What is implied when we use the word “Other”? How does our perception of the “Self” influence our perception of an “Other”?
Me. You. I. We. Us. They. Self … Other.
What a mind-boggling tangle of words! With each being so entwined within our everyday language, I often find it difficult to decipher the politics within the poetics.
While reading through literature on transnational feminism and postcolonial theory, I am seeing how central our understanding of the term “Other” is to such areas of discourse. In a way, it has become more of a theoretical concept than just a word.
I was initially introduced to theories of the “Other” through my studies in anthropology. Edward Said being the big name on the topic.
In his seminal piece, Orientalism (1978), Said critiques how Europe (“the West”) views “the Orient” (“the East”), as a kind of homogenous, exotic “Other”.
“The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies … and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other” (Said 1).
His exposure of Western dominance in cultural studies and the prejudice engrained in Orientalism was the target of much critique, but Said’s argument helped inspire countless other works on the subject from a variety of disciplines.
Now that I am coming from perspectives in transnational feminism, postcolonialism, and auto/biographical theory, I am seeing more and more provocative and influential writings about the “Other.”
Trinh T. Minh-ha for one includes the term in her title, Woman, Native, Other (1989). Minh-ha writes of identity, difference, marginalization, cultural hybridization, selves and others from postcolonial and feminist perspectives while maintaining her own unique, poetic style. While theorizing notions of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ as evoked through writing, she challenges the systematic prejudice and colonial processes that have put ‘Woman,’ ‘Native,’ and ‘Other’ in the literary sidelines.
“I write to show myself showing people who show me my own showing. I-You: not one, not two. In this unwonted spectacle made of reality and fiction, where redoubled images form and reform, neither I nor you come first” (Minh-ha 22).
Even through my literature review of feminist film theory the “Other” continues to pop up. E. Ann Kaplan engages with postcolonial and film theory in Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film, and the Imperial Gaze (1997). Chapters in the book take on specific films through analyses of race, identity, and gender, all the while challenging colonial notions and representations of the “Other”.
“Can the subaltern speak? Or look? … The question of speaking addresses itself to agency; that of knowing to identity. But both have to do with the overarching problem of subjectivity: I can only speak or look if I am a subject, not an object; I can only know the Other from a position of a subject able to stand outside myself, and, while still being the subject I have constructed, construct myself differently because in relation to this Other” (Kaplan 155)
From these three brief examples, it would seem that the “Other” is a common denominator between the literature of anthropology, postcolonialism, and feminist film theory.
As I continue to make my way through this growing literature, I recognize more and more the need to be critically engaged with theories of the “Other,” especially as I study experiences of “Self” in autobiographical film.
Kaplan, E. Ann. Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film, and the Imperial Gaze. New York: Routledge, 1997.
Minh-ha, Trinh T. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.
© Lesley Butler (lvb717 @ mun.ca), 2016.