Four Views of Solitary Confinement
“Incessant company is as bad as solitary confinement.” -Virginia Woolf-
“We’re all mad, the whole damned race. We’re trapped in illusions, delusions, confusions about the penetrability of partitions, we’re all mad and in solitary confinement.” -William Golding-
“In spite of language, in spite of intelligence and intuition and sympathy, one can never really communicate anything to anybody. The essential substance of every thought and feeling remains incommunicable, locked up in the impenetrable strong-room of the individual soul and body. Our life is a sentencce of perpertual solitary confinement.” -Aldous Huxley-
“We are all sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life.” -Tennessee Williams-
I've been down, wrong, lonesome, and empty. Aching sleep won't go away. Found time don't bottle sorrow. Feet moan, floor coming apart.
Covid and Feelings of Solitary Confinement
Another Monday is in the books, and although most Mondays are pretty unmemorable the Mondays of the past few months have been just plain forgettable. I decided to take a closer look at solitary confinement as a state of mind because of Covid (the lockdowns, quarantines, and such). That solitary state of mind was strong today which teetered between monotonous routine and forced idleness (like many previous Mondays).
My article “Chekhov on Solitary Confinement” argues that voluntary confinement is more difficult to endure than compulsory confinement. Most of us are doing our best to adhere to the various guidelines and requirements of Covid 19, but the nature of self-isololation, self-quarantine, and social distancing can be quite trying. If you are like me, you go to work every day, take care of family members, run errands, and so forth and so on. For most of us life has settled into a monotonous routine, and when we finish up with the daily routine there isn’t anything to do. With nothing to do the routine slowly moves to a forced idleness. It’s been a while since I’ve read the “Myth of Sisyphus” but I think the routine must be like rolling the boulder up the hill and the idleness must be the waiting for the boulder to stop rolling at the bottom of the hill (not much of a literary analysis there but I’m already well into my third rye whiskey).
So what’s the take away? I think one possible solution is in the previous paragraph. I recommended Chekhov’s “The Bet” in a previous post and after I’m finished here I think I’m going to reread the “Myth of Sisyphus.” Stories about individuals facing and surviving solitary confinement, physical and/or mental, can help us cope with our feelings of confinement, routine, and idleness. Any suggestions on what I should read after I finish the Myth of Sisyphus?
Which is worse: to live a life of solitary confinement or to be surrounded by liars and cheats?
Anton Not Pavel
When I started thinking about the topic of solitary confinement one of the first stories to come to mind was Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet.” I’ve read the story a few times over the years, and with each read I came away with some new and interesting insight. My recent reading was during the current Covid lockdowns and quarantines is no exception to finding something new to think about.
The plot of “The Bet” is straight forward. A wealthy banker bets a young lawyer two million rubles (a large sum of money for the time) that the lawyer won’t commit himself to fifteen years of voluntary solitary confinement. This story is an insightful commentary on the long term effects of solitary confinement, but reading it in the time of Covid has me focusing on two points. The first is that voluntary confinement is much more difficult to bear than compulsory confinement. This is an interesting point when you see the spike in anxiety and depression in recent months amidst lockdowns and quarantines. The second point focuses on the lawyer’s reading habits during his confinement. His reading list got me thinking about what I’ve been reading during the past nine months and how confinement is influencing my reading list and impacting how I’m seeing the world.
Covid 19 lockdowns and quarantines have impacted all of us in varied ways. Fortunately none of us have been confined as long as the character of the story, but being able to relate to his self-imposed solitary confinement and the impact it has on him may help us better deal with our own lockdowns and quarantines. Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet” may help to put feelings of solitary confinement in perspective. Give it a read and let me know what you think.
“The Bet” from Anton Chekhov the Complete Collection (2018).
“There was an awful suspicion in my mind that I’d finally gone over the hump, and the worst thing about it was that I didn’t feel tragic at all, but only weary, and sort of comfortably detached.”
-Hunter S. Thompson-