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Weiss, F.A. (1961). Introduction. Am. J. Psychoanal., 21(2):117-119.

(1961). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 21(2):117-119

Alienation and the Self


Frederick A. Weiss, M.D.

I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me.

Blaise Pascal wrote this in 1661. Today, three hundred years later, man, the finite being thrown into apparently infinite space, has begun to conquer “those frightful spaces of the universe.” But he is more lonely and more anxious than ever. While man's outer space is expanding, his inner space is shrinking. As man makes new contact with the universe, he loses contact with his self. He shows, as Horney wrote, a “remoteness from his own feelings, wishes, beliefs and energies. It is a loss of the feeling of being an active determining force in his own life. It is a loss of feeling himself as an organic whole … an alienation from the real self.”

Modern man becomes more and more alienated from his self and his fellow man, from his nature and his culture, from his work and his leisure, from his body and his sex, from his feelings and from his creative potential. This all-pervasive alienation has become a main phenomenon of our culture.

Is alienation imposed upon us or is it chosen? Is it being suffered or is it unconsciously wanted? Is there a meaning in the apparent meaninglessness? Is there activity hidden in the apparent apathy? Is the process of alienation part of the unchangeable tragic fate of man, or does it contain man-made and, therefore, changeable aspects?

What happens to the spontaneity, vitality, and creativity of the child when it grows up? Must growing up mean a slowly increasing alienation because of a steadily growing need for self-deception and conforming? Or are there avoidable nonbiological factors in the early emotional environment of the child and in our culture which foster and reinforce alienation? Some of the papers of this Symposium in the sections on “Alienation and Self” and “Alienation and Culture” attempt to give an answer.

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