“Loneliness among the overeducated is the saddest thing in the world.”
Ariel Cruz has insisted that I keep his battered copy of “Ratner’s Star,” by Don DeLillo. I’m refraining from judgment so far, but page 114 contains that extraordinary sentiment, right at the top.
That, of course, may be the Rosetta Stone of the whole book, but it also stands on its own – a poem in just over 20 syllables. It requires no tome to explain: like a mathematical proof it summons its own examples readily.
I once made a similar idea the theme of an as yet unpublished fairy tale. In “Mr. Fox’s Apprentice,” my take on the fairy tale archetype of Bluebeard’s Castle, the magical destroyer of women tells his third wife: “You married me because you could not stand to spend another day alone with wisdom.”
When her inevitable destruction comes, he tells her “It is always the wisest who succumb the soonest.”
Wisdom and loneliness are independent actors. They bear no relationship to each other. Increasing one will win or lose you nothing of the other.
Although it should be noted that in the 2008 Dr. Who episode “Forrest of the Dead,” a tragic character disagrees with me, noting “I have the two qualities you require to see absolute truth: I am brilliant and unloved.”
So there’s that. Perhaps if loneliness doesn’t destroy you, there is wisdom to be found at the other end of that very long tunnel. Perhaps learning the shape and contours of the tunnel is itself of some terrible value.
Rattner’s Star was published in 1980, so there’s no question that DeLillo said it first – or that he said it better. Although he then made the mistake of surrounding it with 438 pages about other things.
But no one (says the writer who came second) can lay claim to a truth like that. It is an axis of our mental geometry, a point we are all destined to come to again and again. Generally, it seems to me, few of us make it to the other side.