Other Others

Levinas, Literature, Transcultural Studies

By Steven Shankman

Subjects: Comparative Literature, Literary Criticism, Jewish Philosophy, Ethics, Continental Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Thought
Paperback : 9781438430843, 226 pages, January 2011
Hardcover : 9781438430850, 226 pages, April 2010

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
“The Road to Bauska”

“On Rembrandt’s Sacrifice of Isaac (1635) in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia”

Introduction: Rembrandt’s The Sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham’s Suspended Knife, and the Face of the Other

1. The Promise of Language in the Depths of Hell: Primo Levi’s “Canto of Ulysses” and Inferno 26

2. The Difference between Difference and Otherness: Il milione of Marco Polo and Calvino’s Le città invisibili

3. Traces of the Confucian/Mencian Other: Ethical Moments in Sima Qian’s Records of the Historian

4. War and the Hellenic Splendor of Knowing: Euripides, Hölderlin, Celan

5. The Saying, the Said, and the Betrayal of Mercy in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

6. “Nom de Dieu, quelle race!”: The Saying, the Said, and the Betrayal of Charity in Mongo Beti’s Le pauvre Christ de Bomba

7. Transcendent Divinity and Human Responsibility in Mahfouz: “Zaabalawi” and Children of our Alley

8. “That You Might Have My Witness in Your Poem”: Valéry, the Symbolist Tradition, and Edgar Bowers’s Later Blank Verse

Conclusion: The Saying and the Said/Representation and Interruption


Looks at literary works from outside the Judeo-Christian tradition to test Levinas's notion of "the Other. "


In literary and cultural studies today, the term "the Other" appears to have largely lost its moorings in the primacy of the intersubjective encounter, focusing rather on the social construction of the Other. For Emmanuel Levinas, in contrast, the Other is precisely that which eludes construction and categorization. In a study that ranges from literature of ancient China, Greece, and Israel to modern Egypt, Italy, West Africa, and America, Steven Shankman tests Levinas's ideas by reading literary works from outside the Judeo-Christian orbit for figurations equivalent to Levinas's notion of the Other. He also places ethics at the center of intercultural—or, in his words, "transcultural"—comparative literature. In contemporary literary and cultural studies, it is often assumed that culture has the last word. However, as Levinas insists—and as Shankman argues throughout this book—it is ethics that is the "presupposition of all Culture," that is situated "before Culture. "

At the University of Oregon, Steven Shankman is UNESCO Chair in Transcultural Studies, Interreligious Dialogue, and Peace and Distinguished Professor of English and Classics. His books include Early China/Ancient Greece: Thinking through Comparisons, also published by SUNY Press, and The Siren and the Sage: Knowledge and Wisdom in Ancient Greece and China.