Friday, August 29, 2008

Pg. 99: Thomas Dumm's "Loneliness as a Way of Life"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Thomas Dumm's Loneliness as a Way of Life.

About the book, from the publisher:
“What does it mean to be lonely?” Thomas Dumm asks. His inquiry, documented in this book, takes us beyond social circumstances and into the deeper forces that shape our very existence as modern individuals. The modern individual, Dumm suggests, is fundamentally a lonely self. Through reflections on philosophy, political theory, literature, and tragic drama, he proceeds to illuminate a hidden dimension of the human condition. His book shows how loneliness shapes the contemporary division between public and private, our inability to live with each other honestly and in comity, the estranged forms that our intimate relationships assume, and the weakness of our common bonds.

A reading of the relationship between Cordelia and her father in Shakespeare’s King Lear points to the most basic dynamic of modern loneliness—how it is a response to the problem of the “missing mother.” Dumm goes on to explore the most important dimensions of lonely experience—Being, Having, Loving, and Grieving. As the book unfolds, he juxtaposes new interpretations of iconic cultural texts—Moby-Dick, Death of a Salesman, the film Paris, Texas, Emerson’s “Experience,” to name a few—with his own experiences of loneliness, as a son, as a father, and as a grieving husband and widower.

Written with deceptive simplicity, Loneliness as a Way of Life is something rare—an intellectual study that is passionately personal. It challenges us, not to overcome our loneliness, but to learn how to re-inhabit it in a better way. To fail to do so, this book reveals, will only intensify the power that it holds over us.
Among the early acclaim for the book:
"Loneliness as a Way of Life is a book about coming to believe in this world, a world in which loneliness is inevitable and connections are still possible. It is also a risky book, because of the way Dumm weaves the personal into the literary and both into politics. The risk is well run: Dumm's is an untimely piece, essential for the time in which we live."
--William E. Connolly

"Avoiding cynicism and sentimentality alike, Thomas Dumm's penetrating and painfully personal meditations on the modern condition of loneliness may show us more about ourselves than we can easily bear. Through subtle and provocative readings of Shakespeare, Melville, Arendt, and other thinkers, Dumm finds terms for acknowledging and inhabiting his own loneliness, and perhaps ours as well. His calm yet insistently disarming voice claims and challenges us, even when we resist it."
--Robert Gooding-Williams, author of Look, A Negro!: Philosophical Essays on Race, Culture, and Politics

"Thomas Dumm is a wise guide and learned counselor for the great Socratic question: How to live? We are deeply enriched owing to his wisdom and compassion."
--Cornel West

"[A] heartfelt and erudite diagnosis of a condition that, okay, many people experience these days to some extent.... Dumm's book is not a self-help book (as its title might suggest) but a carefully nuanced intellectual inquiry."
--Steven Moore, Washington Post
Read an excerpt from Loneliness as a Way of Life, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Thomas Dumm is a Professor of Political Science at Amherst College and author of A Politics of the Ordinary.

The Page 99 Test: Loneliness as a Way of Life.

--Marshal Zeringue