Friday, January 11, 2008

Robert Hughes on Solitude

From his memoir Things I didn't Know.

'O beata solitudo - O sola beatudo! Enforced solitude, as in solitary confinement, is a terrible and disorienting punishment, but freely chosen solitude is an immense blessing. To be out of the rattle and clang of quotidian life, to be away from the garbage of other people's amusements and the overflow of their unwanted subjectivities, is the essential escape. Solitude is, beyond question, one of the world's great gifts and an indespensable aid to creativity, no matter what level that creation may be hatched at. Our culture puts enormous emphasis on "socialisation", on the supposedly supreme virtues of establishing close relations with others: the psychologically "successful" is less an individual than a citizen, linked by a hundred cords and filaments to his or her fellow-humans and discovering fulfilment in relations with others. This belief becomes coersive, and in many cases tyrannous and even morbid, in a society like the United States, with its accursed, anodyne cults of togetherness. But perhaps as the psychiatrist Anthony Storr pointed out, solitude may be a greater and more benign motor of creativity in adult life than any number of family relations, love affairs, group identifications, or friendships. We are continually beleagured by the promise of what is in fact a false life, based on unnecessary reactions to external stimuli. Inside every writer, to paraphrase the well-worn mot of Cyril Connolly, an only child is wildly signalling to be let out. "No man will ever unfold the capacities of his own intellect," wrote Thomas De Quincy, "who does not atleast checker his life with solitude."'

I wouldn't have thought Bob Hughes has a MySpace or Facebook page... and I can't help but agree with him despite the hypocrisy of me reaching out and writing this on a blog for a mercifully anonymous audience. Matthew and I being the old curmodgeonly bastards we are both can't stand facebook and don't want to have anything to do with it despite other booksellers appearing to use the cursed thing to their advantage.

We were very good all of our first year collecting e-mail addresses (over 300 at last count) and doing a monthly newsletter highlighting events and new books and 'building a community'. We even had a click to buy option on our e-mail newsletter that went through to our bookshop website (sadly no longer with us. It all seems such a long time ago and mistakes were made - big mistakes - but we are here to live and learn) So what % did you think all this brilliant marketing increased our sales by? Zero, nul, no fucking per cent at all. How much did sales increase this year with no marketing and no newsletter? I can't tell you how much for secrecy reasons but it was well into double digits.

So, the power of marketing, eh. This blog will tell you exactly what and how to market effectively and it's one of my must reads but for me and Matthew I am afraid we are lost and lonely causes doomed forever to wander the fringes of cyberspace rambling incoherently.

Hopefully the new shop will be so successful we can pay other people to run the empire and we can retreat Howard Hughes-like into our solitude and start being really creative.


  1. I take it you don't want to join then...

  2. Oh dear, what have you started?

    Tom Hodgkinson in the Guardian 14 Jan 08:

    "For my own part, I am going to retreat from the whole thing, remain as unplugged as possible, and spend the time I save by not going on Facebook doing something useful, such as reading books. Why would I want to waste my time on Facebook when I still haven't read Keats' Endymion? And when there are seeds to be sown in my own back yard? I don't want to retreat from nature, I want to reconnect with it. Damn air-conditioning! And if I want to connect with the people around me, I will revert to an old piece of technology. It's free, it's easy and it delivers a uniquely individual experience in sharing information: it's called talking."

    For fuller article: