Sunday, October 19, 2008

Richard Kearney's Strangers, Gods, and Monsters

Richard Kearney's Strangers, Gods, and Monsters is a very well-written work of literary and cultural criticism. I finished the book about a month ago (after taking a month or two to read it), and am still enjoying mulling over the ideas he presented. I loved how he used contemporary fascination with figures of science fiction and fantasy to explore the role of the Other in our lives. He notes that we have traditionally tended to break our understanding of others down into two distinct groups, those who are shunned (scapegoats and monsters) and those who are exalted (gods). He then moves on to the call of many postmodern thinkers that we have heard for many years now — that we cease to impose our judgments on strangers and take the sting out of Otherness. I liked the move that Kearney suggests that we make, though. He points out that tolerance actually requires a more not less judicial approach to the Other. While it is true that we don't want to force a single culture's standards on everyone, Kearney recognizes that we need to be able to judge when we meet Others which ones are friends, and which seek to harm us. Very intelligent and very convincing, this book is one that I think is worth taking a good long time to read and ponder.

Included in the discussion are many science fiction and fantasy texts (the Alien movies gets a whole chapter, and is quite central to the first half of the discussion). While this is not the type of speculative fiction book I normally discuss at this blog, it is one that should be of interest to fans of the genre.

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