Delphine Chapuis Schmitz

(Subtitles will appear later.), 2017



Strange Stranger


late 13c., "from elsewhere, foreign, unknown, unfamiliar," from Old French estrange "foreign, alien, unusual, unfamiliar, curious; distant; inhospitable; estranged, separated".


The more we inquire, the stranger we get. We are and are becoming strange strangers. 

A foreign surface, an uncommon ground, a constant disturbance and an invitation into a strange world.  Delphine Chapuis - Schmitz, Kulturfolger's September Artist, brings her strange stranger to the fore, a chance for us to play with our own strangeness. Imagine if there is no inside or outside, no centre or no side. What if it were a mesh, a web, a network, an entanglement as a type of existence. How does one discuss differences or edges between things that exist in this universe, when they are neither thick, thin, fluid nor rigid? If we are never quite what we appear to be, what kind of existence is adequate today? In this story of the strange stranger, we dive into a realm of relations and articulations we have for ourselves and our perceived non-selves.

To develop and explicate the meaning of ecological existence, perhaps the concept of “strange stranger" can provide some insight. Originating from Timothy Morton, concept of "strange stranger" is in itself enmeshed in webs of other concepts: it contains traces from sources as diverse as Buddhism’s “compassion,” Giorgio Agamben’s “bare life” (homo sacer), Žižek’s “neighbor,” Levinas’s “face,” Derrida’s “arrivant (l’arrivant), and Julia Kristeva’s “intimacy.” We see it leave traces in Karan Barad's spacetimemattering, Donna Haraway's cyborgs, a myriad of avatars, and the many faces we are, this is our ecology.

"The ecological thought imagines interconnectedness, which I call the mesh. Who or what is interconnected with what or with whom? The mesh of interconnected things is vast, perhaps immeasurably so. Each entity in the mesh looks strange. Nothing exists all by itself, and so nothing is fully “itself.”… Our encounter with other beings becomes profound. They are strange, even intrinsically strange. Getting to know them makes them stranger. When we talk about life forms, we’re talking about strange strangers. The ecological thought imagines a multitude of entangled strange strangers."[1]

At first - a radical notion: ‘ecological thought’ is not nice and green and a celebration of all things natural but shows that to really think the interconnectedness of all forms of life and all things (the ‘mesh’), is dark. This thinking demands recalibrating our intimate interconnections with, for instance, crystals, snowflakes, palms, or sunlight.

What Morton suggests, is that absent, lacking or ‘not there’ is intrinsic to any notion of ecology. Our challenge is to bring awareness of this wider ‘environment’ into the here and now. Ecology is, therefore, an open ended "structure" without centre or edge. It follows Derrida's notion of deconstruction, where language is as an arbitrary system of difference, and where no sign that stands outside the system guarantees the meaning and stability. Language then, as ecological thought, is infinite, and we can never fully account for its meanings or effects. It also means that meaning depends upon meaninglessness.

Can Strange Stranger, an exemplary of this dark ecology, tell us more about ourselves? Morton goes on and says "Our encounter with other beings – and with our being as other – is strange strangeness." [2] It is the moment of recognition of self as the Other that opens new perspectives.

The confusion of clear borders between things makes the perception of self quite remarkable "The absences haloed around every present object, puts us in touch with the material conditions that make our lives possible [...] wherever I look for myself I only encounter a potentially infinite series of alterities: my body, my arm, my ideas, place of birth, parents, history, society [3] [...] The same goes for nature: Wherever we look for it, we encounter just a long metonymic string of bunnies, trees, stars, space, toothbrushes, skyscrapers[4] [...]"

The double bind is that when we look for ourselves or our sense of self, we discover the elusive, uncanny, undiscoverable. "Displacement exists at the kernel of the self".[5]

We are all characters and can articulate new characters at any moment we choose- everyone of us a unique articulation which can multiply, contradict, decide differently than we did the moment before.


[1] Timothy Morton. The Ecological Thought. 2010

[2] Timothy Morton. Thinking Ecology: The Mesh, the Strange Stranger, and the Beautiful Soul. 2010

[3] Clark, Samantha. Strange strangers and uncanny hammers: Morton's The Ecological Thought and the phenomenological tradition. 2013

[4] Patricia MacCormack. The Animal Catalyst: Towards A human Theory. 2014

[5] C. Lamont, M. Rossington. Romanticism's Debatable Lands. 2007