Literature gives you the power of imagination, which you can use to perceive another person’s viewpoint. That is the power of art: it allows people to break free from the confines of their everyday thinking and feel the feelings and perspectives of those around them. Through in-depth reading, which helps a person’s imagination explore the world and personalities of others, it is possible to feel the feelings of others with real strength and excitement. A Proustian view is that the ability to bring one’s way of thinking, feeling, and seeing into another person’s shoes can be done by a crucial analysis and inquiry into the issues raised by a narrative in an attempt to explore the other person’s eyes.
This often arouses different emotions including empathy in appreciation of the experiences of others. There are opposing opinions expressed by the massive amounts of existing body of academic contributions to this point of view in literature. The basis of opposition is that the concept of otherness as presented by Proust is unsuitable and undesirable in all aspects. Great philosophers like Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas are among the contributing thinkers to this vast body of knowledge that stresses on the inability to achieve complete otherness. Levinas asserts that the moment the notion of otherness is conveyed; it gets pulled into a circuit in which it is altered, (Fawcett&Hearn, 2004). Hence, the perceived view of these scholars on the stated notion correlates to ongoing discussions such as; the ancient philosophical objects of fear of assessing the minds of others.
These concern result from the unlikelihood of experiencing the encounters of others, the confines of human knowledge encircled by socio-cultural settings and the limitations of knowledge in gauging the emotions, intentions, and thoughts of others. In light of this realization, it is accurate to deduce that the capability of a narrative to use imagination not only to enter the minds of others but also and re-live their experiences is a deceitful and cynical notion. It is important to question whether a physical representation of another person is possible before considering the idea of assessing another’s knowledge, and primarily if its ethical.The thought of otherness has since been set aside as a fundamental moral issue following Levinas’ exploration of the ethical aspect of otherness and Derrida’s application of Levinas’ view on the same in the field of hospitality.
The moral responsibility and openness regarding the other as asserted by Derrida and Levinas is not only boundless but also absolute. The two scholars argue that otherness has to be identified as altogether-other to avoid changing and messing up the other’ as it is known, into something except the others self. Therefore, upholding ethical perspective of the other and trying to understand and recognize the other are two different events that cannot be achieved simultaneously (Claviez, 2013). When re-counting and attempting to understand otherness, a person ends up changing and reproducing it according to their reflection which raises the concern of ethics. The idea of otherness has a significant role in human rights movements that can be traced to the eighteenth century.
Lynn Hunt, a professor of history, appreciates the ability and influence of literature, especially novels, to generate compassionate emotions as a person visualizes another person as if it were them and derived their experiences as their own. However, this type of approach towards otherness is nonetheless viewed as unethical by the Levinasian opinion on the same. The Levinasian ideology claims that such an empathetic perception postulates that the other is comprehensible and therefore can be incorporated into a person’s interpretation. The moment the other can be understood, explained or experienced, it ceases to exist in its original form, it becomes an altered other restricted by a person’s imagination and point of view. This means that the difference which brings out the uniqueness of each being is withdrawn.
The primary contributions to the concept of otherness according to Fawcett &Hearn (2004), stress on focusing on the new perspectives to be unveiled regarding the fundamental and social importance and the moral domineering of the said concept which is in contrast to the opposing opinion which is adamant on the unethical, impractical portrayal, and altered form of otherness. The observations by both the assertion constructivist and subjectivist viewpoints on the matter are fundamental in distinguishing the significant adjustments and diminutions of the other’s self. However, there is a deadlock in the interpretation caused by the long turn in the scholarly appreciation of the concept of otherness. The opposing viewpoint is continuously aware of the impasse that occurs from being inhibited, and it’s also watchful but still cannot escape from violating the distinctiveness of the other.
This perception relies on the same logic of understanding and experiencing otherness, which is fundamental in giving meaning and portray the fictitious other as comprehensible even though this comprehensibility appears as a forced concept. The contributing stipulation to the opposing perspective offers a refreshing solution to the unwillingness for fear of altering and violating the actuality of the other, and this is contrary to the postulation of the forced admission of the coherence of the other. Meaningfulness is not barred, it is restricted, therefore, realizing the limited nature of human perceptive does not necessarily mean that the other should be hindered from any form of understanding or knowledge. The study of otherness becomes relevant because imagination simulates compassion, a normal imaginative emotion, following the narrow access to the minds of others.
Literature allows a way through which one can picture not just what they perceive not to belong to the ordinary existence but also the imagined other, through its the universal nature of characters. The Proustian view asserts that the ability to dive into the contextual presence of the other even for a moment is made possible through art. This kind of reality is temporal and removed from the standard environment in that, and it is possible to see multiple worlds, differentiated by culture from each other, and from the vast universe. According to Torfing (2005), the assumptions upon which the constructivist and subjectivist explanations mentioned are based can be disputed, these include; obliviousness and awareness, the definite contrast between similarity and dissimilarity, the other and self, and ontology and epistemology. All these which include ideas that representation and the person are informed entirely by the same self, declaring no remains of otherness, a view that has been challenged by theories relating to consciousness and psychology.
The canons of the psychoanalysis of the assumptions as mentioned earlier claim that such a representation is unable to integrate different and new views, which suggests a selfish and egotism linguistic setup which facilitates for the unaltered voice and form of the other to not only be is misheard but also confused. Literature is composed of multiple authors, narrators and characters all with different sounds, which from a different context with an interconnection of echoes. Narratives do not present a single cohesive, static and efficiently unified voice, and it is therefore impossible for literature to facilitate the view of an individual other due to the cacophonic choral sound expressing a variety of interests and friction. Dikeç et al., (2009), contest the naive notion of similarity and dissimilarity, suggesting that representation, beyond any doubt, cannot only exemplify unadulterated difference or otherness in its absolute form but also reiterate the same or difference free of changes.
All acts of representation, whether new or previous, will always exhibit a certain degree of alteration and novelty. Other selecting articles contributing to the subject of interest do not perceive the notion of otherness as homogenous, monolithic category. These reports demonstrate how the processes and structures of otherness transpire unevenly and how they are entangled in a contingent dense of material associations and cultural intersections. Each of these articles comprises of an analysis of situations in an attempt to scrutinize the way proper alignment of otherness is established, and not by its straightforward challenge of the same, but by the multifaceted and exclusive assemblage whose differences unify in diverse ways. Otherness as explained byNeuman (2010), is abstracted as the temporary central point with multiple interfaces which are dynamic and cut across countless factors which are not only unstable but also overlap and cannot be isolated from each other.
Some of these factors include; sexual orientation, gender, class, and ethnicity which form the components of otherness and are trying to separate. This aspect of otherness renders the process of recognizing and understanding the other a challenging and complicated occurrence that is more incomprehensible to explore and assess given that the identified factors of otherness cannot be separated. The fact that these elements reinforce each other which act as measures exerting an opposing barrier to the many ways in which they interact in the specific forms and cases. The recognition and understanding of the other through literature does not mean that difference should be ruined. A shared opinion to the concept of otherness that is contrary to the idea of Levinas is the practice of feeling and seeing from the perspective of the other which provokes an appreciation of the independent identity of others.
The process of using imagination to put oneself in the other’s position can be termed as a person/self, trying to find their emulating image in the other through the mental and emotional projection and the presumption of similarities which establish a common ground within the control of the self. On a different perspective, the fact that empathy is possibly an other-oriented response should not be excluded entirely. Sympathy is not only dependent on the imagination of the experience of the other but also on the view of vision as a means to facilitate a person’s appreciation of how it feels like to be the other. This means that a person can seek themselves in the other’s existence definitively as a concern for merging the remarkable precision of a relative feeling in an attempt to understand, approach and reunite with the other (Aziz-Zadeh et al., 2011).
A person is more conversant with their own experiences, therefore, in real life, a person can identify with the exploratory veracity of the other through borrowing from the knowledge obtained from the accumulated pool of experiences throughout their lives, which they use to embrace and move towards the other. The uniqueness and specific nature of life histories and personal experiences tend to inhibit the achievement of a same feeling of the self and the other, however, a person does not have to experience the exact feel of the other to envision and comprehend the situation in which the other is featured. Also, compassion does not require or assume that a person has to become identical to the other in their seeing and feeling. Understanding recognizes the differences and uniqueness of the otherness of the self and the other, as an attribute that should be upheld rather than terminated.
In as much as the remarkable aspect of the other has to be esteemed, the contrast between the other and the self should not necessarily be outright. The limitless existence of the other of two is a way that facilitates the exclusion of the other from the person. The question, however, is whether the other can still be recognized and understood even when they slide into an isolated dimension with the ethical restrictions under considerations. It is, therefore, necessary to focus beyond the confines to envision a different realm to encounter the other neither at a point where there is neither cohesion nor anything of the self (Dikeç et al., 2009). This is the perfect world in which both the self and the other can coexist without undermining of any of the otherness.
A space shared by both the person and the other without affecting the difference between their otherness is preserved, is an ethical existence. The notion of meeting exemplifies defiance of both union and disjointing in that the two come together as a binding in distinction. The most important thing is not to get lost in another’s dwelling, but remember one’s own identity to prevent merging which will reduce the difference that identifies the uniqueness of otherness. The substance of understanding lies in the ability of one to preserve their identity and perception in the course of exploring the other. Compassionate actions must hold up the meaning of similarity and dissimilarity. According to Neuman(2010), literature can be seen as an enabling medium in which one can see through the eyes of others without destabilizing the freedom of independence.
Literature allows the unveiling of multiple characters that one can filter and shape to bring into existence through their perception. It becomes possible to experience an unbound dimension through literature, which would otherwise not exist or seen under ordinary confined way of life. Literature adds a second set of eyes to facilitate a more in-depth analysis of the possible perspective presented by a work of fiction. Applying a critic eye in reading narratives expands the scope of perspectives and viewpoints, which enables one to engross new realizations. The multiple aspects of the world of literature coupled with magnified observations of factors are a means to bring one closer to the reality of others while appreciating their indifference.
Aziz-Zadeh, L., Sheng, T., Liew, S. L., &Damasio, H. (2011). Understanding otherness: the neural bases of action comprehension and pain empathy in a congenital amputee. Cerebral Cortex, 22(4), 811-819.
Claviez, T. (2013). Done and over withFinally? Otherness, Metonymy, and the Ethics of Comparison. PMLA, 128(3), 608-614.
Dikeç, M., Clark, N., & Barnett, C. (2009). Extending hospitality: giving space, taking time. Paragraph, 32(1), 1-14.
Fawcett, B., & Hearn, J. (2004). Researching others: epistemology, experience, standpoints and participation. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 7(3), 201-218.
Neuman, Y. (2010). Empathy: from mind reading to the reading of a distant text. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 44(3), 235-244.
Torfing, J. (2005). Discourse theory: Achievements, arguments, and challenges. In Discourse theory in European politics (pp. 1-32). Palgrave Macmillan UK.