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Otherwordly, Ourselves

In many ways, the questions I explore in Haunting Encounters—about ethics, otherness, and the power of fiction—emerged from my Swarthmore studies as an English major/interpretation theory minor.

I’ve always believed that literature can matter in the world, serving to correct stereotypes and redress injustices. But too often, claims about its transformative power can seem dangerously oversimplified. After all, the characters we meet in the pages of a book are just that: imaginative constructs, brought to life through the fiction writer’s art. That’s what I mean by “haunting”: the feeling of closeness that fiction can provide, which—although powerful—we know to be an illusion.

Writers of world literature are keenly aware of the way their works cross national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries that are also boundaries of power.

In Haunting Encounters, I trace the way literature from a variety of countries and cultures engages the imaginations of readers—especially white, Western readers. Equally important, I explore the way it enforces the limits of these kinds of fictional encounters.

Cross-cultural reading is most valuable when it is not taken as a substitute for justice and inclusion in the nonfictional world.


Available now, Haunting Encounters: The Ethics of Reading across Boundaries of Difference (Cornell University Press) is Joanne Lipson Freed ’05’s first book.