Self and Other
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Across the world, intolerance of otherness is growing: in Donald Trump’s America, in Brexit Britain and in a Europe seared by nationalistic resentment. Prejudice and hatred thrive in minds unwilling to entertain other points of view.
The craft of writing arguably depends on representing the experience of others. Poets and novelists make an art of giving voice to the voiceless, and of putting consciousness in places where we didn’t expect to find it. On literature’s springboard, we can all know the exhilarating leap into another worldview.
Others celebrates how words can take us out of the selves we inhabit and show us the world as others see it. Fiction writers and poets will make us look out through other pairs of eyes; essayists will probe the mental blocks that can make it hard to see the realities beyond the media bubbles. The contributors to Others will do nothing they don’t already do – make the homely strange and the exotic familiar – but they’ll do it with an unflinching eye on today’s social inequalities and the thirst for political change.
What can you expect from the book? Sometimes the theme will be the brutal consequences of intolerance and hatred, as in one shattering story of a racist hate crime. Other pieces will explore the quieter forms of otherness that go with deafness, disability, and mental distress. Our failure to stand in other pairs of shoes is most catastrophic when it goes with imbalances of power. But great writing can also illuminate ordinary kinds of otherness, by taking us into points of view we might not otherwise have been able to enter: those moments when, thanks to the magic of words, people are less strange to each other, or we glimpse something of the strangeness of our own selves.
It’s common to hear that now, of all times, literature matters. We hear less about why it matters, how books and reading can relieve minds that have come to despair at the world. Others will be much more than a worthy call for empathy. The greatest literature challenges us to recognise our own otherness; not just to understand how people out there are different to us, but how we are alien to them.
Others may not change the world, although it will be shaped by passions that could. At the very least, it might serve as a pocket device for keeping track of our humanity through what could be some rough years. Net profits from the book will be donated to the charities Refugee Action and Stop Hate UK.
To find out more about what the book will include, please check out the Updates tab.
Current contributors include:
Leila Aboulela, Gillian Allnutt, Damian Barr, Noam Chomsky, Rishi Dastidar, Peter Ho Davies, Louise Doughty, Salena Godden, Colin Grant, Sam Guglani, Matt Haig, Aamer Hussein, Anjali Joseph, AL Kennedy, Joanne Limburg, Rachel Mann, Tiffany Murray, Sara Nović, Edward Platt, Alex Preston, Tom Shakespeare, Kamila Shamsie, Will Storr, Preti Taneja and Marina Warner.
Charles Fernyhough is a writer and psychologist. His non-fiction book about his daughter’s psychological development, The Baby in the Mirror (Granta, 2008), was translated into eight languages. His book on autobiographical memory, Pieces of Light (Profile, 2012) was shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. His latest non-fiction book is The Voices Within (Profile/Wellcome Collection). He is the author of two novels, The Auctioneer (Fourth Estate, 1999) and A Box Of Birds (Unbound, 2013). He has written for the Guardian, Observer, Financial Times, Literary Review, Sunday Telegraph, Lancet, Los Angeles Times, TIME, Nature and New Scientist, and has made numerous radio and TV appearances in the UK and US, including Start the Week, Woman’s Hour, All in the Mind and Horizon. He is a part-time professor of psychology at Durham University. Further details are available at www.charlesfernyhough.com.
Excerpt from ‘Excuse Me, but Your Otherness Is Showing’ by Joanne Limburg
There was always something other about me, and people noticed it. They couldn’t have said what it was they were noticing, but they sensed it in the room. I noticed them noticing. Sometimes, as I was walking down a street, or through a corridor, I would register that this person or that was visibly disconcerted by looking into my face; sometimes they looked bewildered; sometimes they seemed uncomfortable and shrank back. It was the nameless something at work. Some people sensed it as vulnerability, explaining things to me very slowly and carefully, or asking me if I was all right; sometimes people interpreted what they sensed as a physical fragility and insisted on carrying things for me when I hadn’t asked. Some people caught it as predators catch the scent of prey. Some felt repulsed or a little threatened and shunned it. Most people, at least some of the time, laughed at it. A few were drawn towards it, and when they laughed, laughed with it.
- 18th January 2018 Stories in Transit: announcing Marina Warner as a new contributor to Others
As a supporter of Others, you'll know by now that we are celebrating how words can take us into the viewpoints of people whom we might otherwise treat as 'other' – and how, at the same time, stories and literature can reveal something of the strangeness of our own selves. One writer who has been grappling with these questions throughout her entire career is the distinguished writer and academic Marina…5th January 2018 Twelve Days of Others #12: From 'I, Migrant' by Kamila Shamsie
One London night, a few weeks after Brexit, something happened as I was walking to a bus stop that had never happened in the 9 years since I’d moved to the UK: a man (white, young, Londoner by his accent) shouted abuse at me and followed up with ‘Go back where you came from’. He seemed more ridiculous than threatening but even so I wasn’t about to get into any kind of exchange with him, so I didn…4th January 2018 Twelve Days of Others #11: 'Visitors' by Charles Fernyhough
They came in the mornings, punctually at eleven, as she had asked them. They made smalltalk, inquired after the baby’s health, and said things like ‘Are you well today, Sarah, or are you not well?’ If they had been there at dawn, when Joseph was clucking out of sleep like bird-life, she would have been hard pushed to answer that question either way. By mid-morning, Sarah thought she had seen enough…3rd January 2018 Twelve Days of Others #10: 'Awakenings' by Tiffany Murray
He didn’t remember.
All was grey, as grey as the moth wings that filled his mouth. That was until the child spoke to him, until that Sugar child had him appear.
It was a command, after all. The child’s blood had called to his in little seductive whispers, because the child’s blood was his blood. And so that day he had appeared by the window in the wooden shed. He had appeared and he had…2nd January 2018 Twelve Days of Others #9: 'The Other Side of the Sun' by Joanne Limburg
What my mum doesn’t know is
I have my own planet.
You can’t see it from the earth:
it’s the other side of the sun,
and everything there is opposite:
they go to bed in the morning,
and they get up at night,
the children teach the grown-ups
and tell them off at home,
the best food there is crisps
and broccoli is bad – very bad.
In Otherside…30th December 2017 Twelve Days of Others #8: From 'The Ostrich' by Leila Aboulela
I weave paper ribbons with holes, chains; the edges of each sheet are sharp. Grapefruit juice, no one buys for themselves alone, always sharing, competing in generosity (our downfall, Majdy says, the downfall of a whole people, a primitive tribal mentality and so inefficient). Pink grapefruit juice, frothy at the top, jagged pieces of ice struck out of large slabs with particles of sand frozen…30th December 2017 Twelve Days of Others #6: 'What You're Looking At When You're Looking At Me' by Tom Shakespeare
It's the time of year when restricted growth people are on stage, but not in a good way, it seems to me. In 2005, I did my own one-man show, at Newcastle’s Live Theatre, and talked about all the ways in which inheritance has marked my life. Here’s an extract, looking at what you’re looking at when you look at me.
Being a dwarf isn’t a big problem. It’s not a degenerative illness. You don…28th December 2017 Twelve Days of Others #4: 'Soup' by Salena Godden
Imagine if seven people from seven nationalities
Came to your home to share one pot of soup
You would have seven conflicting versions of that soup
Someone would write to note the flavour. Another the heat
Someone would write about the meaning of soup
The size of the portions. The memory the soup triggers
Too salty. Not enough meat.
This is a stew? It's more a casserole!
This soup…27th December 2017 Twelve Days of Others #7: 'Fingerprints' by Sam Guglani
Look at how we start, like fortune-tellers, at the hands. Here by the window, where ward meets world, I examine this man’s, turn them over like found leaves. They're remarkable, creaseless, a baby’s, glass palms reflecting my own: now white, now brown. He laughs at my surprise. A tree surgeon’s hands, he says, my skin pressed into other life, its bark and blood, just like you doc I bet, your fingerprints…27th December 2017 Twelve Days of Others #3: 'Waiting for a Paternoster' by Rishi Dastidar
I am the product of sweet violence, like you.
I was a beloved of a king, like you.
My pride bears the pinch of now, like you.
My heart is an incurred mess, like you.
I am fox-devil wild, like you.
I will either harden or break, like you.
I am existing in the must-live universe, like you.
I am a shaman that always rises, like you.
I am a whispered meeting, like you.
I am a threnody…26th December 2017 Twelve Days of Others #5: From 'Sounds of Blackness' by Colin Grant
For this excerpt, I had in mind the parable of Peter denying Christ three times before the cock crowed. It seemed a fitting segment for Twelve Days of Others.
‘These West Indians make an awful racket, don’t they,’ said the commuter half turning towards me. I was surprised by his intervention. We had stood isolated from each other on an otherwise empty platform at Harpenden, a leafy suburban…25th December 2017 Twelve Days of Others #2: From 'A Boy Called Christmas' by Matt Haig
Nikolas saw Miika scuttling along the edge of the floor. He stood up on his back legs, stared at Nikolas, and looked ready to have a conversation. Well, he looked as ready as a mouse ever looks to have a conversation. Which wasn't much.
'Cheese,' said the mouse, in mouse language.
'I've got a very bad feeling about all this, Miika.'
Miika looked up at the window, and Nikolas thought…25th December 2017 Twelve Days of Others #1: 'Stars' by Gillian Allnutt
There are those who have not fled shame
the numberlessness of am
the innumerable one
the dark of the moon, as absence, abstinence, is home.
In shoals, in sheols, they will come
with mobile phones.
Gillian writes…13th December 2017 'Solidarity is not discovered by reflection but created. It is created by increasing our sensitivity to the particular details of pain and humiliation of other, unfamiliar sorts of people.'
‘Writers help us imagine.’ I’ve been doing a fair bit of tweeting to try to pique people’s interest in Others, and that’s been a nice short slogan for the different ways in which our contributors will be showing how words and writing can take us into the perspectives of other people.
One writer who has really engaged with that idea is the bestselling novelist Louise Doughty. Louise has been in…28th November 2017 'With this collection, I hope that some readers might come to recognize the value in difference, while others might see a sliver of themselves on the page, feel a little peace.'
Others is an anthology of writings celebrating how words and literature can take us out of our own rooted viewpoints and show us the world from another’s perspective. We’ll have pieces on migration and racial prejudice, and what it’s like to have people making judgements about you on the basis of the colour of your skin or where you appear to be ‘from’. Look out for a piece from Salena Godden developing…30th October 2017 ‘Writers narrate the times, we report from the trenches, and write from the front line and the breadline, from the guts and from the heart.’
Hello! I hope you’ve been enjoying the updates on Others. We have a brilliant line-up of authors who will be exploring how literature can break down barriers of understanding and imagination, showing how we ourselves are ‘other’ to those we want to set apart as different, dangerous and unknowable. You’ll see from the updates so far that we’re covering topics including deafness, neurodiversity, mental…17th October 2017 ‘To be one of the others is to live at the end of the queue, and to understand that you belong there.’
Our theme in Others is how words in the hands of writers can show us the world as others see it. If you’ve followed these updates, you’ll know that we’re looking at otherness in a whole variety of its facets: the dividing lines of politics, the strangeness of the medical encounter, the anonymising power of city life, and endless battles that should have been won by now around social inequality. We…4th October 2017 'Anonymity is both the place before and the place after individuality. As the place after it can be full of joy and beautiful.'
Our question in this project is quite simple: how, why and under what conditions do writers try to enter the perspectives of others? If they didn’t, we would have no Underground Railroad or Mrs Dalloway. But what are the risks and pitfalls? How do writers pull off this trick?
You’re reading this because you’re interested in the idea. I'm pleased to say that more than two hundred people feel the…4th September 2017 'It seems to me there are no others: only fragile, weathering and astonishing life.'
This update comes with news of a milestone: Others is now one-third funded. More than two hundred people have signed up to support this project; you can read their names here. There's still a way to go, and I need your help. More on that below.
Today, I've news of an exciting addition to the line-up of contributors: the very brilliant Sam Guglani. As you'll know by now, Others is about celebrating…28th June 2017 ‘When it feels as if all the good is on my side and all the bad on the other, I know I’ve probably got lost somewhere.’
Others is an anthology of writings celebrating how words, in the hands of brilliant writers, can help us to see the world from other points of view. When there is political upheaval, of the kind we've seen so much of over the last year, there is often a closing of minds. That’s the theme of our profiled author this week, the award-winning journalist and author Will Storr.
Will is the author…16th June 2017 ‘We need a space for others to share their stories, a chance to be seen and heard on our terms.’
Thanks for supporting Others. We’re here to celebrate how books and writing can free us to imagine other points of view: whether it’s a novelist giving voice to the voiceless, a poet bringing alive a moment of consciousness we might not otherwise have experienced, or an essayist examining the many ways in which people can be strange to each other.
We’re crowdfunded, so we need you and all your…30th May 2017 ‘To some people, at some points, in some places, everyone is an other.’
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be showcasing some of the writers who are already lined up to contribute to Others. First up is an outstanding voice in British poetry, Rishi Dastidar. Rishi has been described (by none other than Daljit Nagra) as ‘one of the most ingenious, modern, thrilling, hilarious and tender poets writing today’. With cool wit, exhilarating invention and sheer verbal brilliance…17th May 2017 Thanks for supporting Others!
You’ll know what this is all about by now: a fantastic group of writers celebrating how words can help us to see the world as others see it.
You’ll also know that proceeds from the book will be going to two very worthy causes. Stop Hate UK works to challenge all forms of hate crime and discrimination, and runs a 24-hour helpline for reporting it. Refugee Action supports people fleeing from…
These people are helping to fund Others.