6 thoughts on “What is strange?”

  1. When considering the idea of “strangeness,” I think people develop and construct roles of insiders and roles of outsiders that allow them to label not only themselves, but also other people. People oftentimes emphasize “other.” Reading Gregory Freidin’s blog post (“On the Roots of Strangeness”), I find it interesting that he discusses Georg Simmel’s explanation of modernity in the form of a presented social dichotomy of “owners of soil” and “strangers, who came yesterday and stayed tomorrow.” This presented dichotomy represents being one of the familiar insiders versus being one of the strange outsiders. People imagine the existence of their particular communities by creating symbolic boundaries. These symbolic boundaries observe the qualities, traits, appearances, mannerisms, languages, beliefs, and/or other elements that function as some indicator separating the familiar from the strange. “Owners of soil” implies inclusion while “strangers, who came yesterday and stayed tomorrow” implies exclusion, representing the difference between the familiar and the strange when contrasting in social environments.

    Adding briefly to the discussion of “strangeness,” I think the concept of “difference” plays a role in the way human beings perceive the familiar in contrast to the strange. Strangeness oftentimes seems grounded in creating barriers, fences, and walls (physically and nonphysically) separating familiarity from certain people, beliefs, customs, and behaviors labeled deviant or abnormal, anything existing outside of the practiced norms within the set boundaries of a given social group. In “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” from Sister Outsider (1984), Audre Lorde writes, “Too often, we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring difference into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all” (115). Again, considering symbolic boundaries, Lorde emphasizes the seemingly “strange” ways people use “differences” to create absolute barriers, fences, and walls separating the “owners of soil,” the insiders, from the “strangers, who came yesterday and stayed tomorrow,” the outsiders.

    1. I completely agree with you Donovan and I think society portrayal of certain things and people help us make these decisions of when and who we categorize as the “other.”

      1. Hey, Mana! Yes! I definitely think the way people use discourse and rhetoric to assign labels to people allows for the process of “othering.”

  2. One definition of society, in the most broadest of senses, and in a way, is that it has always been and is still a collective characterized by its constant, insatiable urge to know: to figure out why things happen, to learn how the earth and the universe it dwells in works, what it’s composed of, the possibility of us dwelling outside of it. In more recent times, the constant manufacturing and allocating of technological advancements dominates in the fields of science, one of the many branches of education which is constantly coming up with theories about how things work and why things work the way they do. It’s why encyclopedias, dictionaries, and now why the inter web exists. It’s an effort to put our surroundings, to put our existence, to put our ontology and our absolutes, our world in a box. To label it. To give it a definitive, uncontroversial, definition, one that is unthreatening to society and its progress thus far. To make it seem like we’re in control.
    The whole of materialism, or consumerism, is directed at making ourselves and the things around us “better” than they already are; to make our existence supposedly more meaningful and fulfilling. As a human race, we’re pretty powerful, in terms of what we’ve done, what we’ve created. And even though it seems as if, in all that we do as a society, we have this desire to conquer the strangeness of the unknown, even though we’re innovative and creative in our ways of finding answers, despite all this, a certain ignorance is propagated and perpetuated within the confines of our society. And it seems like whatever uniqueness we individually possess, whatever curiosity, whatever abilities or talents we admit to, it all has to be for the good of the modern, developed world.
    And who gets to decide what is acceptable and what isn’t for the development of this supposed modern and developed world? Weirdly enough, whoever it is, they seem to be quietening our individual uniqueness and using desire to turn us passive, apathetic, and ultimately willfully ignorant. If all that we dream of, materialistically, is at our fingertips, then why would we want to leave, or want more or something other? When all we could ever want and need is waiting for us on a silver platter, beckoning to us to be consumed. All that is in society, they tell us, is for our enjoyment, for our wellbeing, for our potential success.
    It is reported, ostensibly, that president George Bush, upon receiving the news of the twin towers, replied with (paraphrased) “Tell them to keep shopping”. Because materialism and consumerism has its hold on us. If we think we are free and happy beings, we are heavily misguided. We are not free. Big box stores with their slaughtered animal skins and the blood sweat and tears of children hanging from a hanger in the form of a shirt; with the insurmountable amount of food and cosmetics, heavily chemical-ized with the substances that are responsible for the poison within us that causes cancer, waiting for us to pluck them from the full shelves whose fullness is at the expense of our ecosystems. Apparently, this is our safety. This is our familiarity. A lifestyle totally dependent upon the suffering of the people and things that are invisible to us and very far away. This is our comfort, this is our luxury, and therefore it is our safe harbour. It is what makes us content, which is weird because our discontented-ness is what drives it. God forbid that anything unique, anything different, anything other than what we know be let in through those automatic doors, for malls and box store are our safe harbour, and nothing should jeopardize it.
    Materialism and consumerism relies upon us being ignorant — therefore very far from freedom— and being unhappy with what we have, and this is the sole reason for our debilitating ignorance. It is the manifestation of society’s insatiableness. Which is ironic because its main characteristic, the fuel, the oil which keeps the machine running, is ignorance. “Tell them to keep shopping”.
    So why would we want to invite “otherness” in that is not accepted by the powers that preside over society. Why would we want to venture out into the unknown if it isn’t for the well being of the continuity of the modern, of the developed, of the non-primitive society? It’s strange because we’re constantly yearning for answers, but it seems like our questions are being regulated to have specific answers, and in our education system, we are only taught what is already known. We are taught siloed information, that we are knowledgable beings, and that knowledge is available to us for the taking. We are not taught that we are inherently ignorant of certain things, that as humans we have limits as to how far we can venture out. We are not taught that our brains have borders encased around them, they can only hold and know so much.
    And yet, we seem to see things in accordance to who we are. It’s like we’re trying to prove that whatever we’re conquering or beginning to know more of, whatever we’re incarcerating and stating “this is now truth” has to have a certain familiarity or “humanness” about it. The unknown in order to be accepted into society, has to have a certain likeness about it. And we have the divine right to know about it, to put it in a test tube, and analyze it in a lab, to bring it out into the wide sphere of the public eye, and be able to say with confidence and pride “this is now what we know, let’s add it to the ever growing collection in the human race’s pit of knowledge”. We accumulate knowledge in the same way that we go shopping. We always need more. “Stuff, stuff, stuff” as the grinch would say, “you know where all your stuff goes when you’re tired and sick and done with? To me, in your garbage”. We’re constantly filling up our pit on the premise that perhaps someday it will be full, and the human race will be the most powerful entity in the history of existence. We’re always hungry, and our bellies are never quite full. And yet when we throw things into the pit of knowledge, into our shopping carts, it inevitably winds its way up in the garbage. There are facts that are now myths, just like there are iPhones and now iPhone 7s.Yet, even a pit the size of the universe will never be big enough. Even a pit of immense mass and density, of nearly infinite length and width, is just that. It’s finite. It has its boundaries, it has its limits. It can only be so big. And therefore, it is small. It is limited. We are finite beings, and our minds can only hold so much. We cannot fit oceans into holes dug by spades. What is out there, what exists will never be fully conquered by us. And that, that shakes and frightens us to our core. That we, at the end of the day, will always, always be ignorant.
    It’s kind of humorous, how we find it so exciting to send humans out on space expeditions. We send people “out” there, to see what’s “out” there, and to bring back to us what’s “out” there, so that we can add to our pit of knowledge. Yet when others, when other people, who were not in our little esoteric bubble of society to begin with, come into “our” space, to come from “their” earth, and onto “our” moon, ohhh no, no, no. It’s why we lock our doors at night. It’s why we take our electronics with us when we leave the library. It’s why we only feel safe when we know there’s a police officer in the vicinity. It’s why we don’t go down dark alleys at night. It’s why we avoid the streets that house the homeless. Our society, and how we view ourselves in relation to others, is dominated by the feeling of untrustworthiness. They are unique from us, they are unknowns, and we have fears of the other, and they are fears primarily based on the premonition that we will not be in control of these “other” human beings. Why were the people of whoville scared of the Grinch? Because he was different and therefore out of their control. Our relations with people is more often than not characterized by a lack of trust. Because feelings of safety have everything to do with power imbalance. And we aren’t in complete control when something “other” is around. We’ll send people out into space to look at “other” things surrounding our earth, but when something other comes into our earth by its own accord, when something gets sent out into our space, comes through our automatic doors into our box store, like another human being for example, that’s not acceptable. And inhumane human beings in turn seek power by starting the process of passing a law that states “you who are other, are not welcome”.
    Everything has to be in our own terms, under our conditions, has to meet the criteria to be included in our own dictionary of definitions. Everything must be in our language for us to understand and accept it. And when something isn’t? Well, we force it to be. We tame its wildness, like an animal incarcerated in a zoo, we turn it from what it was, into something we can understand (sometimes this involves turning it into the exact opposite of what it naturally once was). Yet when actual people are involved, and they for some reason or other, do not fit in a society’s standards, they are considered primitive because they’re other. Yet forcing them to fit and adhere to “our” superior way of life, has its detrimental consequences. So what do we do, if legal action against them is not permissible: we isolate them, we alienate them, we “other” them, we make them strange, and shield our children’s ignorant and vulnerable eyes from the monsters. We don’t want the unknown to be strange, we want to know it, inside and out. But when it comes to other humans, we want to know nothing about who they truly are, nor do we attempt to know them. Because they’re different, because they’re unlike us, because they’re unknown, we conquer them in an entirely different way then we conquered the moon. We conquer them to squish that difference. Not in an effort to know it, and invite it into our pool of collective knowledge, no. We conquer it to get rid of it, and pretend there was no difference to begin with. What makes other humans any different from the moon?

  3. http://www.landogallery.com/riegernightsky.jpg

    Hi Everyone,

    Above is a link to a painting by Karen Rieger entitled “Night Sky”. This particular painting is the one I was briefly talking about last Wednesday. I phoned this art gallery in Edmonton where I saw this painting, and asked if I could use the picture I took of it on this blog, and their answer was no. But upon google searching paintings of “women with their backs to windows” I came upon it! So full credit goes to Lando Art Gallery (Here is their website: http://www.landogallery.com/index.html) and of course full credit goes to Karen Rieger for this painting.

    Disclaimer: This is merely my interpretation of this painting. I do not claim to know exactly what Rieger was intending when she painted “Night Sky”, nor do I want to. However, even though my interpretation is my own, and may not necessarily coincide with Rieger’s motives, this doesn’t go to show that my interpretation – that anyone’s interpretation – is wrong. There is no way one way of looking at a painting; a painting’s viewers will interpret a single painting massively different from one another, bringing multiple perspectives to a painting’s interpretation and analysis, and this is a good thing (kind of like the death of the author when as soon as creation is released into the public sphere, like a book or a painting, there are as many books and as many paintings as there are readers or viewers, because the book or the painting means something different to each individual person). That being said, this is still my own analysis, and someone else may see something totally different than I. And that’s the beautiful thing about art.

    At first glance, this painting called “Night Sky” is lovely. Its painterly style is romantic and the contrasting yet at the same time almost harmonious colours reminds me of Paris in a way. I admired the romantic subject matter of a woman drinking tea, with a starry sky behind her, and I moved on to the rest of the gallery. But upon thinking about the role of the flaneur and his role as the observer, I came back to this painting.

    First of all, there are two cups of tea and the chair closest to the viewer is almost leaning into the viewer’s space, welcoming us to sit down and have a cup of tea with this woman. So it’s like we’re being invited into the painting itself, invited to be the flaneur, invited to drink tea with her and admire her and the night sky she has her back to.

    But SHE has her back towards the window, so SHE is not able to admire for herself the moon and the stars in the distance. Not only does she have her back towards the window, physically being incapable of looking out the window behind her, she also has her eyes closed or looking downwards as she’s pouring herself a cup of tea.

    For me, the particular way she’s situated in the painting makes me a little uncomfortable. By sitting at the table, she herself is not able to look at or observe the night sky behind her – it’s as if she’s not allowed to observe, or to look at beauty. She of course is facing us, and so too is the night sky. We as observers, and consequently as the maybe involuntary flaneur take pleasure in viewing her in her space. We are subject to the night sky’s beauty and we are also subject to her beauty. We have the agency to look upon beauty, yet she does not. In fact, she’s inviting us to sit down, have a cup of tea, and look at her. Her eyes being closed further hammers home the point that she herself is not able to look! Like the night sky behind her, like the painting itself, she is something to be admired, to be looked at, to be observed by someone else – and even more maddening, it’s like she’s inviting, or being forced to invite observers. She is objectified and marginalized to the canvas, and her role is simple to acquire the flaneur’s stare

    Even though I hate saying this (because a woman’s body is not for anyone’s desire or gratification), she has her shoulder showing towards the empty chair. And this further leads me to believe that she is solely an object of sexual desire, a beautiful entity meant to be looked at, meant to be seductive for the looker’s pleasure. Yet I’m aware that saying a bare shoulder is seductive is hypocritical and counterintuitive of my own views: why are shoulder’s seductive? And why should any part of a woman’s body showing give reason to believe that she is being seductive. It’s flawed. All people should be able to show their shoulders and not have to worry about being labelled anything sexual.

    Being the object of beauty, she (with her eyes down) can’t see herself, for she is not the flaneur, she is the object of the flaneur’s stare. She exists solely in the canvas and therefore does not have the freedom to delight in the canvas’s beauty. She is one with the scenery, and is merely something to be looked at, existing no different than a landscape to be painted.

    And I, by looking at her, am just doing that: looking at her. I am made the flaneur, and even though I like the concept a lot – the flaneur being both within the crowd, and yet seeing the crowd for what it is, being immersed in a space and viewing all its intricate details, and delving into one’s own personal perspective of the world around them – I don’t like how I’m made the flaneur in this instance. By viewing her, I am demeaning her. And I get to enjoy a cup of tea while doing so.

    Of course this interpretation has its flaws. First of all, she’s pouring herself a cup of tea, not the cup of tea meant for the person to sit down. If she was in fact pouring tea into my cup or the flaneur’s cup, this would be a massive statement that would bring words like “servitude” and “angel of the hearth” to mind. But she’s smiling as she’s pouring her own cup… and maybe I shouldn’t delve too far into this because it’s just tea.

    Also this painting is entitled “Night Sky” as opposed to “Woman with her Back to a Night Sky”, which would lead me to believe that perhaps the artist is making a statement or commenting on the place of women in today’s world. But it’s just “Night Sky” even though the woman presence is much more “there” then the night sky, which is interesting.

    But the fact that she has her back towards the subject of the painting’s title, she has her eyes down, and that the viewer is invited to sit down and admire her and the night sky behind her, two things she is not able to look at herself and admire, (that a woman is scenery) aggravated me at the time, yet is fascinating.

    If anyone has any further interpretations or if anyone totally disagrees with me, you should totally comment. Also, you should check out other paintings by Karen Rieger. Many of her works are of women… which could be analyzed and interpreted in vastly different ways. Depends how you “look” at it.

    Also, here’s a couple famous paintings by the famous Fauvism painter Henry Matisse. They have similar subject matter, but again, it depends how you look at it. This first painting is entitled “Seated Woman, Back turned to the Open Window” (the seated woman is looking right at the viewer) and the second painting is titled “Girl by a Window” (and the girl depicted here has her arms folded and is looking slightly disappointed and looking away from the viewer)

    Notice how the titles of these paintings say “Seated woman” and “girl” as if they’re rock specimens or exotic animals in cages.

    https://s-media-cache ak0.pinimg.com/originals/be/91/db/be91dbcd8e696a69d49af2b040dd4d80.jpg


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