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Pandemic Isolation and its Emotional Consequences

Updated: May 26, 2022

Novalis: “The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap.”

Or, Bly’s version: “The seat of the soul is where the inside meets the outside.”

When we are only within ourselves, isolated, solipsistic, half of us is dark. To engage with the world is to illumine the inner world and see how capacious we are, how full of possibility. When we love, the light reaches even further back into that dark, into the deeply hidden, the vulnerable. This takes courage but we are impoverished without it.

The narcissist lives in hell. He needs desperately to be loved by others but has no ability to make connections. He is tormented by what people are saying about him, thinking about him. He uses people up without ever actually seeing them beyond their use as reflective surfaces. He is selfish even with his demons and refuses to name them.

Leonardo Da Vinci said the opposite: “When you are alone you have the whole world. When you are with someone, you have only half.”

I don’t believe him, of course, and he would not have survived without his patrons. He was also gay in a time in which it was lethal to be so. Art fulfilled the other half of him.

I think also of E. Dickinson, whose social world prevented her from being fully herself; the poems illumine the other half of her. We survive through art.

Shakespeare, although the lack of biographical details suggests he was a private person, was phenomenally social in his work. He created worlds. He allowed us to imagine beyond ourselves.

Note: entrapment in the self is a nightmare.

Notes: it is no accident that that Marx saw the world as a set of relations, or that Hegel noticed an unequal power relationship (Master & Slave) diminished both parties.

Buber had solutions: Thou is a space that allows both people to exceed their limits, to create a spiritual communion comprised of both.

In prison, isolation is the cruelest punishment.

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