude. As with any belief, solipsism can motivate a set of practices, possibly leading to actions that disregard the existence of others. In Joris-Karl Huysmans’ À Rebours, Des Esseintes locks himself in his house to experiment with a variety of sensations; his loneliness was necessary to avoid external interferences. In Samuel Beckett’s Murphy, the main character prefers sitting in his rocking chair, rather than looking for a job because he had read a horoscope that found it ill-advised. These narratives will instigate the theorization upon loneliness questioning the aesthetic predisposition validated by solitude, the demand for authenticity in Des Esseintes’ empirical aesthetic investigations and the way Murphy finds refuge from hazards through solipsism.
Keywords: solipsism, aestheticism, decadence