- My passionate interest in social justice and social responsibility has always stood in curious contrast to a marked lack of desire for direct association with men and women. I am a horse for single harness, not cut out for tandem or team work. I have never belonged wholeheartedly to country or state, to my circle of friends, or even to my own family. These ties have always been accompanied by a vague aloofness, and the wish to withdraw into myself increases with the years. Such isolation is sometimes bitter, but I do not regret being cut off from the understanding and sympathy of other men. I lose something by it, to be sure, but I am compensated for it in being rendered independent of the customs, opinions, and prejudices of others, and am not tempted to rest my peace of mind upon such shifting foundations. [Albert Einstein, from Henry Goddard Leach, Living Philosophies (Simon and Schuster, 1931).]
In the United States, at least, this topic may be more popular than some of the others. Americans are passionate about individuality. Few of us are Einsteins but those few make invaluable contributions to society and culture.
Some people seem to define the term "one of a kind"; and then you read about someone else who defines it again.
- Sean Wilentz, Bob Dylan In America (Doubleday, 2010).
- Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samual Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist and Sexual Renegade (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010).
- Philip Norman, John Lennon: The Life (Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers, 2009): on making the contribution we are uniquely qualified to make, the best kind of individuality. File this also under “Niche.”
- Stephen Taylor, Defiance: The Extraordinary Life of Lady Anne Barnard (W.W. Norton, 2017). “Over the course of Taylor’s biography, a picture emerges of a clear-eyes yet self-doubting woman, one who was resoloved to live life on her own terms but worried about her right to set those terms.”
- John M. Barry, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty (Viking, 2012). “ . . . the personal trials that shaped a Puritan dissident’s advocacy for the separation of church and state.”
- Alexandra Robbins, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School (Hyperion, 2011). “ . . . Robbins argues that many of the traits attributed to ‘losers’ in high school contribute to success later in life.”
- Seymour M. Hersh, Reporter: A Memoir (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018): Hersh describes “the often acrimonious relations in his professional life.”
- Hannah Arendt (Jerome Kohn, ed.), Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975 (Schochen Books, 2018): “Almost every essay in this book contains ‘pearls’ of Arendt’s tonically subversive thinking, and many of her observations push readers to think harder about the language in which political activity is conducted.”
- Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas (The University of Chicago Press, 2011): “At its best, American individualism is not about the aggrandizement of the self or the acquiescent assumption that everybody simply has a right to think what they want. Rather, it stresses that our convictions are our own, and should be held as seriously as any other possessions. Or, as Nietzsche imagined philosophers would one day say, ‘My judgment is my judgment: no one else is easily entitled to it.’”
- Lisa Selin Davis, Tomboy: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different (Hachette, 2020): “As for who counts as a tomboy, Davis includes anyone who is seen (or who sees herself) as moving off the narrow path of conventional femininity. Under Davis’s big umbrella we find girls who reject dolls, dresses and sparkles in favor of athletics, sportswear and dirt; those who embrace both the stereotypically girlish and boyish; and some for whom tomboyism is an early expression of what will evolve into a lesbian, trans or gender-nonconforming identity.”
- Andrew Sullivan, Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989-2021 (Avid Reader Books, 2021): “. . . it is crystal clear that Sullivan is not on your team. He’s not on anyone’s team. Even when he endorses a politician and sings his or her praises, you know that praise is contingent. He reserves the right to try any politician, and find him wanting.”
Documentary and Educational Films
- René Magritte, Personal Values (1952)
- Paul Klee, Arches of the Bridge Stepping Out of Line (1937)
- Wassily Kandinsky, Decisive Pink (1932)
- Paul Klee, Individualized Altimetry of Stripes (1930)
- Pierre Bonnard, Girl with Parrot (1910)
- Pablo Picasso, Woman with Blue Hat (1901)
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Tom Waits’ gravelly voice suggests as many scars in life as on his vocal cords.
- Hold On
- Waltzing Matilda
- Chocolate Jesus
- Make It Rain
- Lie To Me
- Warm Beer Cold Women
- Romeo Is Bleeding
- Burma Shave
- Big Time album
- “The Heart of Saturday Night” album
- “Closing Time” album (1973)
- Rockpalast (1977)
- “Never Talk to Strangers” album (1979)
- Live in London and Chicago, No Visitors After Midnight
- “Foreign Affairs” album
- “Live in Bremen” album
- “Mule Variations” album
- “greatest hits” compilation
- "Good Old World" from the film “Night On Earth”
Far removed from Waits musically, violinist Ginette Neveu had exhibited extraordinary talent, besting luminaries such as David Oistrakh and Ida Haendel in a major competition when she was only fifteen years old. Her playing is loaded with a distinct, ebullient personality.
- Glass, Symphony No. 3 (1995): This symphony presents strong individual voices within the community of an orchestra: movements 1 and 2; 3 and 4.
- Barber, Capricorn Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Trumpet and String Orchestra, Op. 21, H109 (1944): personalities of three people
- Boulez, Répons for two pianos, harp, vibraphone, xylophone, cimbalom, ensemble and live electronics (1984): on the interplay between individuality and community.
- Zimmermann, Monologues - Version of Dialoge for Two Pianos Soli (1964)
- Zimmermann, Perspektiven, Musik zu einem imaginären Ballet (Music to an Imaginary Ballet) for Two Pianos (1956)
- Weill, songs (singers Ute Lemper and Lotte Lenya); Four Walt Whitman Songs
- Harrison, works for harpsichord, fortepiano and tack piano
- Hegaard, compositions for guitar with various other instruments
- Goffredo Petrassi, solo works, from the album “Monologhi”
- Heinz Holliger, Lunea - ] (2017), an opera about Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850), a musician with a troubled life. The opera explores the connection between creativity and mental health, and a young man who was perhaps too brilliant for this world.
- Roswell Rudd & Duck Baker, “Live”: featuring Rudd’s quirky trombone playing
- Shu Young-Ho, “Ajaeng Sanzo”: the ajaeng, a Korean bowed zither, has a scratchy and harsh tone but this too conveys meaning – in this case, a sense of individuality and taking one’s place in the world. You can imagine him saying "not gonna play music like everyone else does."
- Tomasz Dąbrowski & The Individual Beings “The Individual Beings”: “The musicians, chosen explicitly for this session, are all Polish or based in Poland, excepting Norwegian Finsrud and Lundin the Dane. They prove to be a truly eclectic cast of musicians.” The lead artist says: “We’re all Individual Beings, and our individuality is the strongest thing we have to offer the world – it has to be protected and developed”.
- Gordon Grdina, Mark Helias & Matthew Shipp “Pathways” (2022): “The players meld into a cohesive whole on nine adventurous tunes. Succinct in their way— everything clocks in at the four to eight minute range—with a consistency of mood and purpose, that exudes freedom and risk-taking while embracing accessibility, occasional grooves and a unique approach to interplay.”
Music: songs and other short pieces
Film and Stage
- Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, about the quirky pianist-genius
- Bringing Up Baby: not about a childbut a “comedy about a madcap heiress with a pet leopard who meets an absent-minded paleontologist and unwittingly makes a fiasco of both their lives”
- The Graduate, a film aboutbreaking free from tradition
- Morgan! (Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment)”: about a strange characterwith a fixation for gorillas
- The Blue Kite (Lan feng zheng), set in China during the Mao era, the film is an “attempt to show what it was like to live in times of ideological madness”
- Best in Show, a film about dog shows and quirky dog owners
Tatjana Soli writes of intriguing characters whose understanding “demands of the reader both patience and trust.”
- Tatjana Soli, The Lotus Eaters (St. Martin’s Press, 2010): “a poor little scared girl from California” becomes a photographer in Vietnam during the war in the 1960s, experiencing the suffering of the war and realizing that in the beginning “the whole country had merely served as a backdrop for her adventure.”
- Tatjana Soli, The Forgetting Tree: A Novel (St. Martin’s Press, 2012): the author allows “both of her central female characters the freedom to be eccentric and inconsistent, but also to learn from each other.”
- Stefan Hertmans, The Convert: A Novel (Pantheon, 2020): “. . . an imaginative flight, full of darkness and light, lively characters, life-altering conflicts, violence and kindness, birth, death and, oddly, a lot of snakes.”
- Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain: A Novel (Grove, 2020): “How often we repeat the same disastrous mistakes, make the same wrong turn again and again. And yet, like Shuggie, how often we rise, against all odds, to stumble forward once more. The book leaves us gutted and marveling: Life may be short, but it takes forever.”
- Weike Wang, Joan Is Okay: A Novel (Random House, 2022): “. . . Joan is angry. When the status-conscious Fang muses that it would be cool if she someday became a senator’s wife, Joan thinks to herself: ‘The famed M.R.S. degree, because in practice, a female brain is worth nothing. Four lobes of the cerebrum, and I have sometimes imagined one of mine labeled RAGE.'”
- Vauhini Vara, The Immortal King Rao: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Co., 2022): “How to mediate between the competing interests of autonomy and collectivity, the desire for self-sovereignty and the reality of interdependence, is the major question this novel poses, over and over, at familial, societal and global scale.”
In paths untrodden, / In the growth by margins of pond-waters, / Escaped from the life that exhibits itself, / From all the standards hitherto publish'd, from the pleasures, profits, conformities, / Which too long I was offering to feed my soul, / Clear to me now standards not yet publish'd, clear to me that my soul, / That the soul of the man I speak for rejoices in comrades, / Here by myself away from the clank of the world, / Tallying and talk'd to here by tongues aromatic, / No longer abash'd, (for in this secluded spot I can respond as I would not dare elsewhere,) / Strong upon me the life that does not exhibit itself, yet contains all the rest, / Resolv'd to sing no songs to-day but those of manly attachment, / Projecting them along that substantial life, / Bequeathing hence types of athletic love, / Afternoon this delicious Ninth-month in my forty-first year, / I proceed for all who are or have been young men, / To tell the secret my nights and days, / To celebrate the need of comrades. [Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1891-92), Book V: Calamus, “In Paths Untrodden”.]