Atopy (philosophy)  

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Atopy (Greek ατοπία, atopía - placelessness, unclassifiable, of high originality; Socrates has often been called "átopos") describes the ineffability of things or emotions that are seldom experienced, that are outstanding and that are original in the strict sense. The term depicts a certain quality (of experience) that can be observed within oneself or within others. It does not depict an ideal, although it has been abused to do so, for example by the genius-cult during the era of romanticism.

Phenomenon, origin

A human being in love, no matter at whom or what his adoration and affection is pointed at—be it a beloved person, a god in some mystical sense or an idol—is not able to reduce the "item" of his love down to certain characteristics, he claims his "obscure object of desire" to be unique and incomparable.

The attribution of characteristics from the banal everyday world would, in the eye of the one being seriously in love, mean betrayal (sacrilege) to the very own love itself. Up until now, no one has managed to describe and analyze this more strikingly than Roland Barthes in his famous and acclaimed collection of essays A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, published in 1977. But if you look at it more closely, this is an everyday phenomenon each and every mere mortal is encountering: parents can describe, praise or curse the relation between them and their children—but they realize at the same time that the depth and the profoundness of their feelings for their offspring are atopical, or ineffable.

Natural religions, like mysticism, therefore talk about "Tao", about the "original" and the "pristine"; in the field of ontological philosophy and theology it is called "richness of being". The rather sensual, mundane and secular poetry speaks of cornucopia (also see: cornucopian), or, more prosaically of "inspiration". In the field of science, especially in psychological sciences, this phenomenon is being researched under the leading definition of creativity or as "Flow".


Most adults are familiar with atopy, having experienced the view on the world through "rose-tinted glasses" in phases of limerence. Art lovers know it as genius and as something auratic, readers as "Thou shalt not make for thyself an idol" in Max Frisch's "Stiller", which refers to the notion of God from the "Ten Commandments", or "Geschichten von Herrn Keuner" by Bertold Brecht.


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