Journal Article

Some Problems with the Very Idea of Otherness

Ben Morgan

in Literature and Theology

Volume 25, issue 4, pages 436-455
Published in print December 2011 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online November 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/frr049
Some Problems with the Very Idea of Otherness

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The article uses a reading of Eliot's Middlemarch and a discussion of Levinas and Heidegger to challenge two aspects of the approach to literary texts proposed by Toril Moi. I suggest that we needn't assume that the inner lives of others are inaccessible in the way Moi (following Stanley Cavell) does, nor that literature has a privileged role in helping us come to terms with this alterity. Literature is one practice amongst others with which relations with other people are negotiated more or less honestly. I argue that recent developments in phenomenology and cognitive science, in particular the focus on enactive and participatory models of being in the world, can help to make more concrete Heidegger's concept of being-with (Mitsein) and Levinas' concept of proximité. Heidegger and Levinas' can then take their place in a counter tradition of 20th-century thinkers who engage with human togetherness rather than declare it to be impossible. The question Heidegger and Levinas' raise about the ethical challenge of human togetherness is not, however, answered by more recent research. It is by turning back to Middlemarch and viewing it in the context of its original marketing that we can see one way that this challenge may be confronted in everyday life.

Journal Article.  9568 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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