I know a lot of people, and I have a lot of amazing friends who have helped me survive in a cruel world, but I still sense a rot in my center that is spreading. a rot that is devouring me whole. That is political loneliness. I have so much written on grief and the communal pain that stems from mourning a world that was never ours that I have forgotten who the ‘us’ in my writings is. I write to whom? By this writing, what do I seek? Here, what is my ultimate goal?
So, instead of doing my assigned tasks today, I’ve decided to write about loneliness. A loneliness that is both personal and political, dividing both venues and turning them into battlefields pitting one against the other. Loneliness takes the shape of a lack of a common political vision. I want to investigate the loneliness that persists in our life despite our increased interconnectedness. While much has been written on this feeling in the main currents of continental philosophy, I want us to forge a new ground by addressing the issue of loneliness in a feminist way. We already know that neoliberal subjectivity has made us lonely, but what shapes our communal sense of loneliness?
Drawing particularly on Berlant’s work, I want to contend that the political structures we inherited from the liberal tradition—such the right to pursue one’s private self-interest to the greatest extent possible—have kept us hidden from one another, unable to appear as agents of a common world (Berlant, 2011). But we have grieved that world. The word ‘world’ holds no meaning to me. It is precisely this grief that creates this sense of political loneliness that drives away from, instead of toward, each other. I think of my family, my ancestors, and their legacy. They were subjected to a civil war that further divided, deformed, and uprooted them. They’d already been forcibly removed from the only place they’d ever known, and that is Palestine. My family experienced several complicated layers of belonging and loneliness as Palestinian refugees seeking shelter in Lebanon.
However, loneliness is not easily explained using traditional methods of political theory. As I was writing this blog, it became obvious to me that the subject of loneliness, because of its isolating qualities—what Thomas Dumm refers to as “the experience of the tragedy of disappearance”—resists comprehension through the conventional methods of description, critique, and analysis (Dumm, 2008). Instead, I understood that in order to explore and learn, I would need to complement those tools. I do not have the capacity to do that. I can only share intimate and political narratives, and pray it gets my points across.
Instead of documenting the sources of my loneliness, I’d like to keep note of the times when I felt like I belonged. I sensed the significance of the commons during the Palestinian camps uprising in 2019, and when the uprising was crushed, I felt the incredibly painful process of uncommoning. There were happy moments. Political ecstasy. We grieved, laughed, sang, and then were vanquished together. Even as repressive forces smeared our cause, we stood hand in hand, facing the world we were taught we didn’t belong in. We physically merged into one voice, a memory I will cherish forever. But it’s the moment I lost it that I’m trying to avoid. As a result, I’m now politically alone and alienated. I recall being brave and not caring who saw me wearing Koufeyeh in my neighborhood. Nothing was important. I had been reunited with my people. I wanted to be trapped in that moment for as long as humanly feasible. I recall calling everyone a comrade since they were all my comrades. They are still. However, the sphere that brought us together has long since been demolished. That makes me so lonely.
There are many profound questions that we ask in and about the world that remain unanswered in the void. How and why do movements perish is one of them.
Anyway, we, hopeless romantics, occasionally look for significance in word etymologies. In this context, it is abundantly clear how the evolution of our language reflects on the topic of loneliness. The word “alone” is a combination of two words, “all” and “one.” The All represents the absolute containment of the interior on the outside, while the One represents the ultimate containment of the outside on the inside. We float through undifferentiated space, filled with a feeling of ourselves, into a cosmos that is both unmarked and completely defined. We’re fired up, yet we’re adrift in space. Being by oneself. I admit that I think about the worst aspects of being alone more than the best; I focus on the trauma and anguish of deep isolation, a condition of a particular type of despair, rather than the larger pleasures of solitude and self-reliance. Nonetheless, as much as I struggle to fathom one without the other, the agony without the plea, I recognize that the two emotional states are inexorably linked.
Being politically alone creates a sense of contradiction. On the one hand, you are rendered ineffective. On the other hand, you are enraged. You wonder, “What happened to our political vision? What happened to our hopes and dreams? Why am I left alone with all of our collectively unfulfilled aspirations?” Again, you ask, unanswered, because you are alone. We’re taught that in times of disaster, people are left to figure out how to survive on their own. At the same time, we are informed that without collective power, we would perish. So, which one is it, I wonder? Is it the indescribable loneliness that we must bear in order to build together? Or is it the collective vision that binds everyone together and permits emotions to enter an area where they are normally forbidden?
I don’t have an answer. My goal with this writing is not to provide solutions, but rather to raise questions, to challenge the notion that we are all in this together, because we are not. Political loneliness continues to eat away at our core as we attempt to repair ourselves rather than each other. I’m not sure how to avoid feeling lonely, but I’m also not sure how to make others feel less lonely. I’m not sure how to re-establish a common vision when we’re no longer a collective. I don’t know how to compose eulogies; all I know is how to grieve.
Even shared grief, though, may be an alienating means of detaching. When we remark that we are in a moment of mourning, we mean that people are just sitting with their feelings. But what if we all wanted to reach out to one other, to branch out, to share our sorrow, to sit with each other and our extremely uncomfortable emotions? What if all we wanted was someone to feel the same way we did?
I suppose this is also a sort of alienation, but the sensation is so severe that I want to categorize it as both lonely and political.
I hope we can find our way back to one another, that we can discover forms and shapes that fit us, and that we can break through this frozen ground that is so thin and frightening that we worry it may crack at any minute. Maybe it’s time we drowned and pulled each other up instead of always fighting to remain afloat.