The influential literary critic David Palumbo-Liu suggests that we can arrive at a sense of responsibility toward others by reconsidering the discourses of sameness that deliver those unlike ourselves to us. Through virtuoso readings of novels by J. M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ruth Ozeki, he shows how notions that would seem to offer some basis for commensurability between ourselves and others—ideas of rationality, the family, the body, and affect—become less stable as they try to accommodate more radical types of otherness. For Palumbo-Liu, the reading of literature is an ethical act, a way of thinking through our relations to others.
David Palumbo-Liu is Professor and Director of Comparative Literature at Stanford University. He is the author of Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier; the editor of The Ethnic Canon: Histories, Institutions, and Interventions; and a coeditor of Immanuel Wallerstein and the Problem of the World: System, Scale, Culture, also published by Duke University Press.