Friday, September 22, 2006



1591, anomy, "disregard of law," from Gk. a- "without" + nomos "law"
The modern use, with Fr. spelling (from Durkheim's "Suicide," 1897), is first attested 1933 and means "absence of accepted social values."

an‧o‧mie  /[an-uh-mee] –noun Sociology
a state or condition of individuals or society characterized by a breakdown or absence of social norms and values, as in the case of uprooted people.
Also, an‧o‧my.

Well ladies and gentlemen, given the state of our world, I deduce that many unfortunate souls are suffering from anomie. War, famine, natural disasters are at the extreme end of social breakdown causes. Family dissolution/separation and personal isolation may be considered at the other end. Whatever the cause, the resulting anomie can result in self-abuse and suicide or outward anger expressed in violence towards others.

Anomie is a reaction against, or a retreat from, the regulatory social controls of society, and is a completely separate concept from a situation of anarchy which is an absence of effective rulers or leaders.

The nineteenth century French pioneer sociologist Durkheim borrowed the word from the french philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau and used it in his book Suicide (1897), outlining the causes of suicide to describe a condition or malaise in individuals, characterized by an absence or diminution of standards or values (referred to as normlessness), and an associated feeling of alienation and purposelessness. He believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for good or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life.

Anomie in literature and film (source Wikipedia)
In Albert Camus's existentialist novel The Stranger, the protagonist Meursault struggles to construct an individual system of values as he responds to the disappearance of the old. He exists largely in a state of anomie, as seen from the apathy evinced in the opening lines: "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-ĂȘtre hier, je ne sais pas" ("Today Mother died. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know.") Dostoevsky, whose work is often considered a philosophical precursor to existentialism, often expressed a similar concern in his novels. In The Brothers Karamazov, the character Dimitri Karamazov asks his atheist friend Rakitin, "'...without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?'" Raskolnikov, the anti-hero of Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment, puts this philosophy into action when he kills an elderly pawnbroker and her sister, later rationalizing this act to himself with the words, " wasn't a human being I killed, it was a principle!"
More recently, the protagonist of Martin Scorsese's film Taxi Driver, the protagonist of the film Office Space, and the protagonist of the novel Fight Club, written by Chuck Palahniuk (and later made into a film), could be said to suffer from anomie.


I'm off to Ottawa for a writer's conference and then to Carriage Hills, north of Toronto for a golf holiday with the man. I'll be pitching my romantic suspense, Monkey Business, to editor Brenda Chin of Harlequin. Send some positive energy my way if you have any to spare. I'll pop in from time to time. Have a productive, happy week.


Southern Writer said...

What a great idea for a post. I know a word I've always wanted to straighten out. Maybe I'll copy you yet again, and do that one day soon.

Hope you achieve holes in one at both your efforts this weekend.

Jaye Wells said...

Good luck with your pitch!

Neil said...

Good luck!