Mad in Pursuit Notebook

Other vs. Stranger

Apr. 13, 2017. Six weeks have passed since my last entry, a celebration of the "home stretch" for HEADLONG, a travel memoir. Some early feedback set me intensely back to work on a tightening-and-sharpening revision, with a couple of detours -- a winter wind storm (Real World tasks required), then spring break in St. Louis to commune with my family... then prep for an 85th birthday party for my Jim... then a few summery days that made us rush outside to tend to our gardens.

I had to pore over my journal to discover if I had a single deep thought during this time.

Here's one:

The "Other" is a meme I've been familiar with. Encounters with The Other are the basis of religious experience, both frightening and enchanting. (See Rudolf Otto.) Simone de Beauvoir gave it another spin for me when I tried to read "The Second Sex" back in college:

De Beauvoir introduces her text by asking the question "What is woman?" She then goes on to explain that man is considered the default, while woman is considered the "Other." "Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not herself but as relative to him." [Wikipedia]

I was surprised to see this concept used to describe the attitudes of 19th-century imperialists toward their colonial subjects in Asia, Africa, etc. They filled their museums with "bizarre" cultural artifacts to demonstrate the need to subjugate and educate the heathens in Western and Christian ways.

I guess the phrase "you people" is also a statement about otherness.

So, for some people, encounters with the Other are enlightening and mystical. Alternatively, some people find the Other threatening and prefer to wall themselves off from the experience.

But what if you are one of those people who seek the mind-expanding opportunity to meet the Other and suddenly realize that you are it?

You have opened your mind. You travel to, say, a far corner of Indonesia, prepared to observe and learn about the Other. But a funny thing happens. The locals are not Other. It is you who are. You are the stranger. Or maybe I should say the "Stranger."

It's the flip side of the same coin, I guess, but there's a big difference in attitude. "Those people" are just leading their lives. You are the foreigner. You are the uninvited guest. You realize you are not the swaggering imperialist demonstrating to the "natives" your cool American ways. It's humbling to have a group of children point at you and laugh. Or to realize you are wearing your "jungle clothes" in a non-tourist hotel where the other guests are all smartly dressed for business. And no one speaks English.

Encounters with the mystical/mythical Other are the tales we grow up with, from St. Paul at the crossroads to Jack on the beanstalk, from the Pentecost to "The Shining."

But how often do we reflect on being the stranger? Being an outsider is humbling. It helps us build empathy. It forces us to evaluate everything we thought we knew. The sense of "not belonging" is as unsettling as it is universal. So many of our civil rights battles these days revolve around welcoming the stranger -- the immigrant, the refugee, the transexual, the Muslim. Do we have good stories about being a stranger, from the stranger's perspective -- other than revenge movies like "Carrie"?

I'm stuck here, my thoughts run dry, so I'll end this entry. Your ideas welcome...

***


THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) Thailand: lovers of ancient treasure tangle with international black markets. Delia Rivera pulls Martin Moon back into the game and their quest turns deadly. In paperback and Kindle editions.

TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) Time after time, Mary asks herself: Do I go or do I stay? She finds her power in her ancestors: Smart women turn discontent into action. An illustrated memoir in paperback and Kindle editions.

PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008) The twin forces of revenge and redemption drive Nellie MacKenzie and Taylor Jackson on a crazed adventure into the heart of Central Asia. They grapple with issues of ethics, trust, rage, and bitter heartbreak -- as well as the intrigue of the international antiquities trade. In paperback and Kindle editions.

 

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All pages in this website by Susan Barrett Price are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. [The snowstorm image at the top of this page came from Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons license.]