Other, the

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Other, the

Other, the: In psychoanalytic criticism, that which defines and limits the subject, or self, and from which the subject seeks confirmation of its existence and agency. To put it another way, the subject only exists in relation to the Other, which both defines the self through differences and engenders a yearning for unification. Language, ideology, and other symbolic systems function as discourses of the Other. Twentieth-century French psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan, who contended that humans have no sense of self separate from the world surrounding them until they reach the “mirror stage” of childhood, further argued in his 1955 seminar on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Purloined Letter” (1844) that the unconscious itself is a discourse of the Other.

Outside psychoanalytic criticism, the term the Other (or, sometimes, an Other) refers to any person or category of people seen as different from the dominant social group. Virtually any ideology involves the identification of some group as the Other, whether by virtue of ethnicity, race, class, gender, sexuality, or any other characteristic, a practice that often results in marginalization or oppression of that group. The emergence of disability studies in the 1990s increased awareness of the way in which societies construct an Other composed of persons with unrelated physical, mental, and developmental differences.

EXAMPLES: In his book Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education (1991), Michael Pollan remembers a cemetery he and his sisters built for pets and other animals who had died:

After we interred the shoebox-caskets, we would rake and reseed the ground and plant another homemade wooden cross above the grave. I understood that crosses were for Christians. But a Star of David was beyond my carpentry skills, and anyway I was inclined to think of pets as gentiles. To a child growing up Jewish, the Other, in all its forms, was presumed to be Christian.

In the television series Lost (2004—10), the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 refer to the members of another, threatening group living on the island as “the Others.”