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Otherness: Essays & Studies 3.2

Edited by Matthias Stephan


by Matthias Stephan

This issue of the journal Otherness: Essays and Studies, the third general issue in our series, considers the concept of Otherness as a potent and yet to be fully elucidated topic in a diverse range of fields from philosophy to photography.  The breadth of topics testifies to the richness, inexhaustibility and ongoing relevance of Otherness.  Many of the articles in this issue explores the concept of Otherness using literature and literary criticism as a vantage point, and yet combine this field with philosophy, political rhetoric, journalism, history and historical personages, photography and film.  This further reinforces the Centre for Studies in Otherness’s interdisciplinary approach within the humanities; one which has proved fruitful and we believe allows the scope of Otherness to be presented fully.

In this issue we move further away from discussions of the creation of the self and considerations of Otherness in reaction or opposition, and present the concept of the Other as more nuanced and elusive than that binary seems to imply.  The idea of ‘difference’, or irreducible otherness, is a shared focus within this issue, and represents another direction in the consideration of alterity, in which otherness is not considered as Other, but rather the concept opens up a wealth of further insights and avenues for investigation. The boundaries drawn in terms of gender, race, class, and genre continue to present themselves as more intricate as we move into more microcultural categories, spectrums of gender identity and expressions of sexuality, othering within specific social categories, and explore the failures of categories of writing, speech and communication to capture the thoughts of its authors.  More and more, considering Otherness exposes fault lines in other aspects of thinking, and allows for reconceptualizations in those fields in new and dramatic ways. 

In the realm of philosophy, and anticipating discussions from that field in our upcoming special issue, Steven Leddin considers the concept of the historical other in the works of Benjamin and Gadamer, locating ‘irreducible otherness’ in the instability of the dialectic of allegory.  Rachel Schulkins looks at the othering of the Jewish minority, from the entirety of the political spectrum in the writings of philosopher Edmund Burke and his contemporaries, demonstrating how this minority was considered ‘other’ rhetorically by all sides.  Victor Vargas investigates the interesting relationship that W.B. Yeats, and other Irish figures, had with the occult and how that exposes a sense of othering as an “individual and communal sense of alienation” and how those “discourses of loss that Anglo-Irish figures […] sought to represent in literary form, articulated perhaps [...] a more intense form as a separateness from one’s perceived cultural and mystical and linguistic past.”

Many of the articles use literary analysis as a starting point, but do so to consider broader issues.  Solenne Lestienne investigates Woolf’s attempts to communicate her inner struggles, and the dichotomy created between her inner and exterior worlds.  Clare Gorman uses the oeuvre of Paul Howard to question the neat categories of speech and writing, and uses Derridean thought to present the line between them as blurred, and the otherness of one side of the binary, as is often asserted, untenable.  Michael Sabelli similarly looks to break down discrete categories; those of journalism and fiction, in investigating the literary reportage of Ryszard Kapuściński.  From the other side of perhaps the same discussion, Fiorenzo Iuliano looks not at the fictional elements in journalism, but at the accurate representation of historical personages (Jeffrey Dahmer) in Joyce Carol Oates' Zombie.  Iuliano uses the concept of the zombie as an attempt to break down lines between victim and victimizer, finding that motif a “narrative and rhetorical trope, capable of blurring and radically questioning the divide between the familiar and the radically other, and as an interchangeable category whose symbolic and narrative function can alternatively serve the role of victims and serial killer.”

Michelle Kennedy, Linda Camarasana and Hannah Swamidoss each use literature as entrance points to their discussions of otherness.  Hannah Swamidoss uses the idea of third culture in the children’s writing of Charles Kingsley to explore the moral formation of various ‘othered’ characters. Linda Camarasana presents the novels of Dorothy Allison, in which the protagonist’s various identifications as ‘other’ from mainstream culture are never resolved, as one would expect in a Bildungsroman, thus destabilizing the intradiegetic culture and the generic categories Allison’s novels are often seen as representing.  Michelle Kennedy uses the novels of Anne Enright to discuss, in Irish culture, the exclusion of “Other mothers” from the political rhetoric, arguing that these “mothers who do not conform to societal ideals of motherhood, have traditionally faded away or been occluded by traditional Irish signifiers of ideal motherhood, and how Enright’s refocalization of pregnancy and motherhood is so important in an Irish socio-cultural context,” presenting Enright as an important voice for recuperating this other perspective.

Barbara Leung and Jason Davids Scott turn to visual representation, both questioning the male gaze and how the images seen do not necessarily reflect the simply binary between the viewer and image that is often presented.  Barbara Leung looks at the exhibitionary other, as presented in various staged images in Fashion photography, exploring the double othering of models using both gender and racial categories, and presenting a series of images which resist reduction into such simple binaries.  Jason Davids Scott questions the position of the viewer as straight male consumer of adult films; by investigating several sub-genres in which the stereotypical power structures associated with the male gaze and masculinity are challenged through the types of scenes presented.  As such, he presents the possibility that identity issues are not a standard self/other binary, but that views can “identify across traditional lines of preference in a manner that seems to erase the standard porn definitions of sexuality and gender entirely, revealing a world of desire and fantasy that is anything but essential, conventional, or ubiquitously safe.”

The diversity of perspectives and fields presented only serves to highlight the dynamism possible in this emerging field.  The combined efforts of this group of scholars leads to a furtherance of the aims of the Centre, and hopefully an opening into many new avenues of research.  As greater numbers of voices seek representation, and in this age of globalization and ubiquitous information, categories and discerning seem to be increasingly important, these articles seek to both pinpoint  the problems and present approaches allowing a better understanding of history, philosophy, literature, film and art through continued studies of the concept of Otherness.




Many thanks to our contributors.