Photography & Text by Tilda Swinton

Xavier Swinton Byrne photographed by his mother Tilda Swinton

for A Magazine N°3 Curated By Haider Ackermann

This article originally appeared in A Magazine N°3 Curated By Haider Ackermann, 2005.


Thinking about loneliness, thinking about beauty, I am wondering now if it isn’t the intrinsic loneliness in things, in fact, that render them beautiful, if it isn’t the space around them carved out of free and pure lonesome soul that brings them alive to our solo heart in recognition.

The wild healthy island state of independent beauty. The unwatched, inspiring, rhythm of the concentrated path.

Look at the boy on the rock. Look at his hair. His chest. His eyes. He is wild as a hawk. He is free. He is lonely. He is unimaginably beautiful in his lonely quest. He is looking for a shrimp in a rockpool where there are none. (In a minute he is going to catch a bit of seaweed and insist it is moving its tail, in all its bright greenness, its eyelessness, its whiskerlessness. He will make it a shrimp in his mind’s eye.) He is the resolute hunter. It’s between him and him. It is his project: the hunting of his every day. He is open to company. But he bears his own weight. His heels are flat on the rock like a Masai, like an Arab.

Boy. Hunt. The virtual shrimp. Heels. Rock. Autonomy.

When I talk about loneliness like this, people most often correct me: ‘Alone’, they say, ‘not lonely. You mean alone, not lonely’. They are incorrect. Lonely is exactly what I mean. Lonely is the description of aloneness, its flavour, its decor and its architectural underpinnings. Lonely is the spirit within. Lonely describes the boy on the rock, although he is not alone. I am there, standing on the same rock. I watch him, though he remains unwatched. Lonely is his commitment, his creed, his savage delight. Lonely in the flight of his own private fantasy. Unreachably private and divinely independent, uniquely solitary, the sea of all else crashes unnoticed round all his shores.

How does the hair split? How is it that divine, lucid, compassionate loneliness ever frightened us off? The market is designed to break it down, of course. Know and be known: your insatiable desire to fend off your loneliness drives the great industrial wheel. Your chase after material moon- beams in the rockpools of commerce. We are lured into the cage by the child catcher, tamed, bound, drugged with sugar and fly-by-night folly. To know and to love our loneliness renders us free: satiable, in fact. No shrimp on earth can quench the quest. The journey alone – all one – can meet us. Know it, digest it: buy less stuff…

The great socialist thinker Raymond Williams reminds us ‘We all die alone’. It is one of the few things we will ever know. When pressed, we freely admit it, albeit perhaps through clenched teeth. But the possibility that we all, or even any of us, die – or, more to the point, live – lonely cannot be spoken. Cannot – somehow – be faced, true though it is. Yet it may be the salvation of all that’s holy, all that’s free on earth.

Look at that person we love. Don’t we know their path to be their own? Don’t we long to walk side by side with them, elbow to elbow, and know them to be free to choose our company? Isn’t it the privilege of love to watch the beloved’s path unfurl, like a carpet, before them and watch them confidently step forward in their own rhythm? Isn’t it their loneliness we treasure, the eager pull of their independent destiny that – miracle! – chooses us as comrade in arms: fellow lonely spirit, whose separation brings us close as a steeple, makes us thick as thieves?

I suggest that an acceptance and celebration of loneliness may be the last primal taboo in modern secular society. I suggest that the antithetical position the self-sufficiency of embraced loneliness proposes to the insatiable capitalist machine makes it so. I suggest that true love, as opposed to the misleading romantic ideal of oneness between two, is built on the mutual witness of the beloved’s loneliness by another and the shared agreement not to attempt to distract from or to fuck with it, but to cherish and honour another solitary soul and to keep company with it in solidarity, heels flat, side by side, on cool rock, bent over the same pool.

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