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Reviewed by:
David Palumbo-Liu. The Deliverance of Others: Reading Literature in a Global Age. Durham: Duke UP, 2012. viii + 196 pp.

In the introductory chapter of The Deliverance of Others: Reading Literature in a Global Age, David Palumbo-Liu states that one of the central aims of his text is to recognize the "sense of responsibility towards others" (1) that is enabled by reading literature in a manner that seeks to proactively reconsider the systems in which "others are delivered to us as like 'us'" (180). The study orients itself around four contemporary novels: J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello, Nadine Gordimer's My Son's Story, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, and Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats. The commonality between the selected texts is their subversive engagement with the systems of sameness that are the object of Palumbo-Liu's critical attention: rationality, the family, the body and affect. The novels provide a rich canvas for reflection of the themes at hand, each revealing the instability of delivery systems when re-imagined within the disruptive historical, technological, and/or political landscapes that characterize each fictional space. Palumbo-Liu does not necessarily attempt to resolve these disruptions but is instead interested in how the functionality of a given delivery system becomes progressively less stable the more it tries to accommodate "a more radical type of otherness produced in contemporary historical contexts" (1). Further, and perhaps more controversially, the text is also interested in moments when otherness is in fact detrimental to the self encountering it and seeks to identify how seemingly neutral delivery systems work to filter out "excessive otherness for the sake of the functioning of the system" (xi). Palumbo-Liu draws on an extensive collection of theoretical frameworks, ranging from rational choice theory to the work of linguist Roman Jakobson to Benedict de Spinoza's theory of affect. This startling diverse array of critical starting points provides an invigorating framework for the study even if the reader is at times left desiring further engagement with each theorist. However, as noted in the preface, this text is "meant to be almost a kind of primer" (xii); so, in this sense the level of engagement with the each theorist is perhaps ideal.

One of the most striking aspects about The Deliverance of Others's textual analysis is its definition of "other" as both a thing and as a relation (3). The idea of otherness as simultaneously object and interaction is intriguing yet not clarified as thoroughly as it perhaps could be. However, this ambiguity does speak to the wider theoretical question running through the study that asks how are we able to engage with literature as a means of stimulating a sense of ethical [End Page 208] responsibility when the ability to respond to otherness is often more than not debilitating. Palumo-Liu orients his argument to respond to what he sees as the unmistakable contact the reader experiences with "otherness as such" through their imaginative engagement with the global delivery systems each novel explores:

. . . if literary narratives can still help us imagine others across global discourses regarding the commonly held properties of human beings (the mind, the heart and the body), can they also exceed the ways those specific modes determine the shape and form of understanding, and, if so, does that offer us any greater or more potent way of not only imagining, but also thinking through being together in the world?

(26)

Palumbo-Liu's reading of J. M. Coetzee's novel Elizabeth Costello epitomizes this uncomfortable juxtaposition of imagining and otherness. In Coetzee's novel, we witness the protagonist Elizabeth Costello repeatedly ostracized by her family and colleagues as she attempts to engage with the otherness of the nonhuman animal. Her inability to personally deal with this situation coupled with the progressive fragmentation of the narrative itself vividly exemplifies Palumbo-Liu's concern that when difference overwhelms our functionality the very delivery systems that structure our self and our place in society become unhinged: " . . . the novel suggests that without a foundation of reasonable belief to secure the project, we are at a loss to survive the tidal wave...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 208-209
Launched on MUSE
2014-03-19
Open Access
No
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