|"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper (1942)|
There are many words which deal with feelings of strangeness and estrangement. Freud and Heidegger both talked of Unheimlichkeit or the feeling of the uncanny and there are innuendos of esthetic distance that are applicable to these terms. Robert Heinlein’s novel about an earthman raised on Mars is Stranger in a Strange Land, but the artist may purposefully seek out the condition of being a stranger in a familiar land. He or she may intentionally attempt to treat the world of familiar objects from the point of view of a visitor who's seeing them for the first time. Anomie, a term coined by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim in Suicide (and a license plate Mike Nichols' used on his Mercedes) and alienation are two other words that are often use to describe the feeling of being apart. Bertolt Brecht employed the estrangement or Verfremdungseffek in his plays, eschewing the kind of identification that leads to catharsis; he preferred his audience to think rather than emote in response to the historical or existential disquisitions put forth in his works. There are times, of course, when there’s no redeeming purpose to feeling isolated and alone. A recent Times piece describes a calling center in England that deals with older people who suffer from involuntary estrangement and isolation (“Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness,” NYT, 9/5/16). The side effects of senescence (dementia, and Alzheimer’s) can naturally create the kind of alienation that’s unlikely to be a fuel for creative endeavors. Edward Hopper or Georgio de Chirico may have explored barren and empty landscapes in their paintings, but when they were done with a day’s work they were free to return back to their lives.