- a turning away; estrangement
- a state in which a person's feelings are inhibited so that eventually both the self
and the external world seem unreal
"There is only one way to escape the alienation of present day society: to retreat ahead of it."
- Roland Barthes
Alienation is typically understood as a condition of modernity. Karl Marx theorized that this sense of antagonism and separateness grew out of the rise of a newly capitalistic society; people began to notice their insignificance as mundane jobs relegated their daily existence to nothing more than a cog in the machine. Other philosophers, like Jean-Paul Sartre believed that the human condition is steeped in anxiety and that alienation as a psycho-social phenomenon may have come to the fore with capitalism, but it has always been an undercurrent of a reflective consciousness. I am interested in all sources of alienation and all the ways in which it can manifest in the life of the individual. Like Barthes, I see it as an unavoidable response to being alive that is heightened in certain situations and for people of certain temperament. In my work I want to look at alienation not just as an estrangement of the individual from society or recognition of self as the other, but a necessary means of comprehending our relationship to the world and other people. And by comprehending I don't mean simply making sense of but paradoxically, understanding the impossibility of it's comprehension. Ultimately, I think it comes down to perspective and the ability to move back and for between subjective and objective, details and "the big picture" to maintain any sense of self - in relation to self and other.
It's not directly correlated but I think this poem by Wallace Stevens speaks to the spark of alienation which leads one to consider things from another perspective, thereby better understanding self and the world:
There are many texts one could read that address different aspects and experiences of alienation.
One that I am particularly fond of is the play The Zoo Story by Edward Albee. It's a story of the individual experience of alienation as it impacts a social interaction. It is a portrait of alienation run a-muck, un-synthesized and ultimately the cause of destruction.
Albee, Edward. Selected Plays of Edward Albee. New York: William Morris Agency, 1987.
a cartoon interpretation of alienation