Solipsism in a book


1. theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified
2. theory that the self is the only reality

Solus – alone

I found this on the last page of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi when I bought it recently from a second-hand bookstore sale. It took me a while to decipher the scribble because it was a little hard to read, only to realize that solipsism was a foreign word to me.

I did a bit of research online and realized solipsism espouses the philosophical idea similar though not entirely identical to Rene Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I am.”

For the solipsist, it is not merely the case that he believes that his thoughts, experiences, and emotions are, as a matter of contingent fact, the only thoughts, experiences, and emotions. Rather, the solipsist can attach no meaning to the supposition that there could be thoughts, experiences, and emotions other than his own. In short, the true solipsist understands the word “pain,” for example, to mean “my pain.”  He cannot accordingly conceive how this word is to be applied in any sense other than this exclusively egocentric one.

(Here’s more information about solipsism)

Having read up more about solipsism, the handwriting emanated a sense of solitude and loneliness that seems to speak volume of the person who wrote it. Although I would never find out how and why it was written there, it felt ironic that it was written inside a book. If the point of reading any work of literature is to escape into another world that the author has created in his or her mind, a true solipsist would never be able to appreciate literature because he cannot attach any meaning to any other than his own thoughts, experiences and emotions.

This is exactly one of the reasons why as an ebook reader, I still love buying actual hard copies of books. You will never know what lies inside and in between the pages, sometimes an old bookmark, an old photo, a handwritten quote, highlighting of words and many more. They add much color and character to the book which simply cannot be replaced with the digitization movement.

Your thoughts? Share them below!

11 thoughts on “Solipsism in a book

  1. Very interesting.That is the advantage of buying a second hand book. I probably still belong to that near extinct breed of poeople who stubbornly read only from the hard bounds and paper backs. I haven’t graduated to the e version yet. Though I know all the apparent advantages of reading an eversion, I cant bring myself to read them.

    1. I’m quite a fan of ebook and have been reading them for quite a number of years, mainly for its convenience. I do not relish the thought of carrying a 900-over page 1Q84 copy around in my handbag.

      But I cannot deny that even if both share the same content, the hard copy is not quite the same as the electronic version. The smell, the touch, the experience is radically different and personal, as in this case (:

    1. It’s such an apt and beautiful poem!

      “I was just beginning high school then,
      reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
      and I cannot tell you
      how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
      how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
      when I found on one page

      A few greasy looking smears
      and next to them, written in soft pencil-
      by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
      whom I would never meet-
      “Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.””

      How lovely~

  2. I’ve been checking books out of my local library for years, and in every 3rd or 4th book I borrow, I will find just one of those numbered stickers that the grocery stores put on the outside of a piece of fruit to identify it at the register inside one of the pages. It used to annoy me a great deal to think that someone would put the sticker from their fruit inside of the pages of a book that was not theirs, but they are removable and I have started a rich fantasy/game where I first imagined the numbers were some code I needed to decipher to find a buried treasure or a kidnapped person who’s captors allowed her library books and fresh fruit! After a time I just considered it a sign from a fellow reader who lives in my town, and reads A LOT of the same books I choose to read!

    1. That is one stealth way for the fellow vociferous reader to leave his marks around!

      Maybe you should paste something in return as a way to ‘communicate’ with him/her 😀

  3. I’ve found some interesting notes, lists and receipts in used books before. And the writing in the margins is equally fascinating. Nothing beats an actual hardcopy of a book!

  4. I don’t know how a solipsist feels about a book but i feel they need it the most. Never being able to understand the world and never being understood by the world, must be really lonely. Atleast a good book can give them good company and god knows may be someday they’ll feel connected.

    n d lil bit of notes u find at the end of the book, makes the story all the more special.

  5. I like this topic that you’ve opened; like you, I also appreciate these hidden details that one can find in a old or borrowed book. As you said, I think they give history and personality to the book as a object; they remind you that the book have had other owners and each one has left piece of their own on the book itself.

    I’ve just recently take the habit of buy books of second hand or share and borrow books, and I believe that it’s a nice a practice. I still being on the paper books club; maybe it’s because a habit of my whole life, but I’m not use to ebooks yet.

    Very interesting this note about ‘solipsism’ too; it’s a philosophic theory which I’d never heard about it before. You’ve make me learn something new today.

  6. Lovely interesting post! And I totally agree with the wonders of buying second hand books. As a student studying English Literature, I have to buy so many books that I could not possibly afford to buy them all new, so the majority of mine are second hand. There is nothing more satisfying than discovering a note here and there from the previous owner, and I like to add my own, so that each reader can experience more than the last. 🙂

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