The Literary Construction of the Other in the Act of the Apostles
“We need to resist the demonization of others even when we see evidences of it in the biblical text.” [From the conclusion]
Mitzi J. Smith uses this short and concise phrase as a conclusion to highlight the whole message contained in her compelling and thought-provoking book: The Literary Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles, to be released in June.
This book is, first of all, about the problematic concept of identity. When attempting to define his own identity, man has always resorted to the notion of “alterity”. Indeed, as Arthur Rimbaud illustrates in one of his letters, Identity is inherent to Alterity: the I can’t be conceived without the Other, who is the condition of his existence. Therefore, the “Othering”, or construction of the other, is employed in order to distinguish ourselves from the Other. Smith insists on the fact that the other we have constructed is always our own creation.
Unfortunately, in many situations, the History has been the witness of a negative characterization of the other. Human beings tend to see the other who is most similar to them as most threatening and problematic. In all times, this vision has led man to the worst atrocities in human History, genocides and exterminations. In reality, as Smith emphasizes in her introduction, the “project of otherness, othering, is more often than not about proximity and not about absolute difference. Otherness is about proximity and not alterity.” Let’s take an example among others which is quite representative: the case of Ex-Yugoslavia, a federal state which aimed to establish some unity among Southern Slavs, people from various ethnic groups. In the 80’s, Yugoslavia faced violent ethnic tensions and economic crisis, which resulted in a rise of nationalism in all republics. On behalf of their identity, thus of their dissimilarity –and for fear of the proximate other- each ethnic group started claiming independency. The situation led to an extreme violence and to the unimaginable: genocide. Yugoslavia is not an isolated case: we could observe the same kind of situations in Rwanda, with the genocide of the Tutsis, in Argentina or Chile, with the dictatorships, in Cambodia, etc. The list is sadly long.
The Literary Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles is not about genocide. However, its message is fundamental and should be listened to by anyone who sees an enemy, or a danger, in his neighbour: it’s essential to resist the demonization of others. This message is applicable even to the biblical text. In Smith’s book, the otherness of characters from the Bible -Charismatics, Jews and women- is examined: the proximate other who inspires fear is crystallised through those characters. “The construction of the other has to do with the drawing of boundaries in order to clearly distinguish between them and us (…) Othering involves the obliteration of sameness and the foregrounding and/or construction of difference.” [from the Introduction]. Even in the biblical text, otherness is a polemical and political construction. As Christian people, we believe that God has made all humans in his own image, despite our fallibilities. In that case, the other is like me and in some ways the other is a mirror image of me. “The Other has a face, and it is a sacred book in which good is recorded . . . this difference, this otherness is rich and valuable, it is a good thing. . . . Yet it remains that as I encounter the other I too am Other.”
 Kapuściński, Ryszard. The Other. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. London: Verso, 2008, p. 35.
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The Literary Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles
Charismatics, the Jews, and Women
by Mitzi J. Smith
Release Date: 28/06/2012