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MACHINE DREAMS

Alexei Taylor, Author

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Alterity

Emmanuel Levinas first developed Alterity in a philosophical context, deigning it an element of contrast, perhaps an ‘anti-identity’ with respect to a given identity. However Michael Taussig applied this concept in a more cultural context, as a means to describe the interactions that occur between two quite different societies, ideals, peoples, races, or sets of values, when they come in metaphorical, and in some cases, physical contact. Modern and contemporary global history have offered ample opportunity to study this phenomenon, by way of a very recent colonial era (which essentially entailed the West’s contact with and conquest of what they considered a primitive Other), the proliferation of new technological media (which, to echo Taussig, have led to a re-invigoration of our innate mimetic faculties. These in turn, have provided a means to explore and understand ‘otherness’), and the reactions to the global adoption of a primarily western ‘popular culture’ and its varying implications in societies that are alien/Other to it.

Quoting Walter Benjamin, Taussig, in Mimesis and Alterity, declares that the mimetic faculty is influenced by humanity’s innate disposition to become ‘other’; to explore alterity. This strongly contrasts with the notion that our natural response to change or ‘other’ is one of opposition, which is clearly evident in humanity’s narrative. Encounters with “Another” have often resulted in conflict and violence throughout human history and prehistory. But what if this evidence is unwittingly relevant to Benjamin’s proclamation? In conquest, isn’t it common for the victim to adopt the culture of the alien victors; to explore their alterity?Definition: Alterity And did not the Spartan conquerors of Ancient Athens adopt their “host’s” characteristic love for luxury, in stark contrast to Spartan doctrines of austerity? Alterity in this respect is as sour as it is sweet. Like Morpheus in the Matrix, it offers us two pills; the satisfaction for our thirst for 'otherness', as well as the probability of conflict and a power-struggle with the 'Other'.
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