The areas of Other, Strange, and Rejected in the social space

1. Introduction

The notions of Other, Strange and Rejected are often used interchangeably in philosophic investigations. Such use occasionally results in misunderstanding and alters the intended meaning. Thus, it appears necessary to clearly define these notions. The sphere of these notions is so wide that reading the list of their possible meanings would easily take all time of my presentation. Therefore, to be productive I will limit myself to clarifying the meaning of Other, Strange and Rejected only for the social sphere. I will leave out the aspects of the dialogue, of the theme “I as Other”, and of the problem of identification under the stare of Other and seeking the stare of Other. My research focuses on clear determination of the significance of Other, Strange and Rejected in the social space and delimitation of their areas in the metaphoric spatial scheme of the social space. Appropriately, the field of my research can be determined as the Topography of Other.

The use of the term “Topography” is due to the phenomenological assertion about the spatial manner of world’s perception. My primary foundation is built on the conclusions of Edmund Husserl (Husserl: 1977), Martin Heidegger (Heidegger: 1979) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Merleau-Ponty: 1962). The phenomenological idea of intentionality explains the spatial orientation of human view of the world, in which all Things appear organized according to the principle of Depth. If the depth is an “environment” of the Things’perception, it is easy to imagine that the world appears constructed in terms of nearness and remoteness, or, in other words, in terms of Self and Other. Project “Topography of Strange” (Topographie des Fremden) by Bernhard Waldenfels (Waldenfels: 1997) encouraged me to imagine the metaphoric scheme of the “mastered space of life”, to search for the place of Other, Strange, and Rejected in it. Are the areas of these phenomena absolutely separate, overlap, or coincide?

2. Phenomenon of the Other

To interpret the phenomenon of the Other in the social space, I apply conclusions of Martin Heidegger and Alfred Schütz (Schütz: 1967). Everyday human life is interpreted in these authors’tradition as a joint preoccupied existence with one another. This preoccupied existence creates mutual dependence, where the picture of the world appears constructed from mutual references. In this picture the Other appears in a certain social role. It is that role that makes his existence actual for us. It is not even necessary to meet him in person, we interact with others through the results of our activities. The “recipes” of social orientation (the term of A.  Schütz) allow us to interpret the behavior of other people. We receive these “recipes” through education, upbringing, and in the course of our everyday life, in the “naïve” perception of the world. This experience creates material for constructing the images of social roles, which ease our orientation in the social space and help us interpret behavior of others. We perceive others according to these “recipes”, which create a certain frame of pre-understanding. So we chose the most appropriate “recipe” to construct the image of Other in the social space by starting from one particular detail and then completing the whole. In this way, the image of Other in the social space obtains anonymous meaning “other people”.

This space of “other people” creates the area of Norma (or Order) in the metaphorical scheme of the “mastered world”. The Norma has no center; it is an area, which includes a set of social types, ensuring the functioning of joint preoccupied existence. The regularities of construction of the “mastered space” presuppose the opposition of the Norm area and of the space of Chaos, located at the boundaries of the safe world suitable for existence.

3. Strange and an image of Strange

The “mastered space” is “unnoticeable”, we find our way here automatically, driven by the mentioned “recipes”. It is remarkable, that we notice our “mastered” world only when a malfunction occurs in the customary routine of life. The process of discovering the wholeness of the “mastered world” in such situations was described by Heidegger. We notice a thing or a space when it appears “broken”, when it refuses to work properly. Bernhard Waldenfels calls this moment “intentional malfunction”. Something invades my “mastered space”, demolishes the customary system of references, inserts something that cannot be typified and interpreted with common “recipes”. This invader certainly does not belong to our “mastered” world; it comes from an outside world, from outside the space, which was already interpreted. What is outside? Strange, of course. Strange presents a challenge  — it breaks the familiar contours of the world. This moment lets B.  Waldenfels identify the Strange as Thing Out-of-Order. It is the Strange that demonstrates itself as the “intentional malfunction”.

This moment brings a person down to the line, beyond which are death and insanity. Facing the Strange we become absolutely passive, our intentions appear interrupted. We are at the breaking point, which could lead to the real death. Staying alive (and sane) is possible only through the renewal of the picture of the mastered world. We must renew our activities and start “healing” the space of our existence. The “healing” is possible via interpreting the Strange, explaining its nature, its aims and goals. Strange is Out-of-Order, so we must inscribe the Strange’s image into the contours of the world suitable for existence. Only in this way can we preserve the feeling of security, which is an essential element of the picture of the “mastered world”.

It is not surprising then, that this procedure presents the image of the Strange in terms of our “mastered space”. Interpreted this way, Strange loses its strangeness and transforms into a part of our safe world. From then on we operate not with the Strange itself, but with the image of Strange, which lies far from its real nature. As Derrida says, the otherness vanishes in understanding and interpretation. The understanding is close to possession, it is a synonym of power. We will never meet Strange, we will never face it, but we will operate with its Image. Appearing as “intentional malfunction”, the Strange vanishes during interpretation.

This Image of the Strange finds its place in the picture of the “mastered world”. Imagine a combination of concentric circles. The inner circle is the area of Normal, and the outer is the space of the Strange. The perception of Strange places it out of the “mastered space”, hence the image of Strange appears to be a necessary part of this picture.

If we examined characteristics of the Image of the Strange in the picture of the “mastered space”, we would see the ambivalence of this image. Not only the images of unacceptable appear there, but the pictures of ideal life, of things top positive are there, too. The opposition of Normal and Abnormal finds room in the space of Strange for all things, which have no place in Normal. These things do not belong to Norma, to Order, they are Out-of-Order, and they are Extraordinary. So, not only monsters, but also heroes and saints find themselves in the area of the Strange. Glance at the images of Distant Lands, especially those created in Middle Ages, reveals that the image of the Strange is constructed as a contrast space of monsters and miracles  — understandable and astonishing at the same time. Modern images of Distant Lands are built on the same principle.

The duality of the Strange’s Image arises from the mix of feelings of additional opportunities and the danger coming from the strange lands. Order, creating our “mastered space”, signifies the choice of a set of opportunities and organization, which throw aside other opportunities and other manners of organization. So glance into the space of Strange opens for us understanding of possibility of other Orders, creates the feeling of freedom. On the other hand, appearance of the Strange brings with it the danger of malfunction introduced earlier.

Recognizing the Strange’s ambivalence opens up additional research possibilities. Ambivalence determines contours of the image of the Strange and provides confidence in what we see is the image of Strange, and not something else (like Rejected). Images of the Strange in different pictures of the mastered space reveal contours the space of Norm had in this or that period. The boundaries of Normal become visible  — all that is below or above it appear in the space of Strange. Those from below and above Norm appear neighbors here. As Jury Lotman said, Fool and Mad stand on two sides of Normal (Lotman: 2009).

4. Phenomenon of rejection and its function

In the schemes of everyday life not only does the Strange appear in the space outside of Normal. The Rejected is also here. What is the difference then between Strange and Rejected? The space of Rejected includes everything unacceptable in our “mastered world”. There is no ambivalence here. It is a space of Silence, of what was deprived of voice (terms, introduced by Michel Foucault). Rejection is a product of Society’s Reproduction process.

Rejection is a necessary mechanism of Reproduction, which serves two related objectives. The first objective is to keep the principle “knots” of Reproduction free from dangerous elements, which could change the existing social system. Most common boundaries of this guarded space include the areas of Education, Church and Army. That is, nobody suspicious can become a teacher, a priest or go to military. Legal documents from different epochs clearly show it.

The second objective of rejection is to keep “citizens alert” regarding the safety of their own society. It is a disciplinary goal. Society should “inform” people of dangers, should point out the places of vice and crime, and indicate the consequences of crossing into that territory. So society itself reproduces not only its own structure but also the complex of rejection. It must continually remind about the unacceptable. Rejected is always labeled as alien to this society, as something that has no place in it. But if the social structure can explain what is unacceptable for its very existence, the Rejected appears to be a part of the structure of this space. So we can hypothesize the existence of additional areas inside the space of Normal in our metaphorical scheme of the “mastered space”. The Rejected creates a special non-homogenous zone within “mastered space”.

Speaking about the knots of reproduction, I touched on the problem of levels of rejection. Nobody suspicious can enter these knots, but it also is not mandatory that the suspicious ought to be destroyed. Inside of the rejection field we can see the objects of top rejection (what has no right to exist at all) and of relative rejection (what has no access, for example, to the area of reproduction or to certain zones of reproduction). This difference is clearly seen in early modern documents dedicated to toleration. We (the government) allow representatives of different religions to coexist in our country, but not to aspire to hold executive positions in government and education, and freely declare this religion in public places. We understand that they all can wonderfully contribute to prosperity of the state, so we indulge their existence. But we have no plans to indulge their propaganda, which can hurt the official confession.

The picture is different in other historical moments, but the principle of distribution by the level of rejection does not change. It offers a good opportunity to research the value orientations of this or that epoch. The configuration of top rejection shows us principal values in the mental paradigm of the epoch, which would be in danger if some objects could remain in this social space. So the medieval canonical law pointed out Heresy and Homosexuality as the objects, incompatible with the very existence of the society. It qualified both as crimes against God’s Order. In mentioned early modern documents not God’s Order, but the State’s prosperity appeared the principal value. Thus, the phenomena which could receive the definition of principle crime in the medieval society, seem tolerable in the early modern times. However, it is not an evidence of the increased level of humanity, it is merely a change of principal values. Let me remind you of Foucault’s work “Supervise and Punish” (Foucault: 1975). It starts with the description of execution of a criminal who had made an attempt on king’s life in 1757. The cruelty of Middle Ages had never arrived to such a refined punishment. The interest of the state appears to be paramount, so the punishment for an attempt upon monarch’s life must represent the horror of equivalent render. So some phenomena deserve the “capital” Rejection and some deserve the relative one in every picture of the “mastered world” without exceptions.

5. Tolerance as relative rejection

The problem of relative Rejection leads us to the phenomenon, which we commonly call Tolerance. In we consider the problem of tolerance in the context of the “mastered world’s” scheme, we can part with some myths associated with this notion in contemporary discourse. The ideas of agreement, empathy, and benevolence penetrate modern discourse of tolerance, and it leads the problem of notion’s understanding to the dead-end. Regrettably, tolerance acquires the contours of all-acceptance today. It’s productive to study historical forms of the notion of Tolerance to compare them with its contemporary variety. In the political sense this notion appears in canonical law of XIII century. It indicates the refusal of Politic Power to punish some crimes or vices if they allow avoiding worse evils. The classical example is prostitution, which prevents a much worse evil  — sodomy. Prostitution is a crime against the human obligations (adultery), but sodomy, like heresy, is a crime against God’s Order. There is no excuse for prostitution, it maintains its status of sin and crime, but the Power consciously abstains from destroying this evil. The word “consciously” is central to the definition of toleration. Led by reason, Power restrains its desire to put an end to this crime, yet there are no restraints from destroying and punishing sodomy. Thus, prostitution is an object of “relative Rejection” or toleration. The early modern documents on Tolerance point to the same meaning. The very existence of different confessions is evil and is a cause of clashes, but we should restrain our irritation on behalf of the higher goal  — the might and prosperity of the State. It is not surprising then, that a number of documents are titled “Declaration of Indulgence”. Not emotions or passions, but the decision of reason to ban the aggressive behavior towards some phenomenon, unpleasant for us, appears to be the foundation of Tolerance.

The attempts to represent tolerance as a variety of consensus or empathy appear useless and even harmful, because such approaches destroy the place of otherness in this world. The decision to be tolerant comes only through the conflict and understanding of irresistible otherness, not out of consensus. Remember the thoughts of Michel Leiris, French poet and ethnologist, who described his irritation with Africans, whose life he came to investigate (Leiris: 1988). Leiris was surprised and frustrated by his own reaction  — he specially came to listen to this Other’s Voice, he is a civilized person, but the source of his potential inspiration now irritates him. It was his reason which allowed him to understand that it is normal to reject some characteristics of another way of life. The difference between “mastered world’s” schemes inevitably renders some parts of another world unacceptable to us merely because we live by other rules. Perhaps, the contemporary sense of tolerance can be characterized as understanding of top otherness, which could never transform into a part of our life and would always irritate us. We must understand that we will never reach consensus.

6. The metaphoric scheme of the “mastered space of life”

So, our attempt to create a scheme of the “mastered space” resulted in a picture, which consists of several circles. The inner circle, as we said earlier, contains the area of Normal. It borders a zone of Rejected, which is subdivided into the spaces of Top Rejection and Tolerance with a gradual transition between them. It is hard to draw a clear boundary between Top and Relative Rejections. The Rejection’s zone appears as Other of Normal, as a part of Norma’s Reproduction. So, the Rejected appears marked by the negative characteristics and is painted in “dark” colors. On the outside of the Normal space lies the zone of the Image of the Strange. At the outer borders of the “mastered space” every now and then we see flashes of the Strange, which throws its challenges and then transforms to become the part of oykumena’s picture.

All pieces in this scheme represent different varieties of that what had been distinguished from Mine, Intimate, and Normal. Otherness penetrates our life. And it would be naïve to hope for political or educational reforms, which would lead the mankind to the epoch of unity, absolute understanding, and refusal from intolerance. Even if we, in multicultural spirit, greet Otherness, we must understand the nature of our connection with the Strange and Unknown. It is always a “malfunction”, always a challenge; it always presents the danger of our world’s clash. And we have no promise that the new contours of the world will be more attractive to us than old and familiar. The consent to exist with the knowledge of such dangers is the only possible position regarding the otherness of the world. Such a position could hardly form a part of everyday life’s schemas oriented towards safety and stability. Perhaps, instead of creating utopian pictures of unity and understanding it would be useful to keep in active condition the feeling of universal scheme’s impossibility.

7. Bibliographical sources

  • Foucault M. 1975. Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison. Paris: Gallimard.
  • Heidegger M. 1979. Prolegomena zur Geschichte der Zeitbegriffs, Gesamtausgabe, II. Abt., Bd. 20, Vittorio Klostermann.
  • Leiris M.  1988. L’Afrique fantôme. Paris: Gallimard.
  • Schütz A. 1967. The phenomenology of the social world. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
  • Waldenfels B. 1997. Topographie des Fremden. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
  • Husserl E. 1977. Cartesian Meditations. The Hague: Nijhoff.
  • Lotman Y. M. 2009. Culture and Explosion.  Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
  • Merleau-Ponty M. 1962. Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.