loneliness-in-philosophy-psychology-and-literatureReviewed by Sophia Chiu

The last line in the chorus of Elvis Priestley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” came to mind as I read Loneliness in Philosophy, Psychology, and Literature: I get so lonely I can die. I feel author Ben Lazare Mijuskovic can agree with that refrain, as his main thesis is that man is essentially doomed to be alone. The desire to escape from this frightening but true state of isolation is the primary psychological motivator of man, but any attempts will be ultimately unsuccessful due to the inherent nature of self-consciousness, and thus being human.

Mijuskovic bases this rather depressing conclusion on a philosophy of mind which conceptualizes consciousness as a reflexive quality. A conscious being is able to turn reflection back on himself; he as subject is capable of thinking about himself as object. Following from this theory of consciousness, the recognition there is a “me” who thinks and is distinct from everything else which is “not me,” man realizes he is set apart from every other conscious being and thus alone. Miljuskovic points to examples of loneliness as a predominant theme in literature. Psychology is mostly represented by Freud.

Although I find loneliness to be an interesting topic, I think the average reader would have difficulty getting through this book without a strong familiarity with the works of major Western philosophers such as Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and Sartre, among others. The chapters have previously appeared in published form as essays in various academic journals, mostly in the 1970s. In addition, there are ample examples of awkward parenthetical notes and occasional formatting or typographical errors. Surprisingly, I thought the Appendices were easier to understand than the main text.

As someone with some background in neuroscience and philosophy, I was disappointed to see how “scientific” views were treated. The author seems to imply that behaviorists reduce mind to the electrochemical activity of the brain, but this is not the position of most people seriously interested in the mind-brain connection I have encountered. There is faint recognition that the mind is based on—which is distinct from reducible to—the brain, and this might set limits on what the mind would be like, for example, through the process of evolution. Mijuskovic is a professor of philosophy with a master’s degree in comparative literature who also works with at-risk populations and the mentally ill as a licensed clinical therapist. However, some of his remarks about autism and psychosis seem entirely based on philosophical models. I found most of the book not informed by neuroscience, which seems odd in a discussion of the mind, but perhaps my expectations are misplaced. I thought the case for why man is necessarily lonely was explicitly laid out, but why loneliness would be troubling was much less so.

In summary, Loneliness in Philosophy, Psychology, and Literature is probably a book whose appeal is limited to a specialized, philosophically inclined audience. Those without such a background might find it a hard, lonely slog.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Ben Lazare Mijuskovic. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.