Sula as the Uncanny and the Evocation of the Other IMAD GUEMMAH
This paper aims at exploring the dichotomy of self and other, and what each of these actually mean. I would begin with a general presentation of the major points that mark the novel. Then, I shall shift to philosophical explanations of self and other based on two critical angles: androcentrism (i.e. David Hume, Emanuel Kant and Durkheim) and feminism (i.e. Julia Kristeva and Simone de Beauvoir). I am eventually positioning the debate on the narrative platform, as being an arena of tension between central self and peripheral other.
Sula; Toni Morrison; Uncanny; ego; Self; Other; Subaltern; Feminism; androcentric philosophers; machismo; personal identity;
The story uncovers the differences between the relatives of Sula, the protagonist, and her best friend Nel. The latter’s family is considerably integrated in the communal mob and know their rights and duties the praxis of which is reckoned to be radically obstinate; whereas the former’s kindred is deemed unorthodox. Nevertheless, all of the forth-mentioned disparities did not hinder the birth of a friendship between the two, and build - under the shadow of distinct backgrounds - a seemingly unbreakable relationship.
In the beginning, Nel underwent a way of life separate from her mother’s, Helene; she even aspired to set sail to a sea of adventure, if it was not for her friend. The bond has endured for years, until an unfortunate accident. While Sula and Nel were playing with Chicken Little, the latter slept through Sula’s fingers only to end up drowning. This unexpected tragedy would eventually pave the way for a relational complex.
After spending ten years in college, Sula has notoriously changed. She was regarded as a pure epitome of evil, as she embraced no care to her societal beliefs and decorum, which has resulted in a profound hatred towards her. As for Nel, Sula’s erotic liaison with Jude (Nel’s husband) has turned out to be an impetus to break up the entire relationship. Nonetheless, just before Sula passed away, Nel had returned in an attempt to figure out Sula’s rationale behind acting as such, which was unexpectedly shocking. Intimacy encompasses the sharing of all that is precious – including Jude himself.
With Sula’s fatality, there was a glimpse of hope that her death may bring brighter days, which has proven, to the detriment of her fellow inhabitants, a mere ignis fatuus. “It was as though the season has exhausted itself.” (Morrison, Sula 155) Meanwhile, Nel, who visited Eva in her nursing home, has received onerous imputations vis-à-vis Chicken Little’s “accidental demise”. In this way, Nel no longer saw things as the “good” Nel versus the “evil” Sula, but that she began doubting her plausible “goodness”.
“Sula had cried and cried when she came back from Shadrack’s house. But Nel had remained calm. “Shouldn’t we tell?” [Sula] “did he see?” [Nel] “I don’t know. No.” [Sula] “let’s go. We can’t bring him back.” [Nel] ... “Why didn’t I feel bad when it happened? How come it felt so good to see him fall?” (Morrison, Sula) Having already shed light on some fundamental points regarding the story, now is the time to probe the question of Sula, the protagonist, as the “uncanny” or the “outcast”. In effect, a plethora of philosophers, including David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Derek Parfit, Bishop Berkeley, John Locke, and Sigmund Freud, endeavored to identify the concept of ”self” in an attempt to either doubt its existence or prove it through logical or spiritual (metaphysical) thinking. However, along with the Anglo-American ontology about self, personhood and identity, feminists, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Wollstonecraft, Julia Kristeva and Nancy Chodorow, have attempted to voice out their philosophy in order to prove women’s identity worthy of being acknowledged, and of being on equal terms with that of men.
One of the most complex periods for western civilization was the Eighteenth century. Radical metamorphoses regarding a kaleidoscope of subjects, including cultural, economic and gender studies, have substantially ensued. Johnston asserts, “The 18th century is that time when Western Civilization underwent the irrevocable transition into the modern age and, perhaps without fully realizing it, became firmly committed to the modern industrialized liberal capitalistic enterprise, which fundamentally transformed the lives of most of the citizens who call themselves Western Europeans or North Americans.” (Johnston)
Just a few decades before, people used to embrace a conventional life of rituals, agriculture and handicraft. It was common that man was superior to woman, due to his physical strength and financial reliability, which granted him authoritative superiority over woman. In Beauvoir’s terms, woman was “the incidental, the inessential, as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute- she is the other.” (Mussett) If anything, we cannot fail to observe that being a woman is being the other, the non-subject, the non-absolute because of a “natural” force – gender.
“In law, in customary practice, and in cultural stereotypes, women's selfhood has been systematically subordinated, diminished, and belittled, when it has not been outright denied. Since women have been cast as lesser forms of the masculine individual, the paradigm of the self that has gained ascendancy in U.S. popular culture and in Western philosophy is derived from the experience of the predominantly white and heterosexual, mostly economically advantaged men who have wielded social, economic, and political power and who have dominated the arts, literature, the media, and scholarship.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy)
Such machismo that men sense is perfectly normal, perfectly comprehensible and considerably inevitable. If the threat of women’s presence is to afflict the masculine self-concept, to develop a rich and subtle discourse that ponders the legitimacy of male superiority, then it ought to be mandatory to distance all that is female-related from the center. Notwithstanding, despite the fact that humans, as isolated selves, perceive the world merely by the sensuous faculties, the experiences of which are selective, biased and bound (as Kant confirmed) to both of space and time categories, they are compelled to interact with each other, regardless of gender, race or the social stratum. That’s been said, the categorizing of the social mob into self and other, or center and periphery, would merely portray one of multiple biased classifications, which serve the oppressor’s white, strong and heterosexual concept.
A community is a melting pot of individuals manifesting as selves and others at the same time. However, both of “self” and “other” are embodiments of self-consciousness. Thus, is it wrong to assume that other is merely another form of self being projected at by another self? To what extent is it possible to perceive other as other? In Hegel’s magnum opus, “The Phenomenology of Mind”, he reveals that, “Self-consciousness is primarily simple existence for self, self-identity by exclusion of every other from itself. It takes its essential nature and absolute object to be Ego; and in this immediacy, in this bare fact of its self-existence, it is individual. That which for it is other stands as unessential object, as object with the impress and character of negation. But the other is also a self-consciousness... Appearing thus in their immediacy... [t]hey are independent individual forms, modes of Consciousness that have not risen above the bare level of life … Each is indeed certain of its own self, but not of the other, and hence its own certainty of itself is still without truth.” (Hegel)
- Quote paper
- Imad Guemmah (Author), 2010, "Sula" as the Uncanny and the Evocation of the Other, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/276583