A few days ago I wrote a post which I then deleted (so my apologies to those who had liked or commented on it). It had the same title as the present one. I deleted it because it didn’t work; I wasn’t pleased with it. I liked its content, but not the way it was written. It was convoluted and, as my brother said, stilted. That was probably due to the fact that I was combining various ideas I had been thinking about — perhaps each one deserving to be considered separately.
The first idea referred to a sentence by Frantz Fanon; the second had to do with a famous concept by Viktor Shklovsky of the Russian Formalist School; the third was a commentary on a letter Desmond Tutu has recently published in The New York Times (https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/02/14-3).
This is Fanon’s sentence: “There is a point at which methods devour themselves.” It’s from the introduction to Black Skin, White Masks. I find it particularly important and true. Of course, Fanon has been criticized for his lack of objective/scientific method. But the point is that there must be a phenomenological and hermeneutical approach (Fanon’s approach) to experience and existence. Without this, any method, externally and often thoughtlessly applied to reality, loses reality and devours itself.
I went from this to Shklovsky’s notion of estrangement, or defamiliarization. I was saying that this is a method that escapes Fanon’s denunciation of the self-defeating effect of methods. If in order to appreciate reality (existence/experience), one has to think critically, differently, then defamiliarization is necessary. After all, this is how philosophy itself begins; it is how science also begins. The apparently simple question: What is it? –the question of Thales and all Presocratics– is an exercise in defamiliarization. Poetry also begins the same way, as does the questioning thinking of children, always engaged in processes of estrangement. This is necessarily so, for one tries to make sense of what initially and fundamentally makes no sense; one tries to become familiar with what is initially and fundamentally unfamiliar. This is after all a very simple truth, not worth remarking upon unless one takes defamiliarization (its political and ethical implications) seriously.
It is at this point that I think of Desmond Tutu’s letter. After protesting against the injustice perpetrated by the US, with its drone strikes and assassination program, against so many people in the world; after highlighting the absurdity of placing more value on American lives than on the life of everybody else on the planet; before making an analogy between the present situation of US dominance and violence and the racist apartheid regime he opposed in South Africa — he says: “I cannot believe it.” This simple sentence is extremely important. The sentiment of dismay conveyed by it, simple and childlike, should become widespread and common. Everybody should be engaged in this type of estrangement and defamiliarization. It seems to me this is the only path to a political and ethical solution to what has become one of the most serious and urgent problems the world faces today: the indiscriminate, racist, irrational (yet very methodical) violence of the global sovereign, the imperial police; really, the violent police mentality in general, which keeps the world from entering a healthier alternative; the reduction of life, for multitudes of people, to bare life — to poverty and death.