Fear Itself   /   Fall 2003   /    Reviews

Fearing the Other—Within and Beyond

A Review of Richard Kearney’s Strangers, Gods and Monsters

Timothy K. Beal

Graffiti of minotaur (2010). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Strangers, gods, and monsters are the forms we give otherness, that which is foreign, “not-us.” These figures appear in our intellectual and cultural borderlands, calling into question what we thought we could take for granted about ourselves, our society, and our world. We encounter them at the edge of knowing, on the verge of meaninglessness, where we feel our toes curling over the edge of the abyss. Facing them, we experience a non-rational, vertiginous mixture of fear and desire, repulsion and fascination. The limit experiences brought on by such strangers, gods, and monsters may elicit repulsion, causing us to pull back from the edge at which they appear, but they may also elicit desire, drawing us over that edge into new and unknown possibilities. These possibilities include new forms of relationship, community, even grace and redemption, but also paralysis, melancholy, even self-annihilation. How do we negotiate such limit experiences? How do we know the gods from the monsters? What is to be done?

It is precisely on this precarious edge of possibility, this liminal noplace between the known and unknown, between fear and desire, that philosopher Richard Kearney lingers. His ambition is to address the impossible necessity and necessary impossibility of finding ways to speak about the unspeakable and think about the unthinkable—in short, to interpret otherness.

To read the full article online, please login to your account or subscribe to our digital edition ($25 yearly). Prefer print? Order back issues or subscribe to our print edition ($30 yearly).