Friday, December 10, 2004

The Concept of the Foreign (Sana)

Sana Haque
Text - The Concept of the Foreign: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue
Publisher - Lanham, MD: Lexington Books (2003)

This text is an interdisciplinary exploration of the "concept of the foreign", i.e. expressions of alterity, the strange, and the "Other", viewed through the lens of disciplines such as Anthropology, Literary Studies, Psychology, and Social Work, among others. The first section, entitled "Theoretical Dialogue", is an explication of qualities that define the foreign and the various methodologies and approaches taken by the book's contributors to the study of this concept. The second section, entitled "Local Manifestations", is a series of essays contributed by a range of academics on the topic, treating the notion of encountering and defining the foreign in specific contexts ranging from foreigners in the Egyptian nation-state to the construction of the artist as explorer of unfamiliar realms to the metaphysical experience of alien abduction.

Part One: Theoretical Dialogue

Rebecca Saunders explores the theoretical underpinnings of this investigation into the concept of the foreign in four introductory chapters, introducing key terms, definitions, and theories. In "Instability and Discipline", she explores the volatility of what constitutes the foreign in differing contexts, its capacity to unsettle and disturb orderly categories of thought, the attraction it possesses as the "dark" and secretly seductive side of human nature/culture, and its "propensity for inhabiting its antonyms - such as nations, homes, and selves" (Saunders, xi). In "Belonging, Distance" she examines in greater detail how the foreign is defined by notions of belonging and relative proximity, its inverse relationship to biological, familial, and "group" unity, and its connection to metaphors of dependence versus independence. In "The Pathologized, the Improper, and the Impure", she looks at the connections historically drawn between foreignness and other categories of disorder and darkness such as insanity, poverty, homelessness, and criminality, as well as its metaphysical status as "impurity, unconsciousness, irrelevance, and error" (Saunders, xi). Finally, in "The Present: Temporality and Materiality", she explores the intriguing connections between foreignness and temporality, from the past as foreign territory to its perpetually "translated" and mediated nature, and its troubled relationship with globalization, modernity, and the space of the present.

Part Two: Local Manifestations

- The Exile of Anthropology (Anthropology)
Peter Redfield and Sylvia Tomaskova examine the related experiences of ethnographic fieldwork and political exile as inverted images of one another. While the ethnographer makes a conscious choice to embrace the experience of cultural alienation and dislocation in an unfamiliar geographical location, the exile is involuntarily displaced from his or her "authentic" home and attempts to recreate images of lost familiarity in foreign territories.

- Foreign Bodies: Engendering Them and Us (Women's Studies)
Margot Badran uses her personal experience as the wife of an Egyptian man and a naturalized citizen to discuss metaphors and mechanisms for constructing notions of the foreign in Egypt. She explores how the foreign is gendered as female, whether it is the "foreign within" in the form of the indigenous woman who represents "nature", "instinct" and "earthiness", or foreigners from outside the bounds of the nation such as expatriates or new citizens who are excluded from full participation in national life.

- Expedition into the Zone of Error: Of Literal and Literary Foreignness and J.M. Coetzee's "Waiting for the Barbarians" (Literature)
Rebecca Saunders looks at three representations of the "zone of error" that constitutes the foreign - i.e. the difference between "literal" and "literary" foreignness, specific explorations of both in J.M. Coetzee's "Waiting for the Barbarians", and an application of this theoretical perspective to the South African system of apartheid. The "zone of error" is a space of doubt and metaphorical complexity that facilitates both the interpretation and construction of allegorical meanings.

- Encountering Alien Otherness (Philosophy)
Michael Zimmerman undertakes an exploration of the philosophical issues raised by the experience of alien abduction as abductees describe the intense psychological experience of being abducted and probed by aliens (as the ultimate non-human Other). He sees alien abduction narratives as a vehicle to examine the nature of encounters between human beings and radically different forms of alterity, whether psychological, material, or spiritual in nature, and the stimulus these provide to intellectual and moral growth for humankind.

- Xenotropism: Expatriatism in Theories of Depth Psychology and Artistic Vocation (Psychology)
Coco Owen looks at the work of four major psychologists, Freud, D. W. Winnicott, Kohut, and Hillman, to explore their usage of metaphors of the foreign to represent artistic activity and the realm of creative thought. This association of art with the foreign reflects its association with liminal, intuitive, and defamiliarizing modes of representation, which connect to the "id" or hidden depths of the human psyche and to the estrangement and alienation associated with the state of being "foreign".

- War to the Death: Nativism and Independence in Latin America (History)
John Chasteen provides an overview of the construction of identity and nationhood in Latin American countries following independence from Portugal and Spain. He describes the complex mix of racial and ethnic identities (African, Native American, European, etc.) that played a part in the formation of the contested concepts of "native" (Native American tribes, mestizos, etc.), "European" (i.e. those of Spanish or Portuguese descent) and "foreign" (the French, British, etc.).

- Changing Images and Similar Dynamics: Historical Patterning of Foreignness in the Social Work Profession (Social Work)
Izumi Sakamoto explores the historical development of the "foreigner" in the social work field in the United States, from the 19th century to the present day. The construction of parallel groups of "similar others" (e.g. Western European immigrants) and "dissimilar others" (e.g. African- or Native- Americans) largely determined access to resources, government support, and programs of assimilation.