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Author Topic: Link to Essay: Becoming the Other
Robert Nowall
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http://www.locusmag.com/Roundtable/2015/07/carolyn-ives-gilman-guest-post-becoming-the-other/

I found this over at the Locus website, and found it interesting enough to bring a link here. Makes me think about my own reading and writing habits...and, in addition, why I dislike certain kinds of stories...

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Grumpy old guy
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Interesting. She takes an outward view of the human condition; how we relate to 'otherness', both those on the inside and the outside. A conflict of differing perspectives and imperatives. Personally, I take the inward view; self-evaluation and inner conflict that drives the character's growth/change--for better or for worse.

A valid POV, just different to my own.

Phil.

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Captain of my Sheep
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Thanks for sharing, Robert. Interesting read. [Smile]

quote:
Her comment made me realize I am exactly the opposite: I read books to become something I am not. To capture my attention, a book has to take me to a time or a place or a culture I have never lived in.
I found a short story about a couple of sentient rocks on an alien planet once. While certainly showing me a place and culture I'd never lived in, it was painfully boring to read—and I quit after finding no trace of humanity I could relate to in those rocky characters.

I might just be like her friend, only I like to read about people that share some of my values and can also do magic, live in a city unlike any city on Earth at the moment, and maybe in the future. And there have to be dragons.

But yeah, the MC has to be somebody I can relate to. The time and place are secondary. Take me to a fascinating time and place with a character I can't relate to and I'll abandon that book before the end of chapter 2.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, it got me to thinking. I made some comments about royally not liking The Catcher in the Rye. Reading this essay made me think...it may be Holden Caulfield (is that the right spelling?) was too much like me for me to emphasize with him.

Certainly other great works of literature do put me "outside of myself." A while back I read some of the Great Russian Novels...I did enjoy them (though I only got a third into War and Peace before other things got in the way. I should get back to it---I did enjoy it.)

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extrinsic
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The essay to me reads somewhat empty and intended more for promotion of the writer's works.

The essay does, though, raise several strategies of interest for writers: avoid directly writing about real life in order to evade messy political controversy; consider writing about the fantastical "other" as a strategy to avoid portraying a real "other"; and consider that non-one-to-one correspondence between fantastical "other" character's and their figurative identities are no less representational -- symbolic or emblematic -- of real-life persons and their tangible and, of crucial significance, intangible moral complications. Such characters are larger-than-life archetypes and alter-identity-like crucibles for a writer's social meaning-making struggles, regardless of these characters' fantastical identity matrices, milieus, settings, and events.

The "other" is a social construct from the so-labeled political correctness, anti-political correctness public cultural debate. The "other" is an identity artifact "owned" by marginalized culture groups who feel they are dehumanized and left out of and oppressed by mainstream power and privilege dynamics. The "other" is a self-known persona who feels alienated by non-other personas.

On the other hand, many commentators, writers, critics, etc., take the "other" to be portraits, expectations, presumptions, judgments, condemnations, etc., of persons not of an insider culture group's esoteric participants -- the alien as somewhat familiar and somewhat exotic, and of xenophobic emphasis.

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JSchuler
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quote:
I found a short story about a couple of sentient rocks on an alien planet once. While certainly showing me a place and culture I'd never lived in, it was painfully boring to read—and I quit after finding no trace of humanity I could relate to in those rocky characters.
Perhaps we need a distinction between "other" and "alien."

The "other" may be defined by differences, but there is a current of humanity running underneath that the reader can tap into to relate. We can understand their sadness, anger, and joy, even if we may not exactly understand the why of it. Though that is not to say that we never could.


The "alien," meanwhile, is almost entirely unrelatable. Its motives can be inscrutable, and most of the emotions we recognize are the result of anthropomorphizing it more than anything real.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by JSchuler:
Perhaps we need a distinction between "other" and "alien."

Que exquisitus! Is a distinction natural? Webster's helps clarify to a degree: "other," noun, 3b, "one considered by a dominant group as _alien_, exotic, threatening[,] or inferior".

"Alien," adjective; 2, "differing in nature or character to the point of incompatibility [--] synonyms, see Extrinsic" --

"Alien," noun, 1, "a person of another family, race, or nation" 2, "a foreign-born resident who has not been naturalized and is still a subject or citizen of a foreign country . . ." 3, "Extraterrestrial" 4, "Exotic 1" [see "exotic" entry 1] "introduced from another country, not native to the place where found".

Extrinsic synonyms and distinctions: "extrinsic, extraneous, foreign, alien mean external to a thing [de re, of the thing], its essential nature, or its original character. Extrinsic applies to what is distinctly outside the thing in question or is not contained in or derived from its essential nature <sentimental value that is extrinsic to the house's market value>. Extraneous applies to what is on or comes from outside and may or may not be capable of becoming an essential part <arguments extraneous to the issue>. Foreign applies to what is so different as to be rejected or repelled or to be incapable of assimilation <techniques foreign to French cooking>. Alien is stronger than foreign in suggesting opposition, repugnance, or irreconcilability <a practice totally alien to her nature>."

Not much distinction to speak of between "other" and "alien" except for subjective weights of emotional charge strength and clarity -- positive!?, neutral, or negative?

In my estimation, though, "other," "alien," each entail their significance from their supporting context and texture, and, foremost, individually, humans are by nature of necessity capable of appreciating outsiders as potential insiders -- helpmates, as well as, as potential threats, including, so to speak, "we are our own worst enemies." We are other; we are alien, to others, if not in ourselves when we suffer the doubts and confusions of social rejection's identity crises and consequent alienation and isolation.

I came upon two dubiously sentient boulders. They proved to me I was other and alien through our mutually exclusive inability to effectually correspond. They outnumbered me and demonstrated I had little capacity to persuade them of my value or potential for harm to them. They may as well have been intellectually inert, as they were outwardly physically inert, for all I could discern, and, thus, mere objects for me to make use of, or not, as I saw fit. Never a moment could they have any meaningful cooperation or opposition to my dynamite, except they were imposing and obstacles situated on my self-involved way. Boom-boom went the rocks into gravel for my walkway.

[ July 16, 2015, 05:05 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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JSchuler
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quote:
Webster's helps clarify to a degree
Webster's does no such thing, as Webster's definition is irrelevant to my statement, just as Webster's definitions are irrelevant to the terminology used inside all professions.

The question is not whether a distinction is natural: when defining terms for technical use, natural is an inappropriate metric. The question is whether a distinction is useful. As there are two different things being referred to by the same term, thus clouding the issue, then the answer is "yes."

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by JSchuler:
quote:
Webster's helps clarify to a degree
Webster's does no such thing, as Webster's definition is irrelevant to my statement, just as Webster's definitions are irrelevant to the terminology used inside all professions.

The question is not whether a distinction is natural: when defining terms for technical use, natural is an inappropriate metric. The question is whether a distinction is useful. As there are two different things being referred to by the same term, thus clouding the issue, then the answer is "yes."

A technical word use is as far from clarity as a door is from a window. Technical terms' applied uses are often too obtuse for even insider effective communication. They are used as insider shorthand to express specific, limited, presumed shared meaning, and are anything but mutually understood, perhaps they are reciprocally understood, if anything.

Take "conflict" as a literary principle, method probably. No two senses of the word's meaning fully agree on its fundamental literary functions, if any given individual even appreciates what the term personally means. Usually, the meaning is cloudy, assumed agreed upon, and obscured by numerous variables too abundant to encapsulate, as with most words and terms. Yet the word has a natural basis, or many bases, for meaning that users, of whatever walk of life, reciprocally understand.

"Other" and "alien," though not appreciated as exactly synonymous, nearly so in a context of established use precedents, are otherwise congruent as hyponyms of each other and corollary to stranger, not per se hypernyms. If other and alien and stranger are meant as persons, then they are of a hypernym class of person types. Friend, for example, is in a hypernym class of person types and as far from alien, etc., as a door is to a window -- decidedly non-hyponym. In the hyponym class, and the hypernym's perceived problematic person type subset, alien is hyponymous to other and stranger.

In any event, other and alien uses vary across culture cohorts in their noun and attendant adjective uses. However, of note is that their customary fantastical fiction uses distinguish "alien" as the extraterrestrial sense, mostly from recently and numerously established precedents.

Other is a comparatively more recent addition to fantastical fiction uses, and is presently limited and specific to a cohort versed in "other" rhetorics, though expanding into other cohort uses, and transformatively, perhaps diluted, perhaps invokes an emotional valence change. These are akin to a culturally set rhetorical figure, like metaphor, metonymy actually, bent to a limited, specific use agreed upon by fantastical fiction writers and readers through precedents. Bug-eyed alien, for example, is a trope, in this case a synecdoche. Metaphor, metonymy, and synechdoche are not hyponyms or synonyms of each other, though are a subset of a hypernym class -- tropes.

A best advised practice is to respect customs and otherwise develop personal, accessible to, interpretable by others meanings for most every word with cloudy and elusive clarity through concise context and texture, not to mention, through suiting words and subject matter each to the other, to the opportune occasion, and the audience. Most of a language, really.

Mehrabian's communication study suggests that words themselves are an insignificant portion of effective expression, expressly as applies to likeability, that vocal intonation and gestural expression provide words' context and texture, not to mention other expression modes and existents: description, emotion, etc.; and complication and conflict, antagonism, causation, and tension; and events, settings and milieus, and characters.

[ July 16, 2015, 07:10 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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JSchuler
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Fine, extrinsic. Instead, we shall distinguish between "other" and "extrinsicaldevelian" instead of "other and "alien," because I would hate for you to be confused by a dictionary definition instead focusing on what was offered for discussion purposes.

Now that your petty objection has been addressed, do you have anything useful to offer?

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extrinsic
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The topic of the post is about an essay called "Becoming the Other." Other or alien in parallel contexts is about their discourse communities reciprocal, at least, expressions. Becoming the Other could at least appreciate that narrowly construed word use meanings are variable across discourse community cohorts, not so narrowly construed as isolated distinctions.

Now, the proposal about "Perhaps we need a distinction between 'other' and 'alien'" holds validity in those contexts; that is, maybe a distinction is warranted, many distinctions, actually. I offered numerous distinctions from dictionary sources and an opinion that too narrow a distinction questions natural and varied uses of the terms to the point of, depending on context and texture, occasion, audience, etc., unnatural distinctions. The terms are naturally interchangeably used in the wide English world and only presently narrowly construed distinctions for fantastical fiction, and expressly, "other" for the particular identity-related rhetorics of interactions between multicultural groups, mostly derived from contemporary literary fiction and creative nonfiction and criticism thereof uses.

I choose to appreciate that the distinctions are worth note for functional reasons, though otherwise, depending on cohort discourse community, probably more often than not interchangeable. For prose, I also appreciate the contexts for the distinctions, though also appreciate the interchangeable overlaps and functions, that to describe a persona as an alien or other is a pure summary tell as artless as labeling a visual sensation a sight for sore eyes, that context and texture show a persona, object, or motif as alien or other without a need for a label in the first place.

Distinctions that matter between alien and other are their uses for weight and type of emotional charge otherwise: strong, moderate, mild; positive, neutral, negative; which rely upon supporting context and texture, not the labels themselves.

[ July 16, 2015, 09:01 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The "other" that I found interesting in the article is the reader who prefers a different kind of story than what the author of the article prefers.

When such an "other" is presented, I find myself wondering which is more like me. (Yeah, self-centered of me.)

And I suspect that may be why Robert posted the link, because it made him think about which is more like him.

Just having read the article, and not spent a lot of time wondering yet, I'd guess that I am closer to the author of the article, but I submit that it isn't necessary to read about really foreign people or cultures, because any character from any culture or setting who is artfully conveyed to me in a well-written story is going to be different enough from me that I may like the story.

Since none of us are identical, perhaps it's a spectrum. How far away from what you've experienced in your own life do you want the people you read about to be? How far is too far for you to be able relate/understand/care about them?

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extrinsic
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I favor reading and writing about people different and the same as me, at the same time, and different or similar separately. No certain one or another, only that the experience be vivid and lively and discernibly about an innovative perspective of the human condition, including non-terrestrial being and fantasy being representations.

To far for me is aspects of the human condition that are unrelatable -- though, in for me, nonetheless, are, per se, one-to-one or non-one-to-one correspondence relatable as human conditions, to include natural, spiritual, and cosmic forces that are relatable as prime movers of transformative influences.

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