top of page

ESTRANGEMENT / Vol. 85, No. 2 (Summer 2018)

Arien Mack, Editor

The discussion around the idea of estrangement—in the sense of "making strange"—involves various elements. We hope it will draw our readers’ attention to the ways in which the term has taken on new significance in the all too prevalent turn away from democratic governance seen in many countries, while it continues to provide an interesting way of understanding art and literature and, as you will see, even as a way of looking at the #MeToo movement.

This essay looks at the concept of making the familiar strange as an integral part of the historical avant-garde, to understand its workings, legacies, and potential to play out the aesthetics and politics of seeing better for our time. The notion of artistic thinking as thinking from the point of view of estrangement, with its paradigms in European modernism, is a point of departure for reflecting on the relationship between aesthetics and politics—for foregrounding the concept of making the familiar strange both as formulated by Shklovsky and Brecht, respectively, and as it has been reemerging through its various transformations in contemporary artistic practices.

The first part of this paper examines the German noun Entfremdung. The second part discusses an op-ed piece by Susan Rice. The third part deals with the act of estrangement and its forfeiture of human plurality. The fourth sorts through Arendt’s many meanings of the word plurality. In the fifth part, the modern growth of worldlessness is seen through the lens of the loss of the human faculties of speech and action. The sixth part shows how Arendt learned from Homer the uniqueness of human life. The final part cites Schiller’s poem, The Maiden from Afar, which revealed Arendt to those closest to her and to herself.

American attitudes towards the land were shaped by the great rectangular survey that carved the western United States into a uniform rectilinear grid, as precise as mathematical graphing paper. Initiated by Thomas Jefferson in 1784, the survey recast North America into a land estranged from its people, a featureless blank slate modeled on absolute mathematical space. This mathematical landscape, Jefferson believed, made the land suitable for unconstrained use by free settler-farmers, who would form the backbone of the republic. Written into the western landscape, the great American grid carries Jefferson’s vision of free exploitation of the land into the present.

Estrangement from both politics and the state today is taking new forms. The type of toleration of inequality long on display in the United States is emerging in domesticated neoliberal idioms across the global south, where the language of self-appreciation, personal responsibility, and credit-worthiness has evolved and spread. Meanwhile, parallel populations are shedding some of their ideological insulation against the naturalization of economic inequality as neoliberal regimes—both national and international—try to manage dashed expectations of the social future. As popular appeals to equality, anti-elitism, and state power recollect in various global settings, they will require new strategies to succeed.

How might the #MeToo movement be understood as estranging? The essay explores several possibilities related to the Beauty and the Beast myth, involving estranging male privilege (the right to pursue women for sex) and female privilege (the traditional helplessness that makes a woman depend on a man for protection), before examining an art project launched by Russian artist Khasan Bakhayev estranging both modern fashion canons of beauty and the bestiality of Stalin’s purges in the 1930s. The essay explores the tensions between Bakhayev's quest for "beauty" (aesthetics as analgesia) and the empathic power of art to disrupt and disturb (estrangement).

The article explores estrangement in the early Sartre via an analysis of Roquentin, protagonist of La Nausée (1938). It compares the nature of Roquentin’s estrangement with that of Meursault in Camus’s L’Etranger. It argues that Roquentin’s estrangement can best be understood through a reading of Sartre’s early works on emotion, imagination, and the transcendence of the ego.

Paul Tillich developed the twentieth century’s richest theological conceptions of reconciliation and religious socialism on the same dialectical basis. His thought was rooted in the dialectical objective idealism of Hegel and Friedrich Schelling, but Tillich allowed Marx and Kierkegaard to qualify his idealism from contrasting positions that emphasized the situation of the knower. For Tillich, religious socialism and neo-Hegelian reconciliation were different ways of construing the same answer to the universal problem of estrangement.

There is no greater form of estrangement than hatred, and the stigma of hatred pervades our polarized political culture. Along with such a political stigma is a tendency to assume that violent passion is an obstacle to the attainment of wisdom. However, Aeschylus’s Oresteia ought to remind us that hatred is neither a mere pathology belonging to our enemies, nor an anti-democratic sentiment. On the contrary, Aeschylus’s great play reminds us that hatred may be an indispensable part of wisdom, as well as a tragic necessity of the democratic project.


bottom of page