The psychology of solitude in Anthony Storr and Howard Gardner is too often seen as a tool for creativity. Their books feature composers, musicians, artists, writers, and scientists who easily fit the description of creativity. But what about the rest of us? Here I think Gardner’s introduction of the concept of multiple intelligences relieves us of thinking of creativity as exclusively logical-linguistic. Of course, no one ever thought that creative people were exclusively that, but neither had anyone foreseen alternative intelligences as both an explanation and a temperament (witness schooling, which is almost exclusively logical-linguistic). Gardner’s theory sets the stage for solitude as an expression of the multiple intelligences, expressed differently in each. The spiritual, natural, intrapersonal, spatial – all stand out as uniquely expressive of solitude as a temperament and a goal, not merely a tool.
Is it possible to be a hermit and not live alone? The most famous recluse of ancient China was Liang Hung, who lived as a hermit with his wife Meng Kuang nearly half a century in the late Han. Burton Watson, the translator of Po-chu-i, mentions them as a model of married couples, of conjugal love. And every culture has assumed that aging spiritual masters were attended or looked in on by disciples. Even the solitaries of the Egyptian desert, expected to show up once a week for liturgical services, were checked on when they failed to appear. It is a matter of circumstance. Who can abandon a lifelong companion even after discovering the tendencies toward solitude late in life? Indeed, the harmonious couple will usually function as a single projection of personality.
The Stoic idea of solitude shows how it is impossible to be a hermit in this tradition. One is a recluse, which is different. A hermit “professes” his solitude, while the Stoic resents it as the product of circumstances, and ends by embracing it as his duty. Seneca and Montaigne are representative of this former case; Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius represent the latter. I count Montaigne a fideist, Marcus a true Cynic (in the classical Greek sense, I mean.)
I started hermitary.com because I could not find a Web site devoted to hermits. A lot of hermit crabs, hermit thrushes, Herman’s Hermits, and various people calling themselves Hermit, but not a whole Web site about hermits.