Obsessively Estranged, Compulsively Creative


Nell KupperFollow

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Obsessively Estranged, Compulsively Creative

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Languages, Literatures, and International Studies


Many Francophone works are marked with a sense of fragmentation, estrangement, and at times a paralyzing depressive or self-destructive state of the individual, who seeks a sense of unity within the self, as well as a meaningful connection with the other. Julia Kristeva points out that a sense of reconnection and unity can be achieved through religious and artistic forms that bridge the gap between the individual who feels estranged and the surrounding world. Religious and artistic discourse, shared within a particular culture, imposes an imprint of symbols, establishing a symbolic lineage and creates a connection to the other within the culture. Meaning exists again, being retrieves value, and life is possible.

This work examines one such example of estranged identity in the writings of Albert Cohen, a Greek-born, French-speaking, Swiss citizen, who travels back and forth between his homeland in Switzerland and France. Cohen’s auto-biographical texts and fiction portray individuals devastated by psychological crisis. His Hwork often reveals a painful struggle for acceptance within French society, which he shows as rejecting elements outside of its mainstream culture such as for example, Jewish heritage and foreign birth. In examining the fictional writings together with the auto-biographical work, however, we demonstrate that European upbringing imprints on the individual the conventional social standards along with their manifestation in the accepted artistic and religious discourse. Having access to the symbolic lineage, as Julia Kristeva indicates, benefits the individual’s quest towards shedding estrangement. Estranged as an individual may feel because of his differences, the ability to access the system of symbols through fictional religious representations as well as through the creative act of writing itself allows the individual to engage with the other in a common discourse, and ultimately to forge a semblance of connection with the surrounding world.

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