Re: [xmca] Fwd: [lchc] Wertsch

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Sat Aug 19 2006 - 18:44:14 PDT

Oops, what a mess, all the links in the article
on "alterity" turned into urls. Let me see if I can fix that ...


by Derfel Sun Oct 20 2002 at 17:03:33

Alterity is derived from the Latin alteritas,
meaning "the state of being other or different;
diversity, otherness". Its English derivatives
are alternate, alternative, alternation, and
alter ego. The term alterité is more common in
French, and has the antonym identité.

The term was adopted by philosophers as an
alternative to "otherness" to register a change
in the Western perceptions of the relationship
between consciousness and the world. Since
Descartes, individual consciousness had been
taken as the privileged starting point for
consciousness, and the "other" appears in these
post-Enlightenment philosophies as a reduced
"other," as an epistemological question. That is,
in a concept of the human in which everything
stems from the notion that "I think, therefore I
am", the chief concern with the other is to be
able to answer questions such as "How can I know
the other?", "How can other minds be known?" The
term "alterity" shifts the focus of analysis away
from these philosophic concerns with otherness -
the "epistemic other", the other that is only
important to the extent to which it can be known
- to the more concrete "moral other" - the other
who is actually located in a political, cultural,
linguistic or religious context. This is a key
feature of changes in the concept of
subjectivity, because, whether seen in the
context of ideology, psychoanalysis or discourse,
the "construction" of the subject itself can be
seen to be inseparable from the construction of its others.

Literary theorists commonly see the most
influential use of alterity in Mikhail Bakhtin's
description of the way in which an author moves
away from identification with a character. The
novelist must understand his or her character
from within, as it were, but must also perceive
it as other, as apart from its creator in its
distinct alterity. Importantly, dialogue is only
possible with an "other", so alterity, in
Bakhtin's formulation, is not simply "exclusion",
but an apartness that stands as a precondition of
dialogue, where dialogue implies a transference
across and between differences of culture,
gender, class and other social categories.

This is related to his concept of "exotopy" or
"outsideness", which is not simply alienness, but
a precondition for the author's ability to
understand and formulate a character, a precondition for dialogue itself.

In post-colonial theory, the term has often been
used inter-changeably with otherness and
difference. However, the distinction that
initially held between otherness and alterity -
that between otherness as a philosophic problem
and otherness as a feature of a material and
discursive location - is peculiarly applicable to
post-colonial discourse. The self-identity of the
colonizing subject, indeed the identity of
imperial culture, is inextricable from the
alterity of colonized others, an alterity
determined by a process of othering. The
possibility for potential dialogue between racial
and cultural others has also remained an
important aspect of the use of the word, which
distinguishes it from its synonyms.

Patterson, David. "Laughter and the Alterity of
Truth in Bakhtin's Aesthetics." Discours
Social/Social Discourse. 3:1-2 (1990): 293-309.
Pechey, Graham. "On the Borders of Bakhtin:
Dialogization, Decolonization." The Oxford
Literary Review. 9:1-2 (1987); 58-84.
Taussig, M. Mimesis and Alterity. New York: Routledge, 1993.

(definition) by Webster 1913 (print) Tue Dec 21 1999 at 21:44:27

Al*ter"i*ty (#), n. [F. alt'erit'e.]

The state or quality of being other; a being otherwise.

For outness is but the feeling of otherness
(alterity) rendered intuitive, or alterity visually represented. Coleridge.

© Webster 1913

At 12:49 PM 8/19/2006 -0700, you wrote:
>I find the discussion below on "alterity"
>helpful. Bakhtin's use of the term is discussed in the third paragraph.
>(2.6 y)
>1 C! Sun Oct 20 2002 at 17:03:33
>Alterity is derived from the
>alteritas, meaning "the state of being other or
>different; diversity, otherness". Its
>derivatives are alternate, alternative,
>alternation, and alter ego. The term alterité is
>more common in
>and has the
><>antonym identité.

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