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united in seperateness
on November 28, 2003
So go the "loners" of Party of One, as well as the book itself, as it is split into several stand-alone essays with a loose thematic cohesion. Rufus makes an admirable defense of her chosen topic, and looks at it through several interesting angles, such as art, clothing, religion, and advertising. I felt there were several ways in which the book could have been better, and I'll outline a few of them here:
1) Rufus states an opinion that parents should not be trying to force children out of lonerhood if that's what they prefer. But she uses Steven Pinker, who believes that people are born with their personality traits, to buttress this assertion. Most experts today reject both the "blank slate" theory that Pinker reacts against, but they find Pinker's claims to be equally dubious. Personality and development are a complex interplay between one's genes and one's environment. It's disappointing to see Rufus ignore (or not recognize) this complexity, and it kind of discredits her point.
2) Whether or not loners are generally more creative, I'm not ready to swallow the assertion that the creative process is one that is necessarily dependent on solitude. Many artists have found their ideas being developed through dialogue with others. Think cliques such as the Bloomsbury Group (including Virginia Woolf, of whom Rufus hints is a loner) or the Impressionists. Many creative endeavors are collaborative, most notably musical ones. Which brings me to...
3) Rufus' lack of insight, despite a good portion of the book being dedicated to loners' creative prowess, into music and musicians. I think that would have undermined one of her most important points, that being that loners are better suited to be creative. However, I think it was just lack of research, not disingenuity, that made her overlook this.
4) The book lacked cohesiveness, a grand vision, and was generally only competently written. Compare this for example, to Laura Kipnis' remarkably sharp, playful, and witty "Against Love: A Polemic".
5) This book sees things in terms of loners and non-loners, while I think most people who read this book will feel that they possess characteristics from both categories.
Despite these faults, I would still recommend "Party of One" to loners who feel like they shouldn't be, and even more so to "non-loners" who tend to have negative reactions toward people who shun group activities and group mentality.