ALIENATION: THE SELF AS OTHER
It is not the silence of anger that jostles words at the edge of the idea and the mouth; rather, it is the silence that empties the mind and fills the brain with despondency, like the gaze of sorrowful women coiled up in some nonexistent eternity.
(Kristeva, 1991, p. 16)
The way a person relates to and conceives of himself plays a major role in shaping identity and in influencing behavior and affective states. When a person views himself as an outsider, he often begins to feel isolated. If this feeling is embodied long enough, he may even begin to feel alienated within himself. He may begin to question who or what that self actually is, or whether it exists at all. Kristeva (1991) describes the downward spiral of inner questioning that signifies this loss of self in depressive states when a person occupies the space of the Other so consistently that he becomes not only Other to the mainstream community but also Other, or “foreigner” to himself . . . a self that can therefore no longer be defined:
Barely an empty confidence, valueless, which focuses his possibilities of being constantly other, according to the others’ wishes and to circumstances. I do what they want me to, but it is not “me”—“me” is elsewhere, “me” belongs to no one, “me” does not belong to “me,” . . . does “me” exist? (1991, p. 8)
Existentially speaking, alienation is a fact of life; Oliver (2004) describes “psychic space” as “the result of a primary alienation inherent in the human condition—(of) finding ourselves in a world not of our making” (p. 27). The alienation of which Kristeva speaks—and the one being described throughout this book—is distinct in that it exceeds the natural state of human existence and propels the individual into a state of immense suffering. Oliver elucidates this difference with the term debilitating alienation, which is used within the context of colonization, racism, and oppression:
If the alienation inherent in subjectivity is the subject turning back on itself to become self-conscious, then debilitating alienation is the subject being turned inside out to become an object for another. (Oliver, 2004, p. 27)
Alienation is a state that can be understood as an erasure of selfhood; it is a position that signifies an inability to find symbolic capacity not just in relation to others but also within the confines of one’s own mind.
Leaning into this sense of alienation, the state envelops the person and the person, in turn, embraces it. Then this depressive state becomes synonymous with the self; the sensation of alienation in one can no longer be distinguished from the other. This is what is meant by subjective darkness. Although this internal state is horrifying, when one has given up all hope of emerging from the abyss as a related, intact person, there is an attraction to the darkness, a comfort that welcomes. From this vantage point, the individual can mourn what once was by looking back, almost nostalgically, to lost places, people, events, relationships, and times (Kristeva, 1991). Thus, she becomes intimately acquainted with a personal world of darkness and “the foreigner” within “is a dreamer making love with absence, one exquisitely depressed.
Happy?” (Kristeva, 1991, p. 10) Kristeva poses this question rhetorically; it is often much more comforting to commit oneself to being enshrouded in the exquisite agony and longing of a reciprocal nothingness that is symbolic of past terrains than to struggle with the much more nagging and disappointing pangs of current emptiness, hopelessness, and aloneness. A foreigner to oneself and to all others, the individual then becomes a foreigner within her own body and mind. Lacking a place of belonging and understanding, lacking a homeland with others like her, the person retreats from communion. There is no accuracy, only attempts that miss their mark. “Thus between two languages, your realm is silence. By dint of saying things in various ways, one just as trite as the other, just as approximate, one ends up no longer saying them” (Kristeva, 1991, p. 15).