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Alienation By Bradd, Christopher

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM357-1
Published: 09/05/2016
Retrieved: 21 April 2024, from


From the Christian doctrine of original sin, through G. W. F. Hegel’s conception of freedom, and the situated subject of existentialist thought in the wake of Friedrich Nietzsche’s pronouncement that “God is dead,” Western experiences of alienation can be understood as taking three basic forms: the individual’s estrangement from nature, self, and society. The loss of established values, no less than the burdens of tradition, have each been held responsible for widespread experiences of dislocation within industrial society, where nature has come to appear as either a resource to be exploited or as a force of decay. For Karl Marx, alienation is a result of historically specific social and economic contradictions characterizing capitalist society; specifically, it results from the exploitative conditions estranging workers from the means of production, the products of their labor, their fellow workers, and ultimately, themselves. Often associated with a feeling of forced passivity, alienation became a primary experience and critical concept for many modernists. Fractured by the contradictions manifest in Western societies, the individual appears as a fragmented subject of experience. Sigmund Freud argued that consciousness is estranged from itself, maintaining an unconscious reserve of repressed traumatic experience that continues to unwittingly motivate our conscious decisions. Plumbing the depths of alienation, T. S. Eliot wrote: “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

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Bradd, Christopher. Alienation. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Taylor and Francis,

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