Self and Other(s)

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Wed, 18 Oct 1995 09:05:09 +0900

Adrienne Dearmas writes,

>>How can other be anything else but oppositional to self? Doesn't
the existence of other create and define self?<<

I am myself not especially versed in the theory that Edwina is
talking about. My own off-the-cuff position would be, "Of course
the existence of other creates and defines self." Individuation and
self-identity require "others" to be meaningful. As I write,
however, I notice that I didn't write self-identity requires other
[singular]; I wrote it requires "others" [plural]. I observe, too,
traps in the word "oppositional," which too easily is taken to
evoke "opposition," i.e., conflict. I recall that in classical logic
differences take many forms. Contradiction is a relation in which
one terms excludes the other; if one exists the other cannot.
Contraries conflict but (if my memory serves me right) can co-
exist. Some differences are merely "different." Merely different
things can co-exist in harmony. I observe a world in which the
usual sort of self confronts a variety of "others" with as many
different relationships. A self defined obsessively in relation to
only a single other is, perhaps, a good working definition of

To some others the self may be indifferent, while with others it
maintains business-like relationships confined to a narrow range
of activities. Some others are mere acquaintances, while with
others still the self engages in ecstatic sharing of emotional
sympathies, perhaps even that wholeness of feeling called love.

Cultural critics who have called our attention to an unfortunate
propensity to see the other, whoever he or she really is, in terms
of generalized negative features that contrast with whatever we
take to be our "own" identity point to a serious failing. Falling into
its trap we are led to misjudge the others with whom we interact
and fail to grasp the complexities that any collection of selves
embraces. But to see all relations of self and other as analogous to
those of lawyers and gladiators strikes me as a serious--and far
too despairing--misconstrual of the world.


John McCreery