The seeds for The Deliverance of Others may have been implanted as early as 2002 when David Palumbo-Liu in his article "Multiculturalism Now: Civilization, National Identity, and Difference Before and After September 11th" invoked Samuel Huntington's widely circulated theory about the "clash of civilizations." Huntington's theory has not only been used by the Bush Administration to [End Page 83] explain "why" the terrorist attack took place, but more problematically "how" the United States should respond to the "war on terror," and the ideology of otherness as a site of abjection. In "Multiculturalism Now" Palumbo-Liu says that "Huntington's thesis, if taken in toto, has dramatic ramifications for minority studies, minority rights, and political dissent in general"(109). These ramifications begin to form the central thesis of Palumbo-Liu's timely book, The Deliverance of Others, where both the articulation of Otherness and one's ethical responsibility in such an articulation is discussed through the lens of one's engagement with the literary novel. Yet, the book is not an over-dramatization of what Otherness is/ or ought to be, but raises profound questions regarding the role of empathy and ethics in our cultural and literary readings in the production and deliverance of Others. This book demands our attention as we continue to engage in a nuanced understanding of how global agencies respond to the textual production of racial, cultural, national, and ideological differences that we have named as Otherness.
The presence of the Other in America (be it racial, ethnic, sexual, class or disability) has always been a problem, and it continues to challenge the ethos of American exceptionalism and principles of equality and equity. What W.E.B. DuBois said in the launch of his groundbreaking 1903 treatise The Souls of Black Folk, "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line" has shifted to a global dialogue regarding the construction of Otherness beyond just the color-lines to the "national-lines" of identification, racialization, and the politics of such marginality. In The Deliverance of Others, Palumbo-Liu is "intimately concerned with how literary aesthetics in particular helps us meditate the ways we are connected to, and act in relation to, others" (Preface, x). This book becomes a thoughtful mediation on the responsibility of global literature in delivering these Others. In particular, chapters devoted to South African writers like J.M. Coetzee and his novel Elizabeth Costello and Nadine Gordimer's My Son's Story, to Japanese writers like Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let me Go, and finally Ruth Ozeki's novel My Year of Meats, draws an expansive stroke in portraying a global vision of Otherness in literature. It is also in this last chapter, "Pacific Oceanic Feeling" that Palumbo-Liu brings to the forefront the questions that are embedded in the fabric of the book:
The key question thus becomes, is this attempt to transmit affect trapping into something innate in all humans . . . Looked at more broadly, how can affect spread across national, cultural, racial, and other borders? What different sorts of affect flow differently, and in what kinds of directions? What is the wellspring of global affect? How does the self, particularly constructed, absorb, or fight off affect?(139). [End Page 84]
If what propels terrorism, war, atrocities, genocide is a failure of imagination, or rather a failure to imagine other possibilities, then Palumbo-Liu is quite astute in asking a fundamental question: what is the role of literature in mapping an imaginative landscape, or an imaginative response to Otherness? The spectrum between a failure of imagination and an excessive imagination (as Wolfowitz blames terrorism being spurred by "too much imagination") leads to the same path, a path that suggests an inability to understand the rift between the self and the Other, and any grounded response to the crisis at hand. In the post 9/11 world, Otherness has once again shown its ugly head. The rise of the national security state—along with the state of surveillance, torture, detention and authorized killings by Drones—have become legalized methods...