estrangement, Stephen Wright

narrator Stephen Wright
term estrangement
published May 2014, Angoulème / Poitiers, France, Europe
affiliated institution EESI

Disclaimer: After the seminar, the narrator further considered the role of the meta-narrator, and wrote a statement about his ambiguous role. Please view Can the meta-narrator speak?



draft version


Strange how many terms spring to mind with respect to historicization (our “first referential field” as you put it). But, then again, historicization is a strange operation, or at least, it ought to be made strange, so that historical process is made to appear in reconstruction as strange, as implausible yet undeniable as it was when it was being lived. So I guess my keyword in this regard has to be: “estrangement.” Estrangement is a polysemic notion, to be sure — that’s part of its inherent strangeness — but I am hearing it in this instance with Brechtian echoes — an English rendering of the German Verfremdung. Or better still, the verbal form: verfremden — to make strange, to foreignize, odd up, weirden, sunder appearance from a soul, and basically break down the trappings of lingering or residual self-evidence. Come to think of it, I think I prefer the verb form in English as well: to estrange resonates not only as an active process but also as a kind of implicit imperative — the commandment of historicization as I see it! I am tempted to leave things at that, and you may feel free to use the above passage alone in the compilation. But I feel a still greater temptation to add a thought or two regarding the ways and means of estranging. All the true and tried Brechtian techniques are fine; the Russian formalists’ ostrenanie has a definite kinship. But I am above all thinking of another mode of estranging, which can only be expressed through another word: decreation. It’s an unusual word, but not a neologism, having been coined and conceptualized by French philosopher Simone Weil in the 1930s, who used it to escape a sterile opposition between creation and destruction (which seems to me to be precisely what is at issue in historicization): “Decreation: pass the created into the uncreated. Destruction: pass the created into nothingness. The guilty ersatz of de-creation.” It’s a pithy condensé of her thought, but suffice it to say that if to historicize is to estrange, that may be because it is a de-creative process, as destructive of the self-evidence of the merely existent (whose only merit is to exist) as it is creative of undeployed historical potential, passing the created into the uncreated.