Much has already been said in the whole “what does DFW believe about loneliness/solipsism?” It’s clear already that DFW is discussing the former rather than the latter. But I don’t know if enough has been said as to what’s wrong with the latter.
Obviously, there’s the immediate problem of the definition of solipsism. It’s clear that most people who claim to be “solipsists” aren’t unable to conceive of anything outside their minds. Take, for instance, the Depressed Person. She’s clearly capable of conceiving of something outside of herself – otherwise, her Support Network wouldn’t be there to draw catharsis from. In the same way, when Arsalanian uses the term to describe “existential individuality”, said individuality clearly has little to do with true existential separation. To put it bluntly, it’s a metaphor – as Hal himself puts, “what we’re talking about here is loneliness”.
So, to start: is solipsism a good metaphor for loneliness? Perhaps. Speaking from the first person here, I can tell you that there is quite a link between this metaphorical-solipsism and feeling alone. Depression is isolation, as the Depressed Person and Kate Gompert are both aware of (and, ironically, incapable of explaining for the same reason). What makes depression so painful is that it locks the victim in to suffer alone. This existential suffering not only is personal, but the kind of existential suffering that is impossible to express – in essence, the depressed person is isolated from everything and everyone. This is the reason why the Depressed Person leans so heavily on her Support Network, even though none of them are ever referred to as her “friends”: she desparately tries to fight off this ideation of loneliness by enacting a grim charade of friendship, almost holding her acquaintances hostage to create some semblance of a “normal” life. It’s fair to argue, from this kind of initial condition, that there’s a thin line between feeling isolated and being unable to feel anything else – that, for instance, because you only know pain, and you can’t communicate this pain to anyone else, they can’t conceive of this pain; and because they can’t communicate this feeling to you, either, you feel like you’re the only person who can understand yourself; in effect, your mind is the only “friend” you have, even as it bears down on you at a grim speed. From this first person perspective, I can tell you that this is true.
Obviously, that has very little to do with the more important question, which is how does DFW feel about this idea of solipsism-as-analytical-metaphor-for/conception-of-the-plight-of-the-depressed. Again, we can take the argument that solipsism is silly and extend it to DFW, but how would DFW feel about this second part, the too-clever analytical-metaphor schpiel? Obviously, this isn’t a question one can answer, but we get a tack from the Hal-and-Little-Buddies bit. If we conceive of Hal as DFW’s mouthpiece in this realm of philosophical approaches to being alone, it’s clear that he is finding fault with Arsalanian’s grab-bag of existentialism. By suggesting loneliness as a better approach, DFW offers two points:
1) Loneliness is the state of affairs here, and these kids are woefully unprepared to deal with this, especially Hal, who is even more “alienated”/”existentially individualistic” than these little kids who are having a hard time transitioning from childhood, and more importantly
2) No matter how much we provide metaphor to describe our state of affairs, these metaphors do little but increase our isolation. Consider what is meant by this whole existentio-philosophical approach to humanity’s relationship with itself. For instance, what do we mean when we say “I am a solipsist”? Obviously, we don’t mean we’re solipsists – so why are we saying such? Many smarter people have spoken on this idea of clarity in language (to an extent DFW included), but I’ll argue a bit on why solipsism is especially problematic:
When I say “I am a solipsist”, I’m creating a conception of nature that is defined by that word “solipsist”. This conception of nature is all-inclusive – it is a picture of everything I am and everything that defines me, which pretty much defines everything. But when I say I’m a solipsist, I’m also rejecting everything but my mind, including my audience – in effect, by declaring I’m a solipsist, I’m destroying the very statement and any recipient of it. The statement only can exist in this metaphor-world as a thought through my mind, which I know exists, and thus is reifying nothing but itself – which is exactly what a metaphor is not. So there’s nothing meaningful in that. Same goes for existential individuality, in a tangential way: as soon as we feel like we exist independently of everyone else, we have no audience, and the thought gets to swim around in the lonely sea of the mind, feeding at the subconscious like so many plankton until the very ecosystem collapses under its own weight. Thus is the meaning of depression. But by accepting loneliness, we create a situation that is not independent of any audience or anything else, and in turn, give ourselves a chance to overcome our circumstances. Until that moment, however, we create a universe in which our existence is itself meaningless – a true replication of the grim motto, “I am nothing if not nothing”.
Clearly this isn’t clear, but I think it’s a reason to argue against solipsism, or at least to fear it. And, in a roundabout way, I think that’s DFW’s point.