Heidegger and Freud both used the term Unheimlichkeit which literally means not being at home. Freud employed the word in his discussion of the uncanny, a phenomenon that occurs when something familiar suddenly looks strange. But does the term which is used to describe a phenomenological and existential condition have anything to do with the plight of homeless people in NYC, a situation which continues to worsen all the time. (“Steven Banks Was Hired to Stem New York’s Homelessness Crisis. It didn’t happen,” NYT, 10/25/16) The answer is probably not. Homeless people fall into many categories. Some suffer from mental illness; others from drug and alcoholism and still others simply destitution which results from overwhelming physical and financial setbacks. A feeling of Unheimlichkeit might even be productive for an artistic personality, though there’s no one who would prescribe homelessness as condition with any residual rewards. Homelessness does not fit into the no pain, no gain category and it’s not a challenge which produces an endorphin high. With the exception of certain kinds of borderline mental conditions, homelessness is not something that’s ordinarily characterized by a feeling of agency. Homelessness is sometimes the final step in a long process of dispossession. People may lose their dwelling, then find themselves couch surfing and finally end up riding the subways at night when they have nowhere to go. Homelessness connotes a certain degree of passivity since it’s a state that some people degenerate into. It’s a kind of default mode for those who are in desperate straights. Still the term coined by these two great students of human behavior is haunting. Imagine Heidegger and Freud putting their heads together and trying to come up with a solution to NYC’s homeless crisis.
This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy’s blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture
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