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Echoes of History, Shadowed Identities

Rewriting Alterity in J. M. Coetzee’s "Foe" and Marina Warner’s "Indigo"

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Maria-José Chivite de León

This book addresses the recovery of submerged memories, loss and trauma in self-avowed intertextual fiction, while simultaneously exposing the tensions and untenability of any stable figuration of alterity. Otherness thus posits a liminal and largely transversal site of resistance to monological representations of Western identity, history and canon, which are now displayed inherently crossbred and built on the occulting and alienating of difference.
With this in view, the author carries out a close reading of the works and scholarly statements of J. M. Coetzee and Marina Warner by taking as the point of departure the intertextualist approaches that most attend to the phenomenon of alterity against the critical discourses of modern representation. Fully installed in the revision of canon policies, Foe and Indigo re-read Eurocentric institutionalised forms of othering at the same time they posit new and suggestive rehearsals of identity languages via literature. Intertextual fiction thus turns out to be a powerful instrument to render alterity visible and agential in the discourses of reality. Ultimately, alterity is enabled to speak and invite social change and ethical awareness without denying the history of its alienation.

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1. Intertextuality and Alterity 1

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11. Intertextuality and Alterity The most important acts constituting self-consciousness are determined by a relationship toward another consciousness (toward a thou) […]. To be means to be for another, and through the other, for oneself. A person has no internal sov- ereign territory, he is wholly and always on the boundary: looking inside him- self, he looks into the eyes of another or with the eyes of another […]. I cannot manage without another, I cannot become myself without another; I must fi nd myself in another by fi nding another in myself (in mutual refl ection and mutual acceptance). (Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 287) So did Mikhail Bakhtin establish the indissoluble, complicitous link which semiotic phenomena lay between subjectivity and otherness. In the process of subject-formation – and by and large in any process of meaning-making – the Other refl ects and simultaneously incarnates the constitutive alterity of the human psyche, which can only be realised as the transversal, irreducible, paradoxical and yet intrinsic reciprocity among individuals in their social-semiotic exchanges, contrasts and contacts. Alterity mediates in such representational processes and their discursive practices, therefore deciding the word for both the identities of Self and (its diametrically opposite) Other. By virtue of such para- doxical reciprocity, the Other’s language is therefore openly or covertly incorporated into the Self’s language, which is in that way constantly informed and semantically fertilised, “evoking a responsive word from the other, whose utterance in turn necessarily bears the same potential for initiating further discourse” (Danow 1991: 64). Bakhtinian philosophy of...

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