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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: October ::
Re: alterity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1759  Monday, 18 October 1999.

From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Oct 1999 09:12:35 -0700
Subject: 10.1750 Re: References to the Bible in Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1750 Re: References to the Bible in Shakespeare

Judith Craig asks:

>As someone very interested in Shakespeare and his use of the Bible, I
>was wondering what "alterity" means.   I guess this question dates me
>as pre-post-modern.  Whatever that means.

Actually, the meaning of 'alterity' is a pretty good question, since
nobody really knows the answer.  The dictionary definition (not that I
looked it up) is that it's a synonym for "otherness".  In postcolonial
criticism and feminist criticism, this tends to be ellided with what is
other to the presumably male, western writer.  Of course, that usually
makes the so-called "other" the same as the critic.  It also, one might
add, defines the postcolonial or female in terms of what it is not, and
in terms still implicitly centred on western, male norms (as do the
words "postcolonial" and "female", but that's another matter).

Lying at the back of this tendency is a group of French critics
influenced by Emmanuel Levinas.  Irigaray actually defended Levinas
against charges of sexism levelled by Simone de Beauvoir, since Levinas
described the Other as feminine.  In Levinas's philosophy,
however-unlike de Beauvoir's and Sartre's existentialism and, I think,
most postcolonial and feminist criticism-the Other is prior to the self,
so understanding the feminine as "Other" doesn't make it secondary to
the masculine.

Levinas was, in turn, influenced heavily by theologians and Talmudic
scholars.  He habitually attended a conference in Italy which Rudolph
Bultmann also attended, for instance, and was influenced by Franz
Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and several Rabbis who are mainly unknown
outside Talmudist circles.

This is probably tangential to a discussion of Shakespeare and his
plays, but my point is that there's a connection between postmodern
theoretical concerns with "the other" and the God to whom 16th century
Christians prayed.  Since, to Levinas, the Other is also the source of
the imperative, and God is obviously Other, there may be useful
connections with the commitment which faith implies, beyond social
constructs and political contingencies.

Cheers,
Se

 

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