Value of Solitude: The Ethics and Spirituality of Aloneness in Autobiography / Edition 1

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Paper Back New 'Let him who cannot be alone beware of community, ' wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 'Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. ' Bonhoeffer's warning ... from Life Together nicely balances the 'fruitful tension' John Barbour advocates between an ethics of solitude and a spirituality of the same. 'A spirituality without ethics becomes irresponsible self-indulgence, ' he writes, 'and ethics without spirituality can degenerate into joyless duties to others and become disconnected from much of what gives life meaning, vitality, and beauty. ' As solitude is necessarily situational, Barbour studies famous autobiographies (and their autobiographists) to examine specific experiences of solitude, especially those qualities of aloneness that unfold over time and are best plotted and understood through narrative. Thoreau's Walden, Rousseau's Reveries of the Solitary Walker, Augustine's Confessions, Paul Auster's Invention of Solitude, and Thomas Merton's written accounts of modern hermetic life Read more Show Less

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Most people feel ambivalent about solitude, both loving and fearing it depending on how they experience being alone at certain points in their lives. In The Value of Solitude, John Barbour explores some of the ways in which experiences of solitude, both positive and negative, have been interpreted as religiously significant. He also shows how solitude can raise ethical questions as writers evaluate the virtues and dangers of aloneness and consider how social interaction and withdrawal can most meaningfully be combined in a life.

Barbour’s work differs from previous books about solitude in two ways: it links solitude with ethics and spirituality, and it approaches solitude by way of autobiography. Barbour ranges from the early Christian and medieval periods to the twentieth century in examining the varieties of solitary experience of writers such as Augustine, Petrarch, Montaigne, Gibbon, Rousseau, Thoreau, Thomas Merton, and Paul Auster. For many authors, the process of writing an autobiography is itself conceived of as a form of solitude, a detachment from others in order to discover or create a new sense of personal identity. Solitude helps these authors to reorient their lives according to their moral ideals and spiritual aspirations.

The Value of Solitude both traces the persistence and vitality of the theme of solitude in autobiography and shows how the literary form and structure of autobiography are shaped by ethical and religious reflection on aloneness. This work should appeal to scholars in the fields of religious studies and theology, to literary critics and specialists in autobiography, and to readers interested in the experience of solitude and its moral and spiritual significance.

University of Virginia Press

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Editorial Reviews

Eugene Stelzig
This is a powerful, comprehensive, and highly original book, impressive in terms of both its breadth of coverage and its depth of insight. It is a pleasure to read how vigorously the author speaks out for the moral and spiritual aspects of solitude in the age of a postmodern theory that allows little or no agency to a scattered and textually constituted subject. The Value of Solitude is a work of mature scholarship and probing critical reflection.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813922898
  • Publisher: Univ of Virginia Pr
  • Publication date: 10/28/2004
  • Series: Studies in Religion and Culture Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John D. Barbour, Professor of Religion at St. Olaf College, is the author of Versions of Deconversion: Autobiography and the Loss of Faith.

University of Virginia Press

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Table of Contents

1 Christian solitude 11
2 Bounded solitude in Augustine's Confessions 32
3 The humanist tradition : Petrarch, Montaigne, and Gibbon 43
4 Rousseau's myth of solitude in Reveries of the solitary walker 81
5 Thoreau at Walden : "soliloquinzing and talking to all the universe at the same time" 105
6 Twentieth-century varieties of solitary experience 129
7 Thomas Merton and solitude : "the door to solitude opens only from the inside" 160
8 Solitude, writing, and fathers in Paul Auster's The invention of solitude 185
Conclusion : the value of solitude 199
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Interviews & Essays

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