Editors’ Preface
Melissa Feuerstein, Bill Johnson González,
Lili Porten, and Keja Valens
The surprise of otherness is that moment when a new form
of ignorance is suddenly activated as an imperative.
—Barbara Johnson, “Nothing Fails Like Success”
To encounter and propagate “the surprise of otherness”— the otherness of
another gender, race, culture, or language, the irreducible otherness of another
person, the contradictions within the self— this is the “impossible but neces-
sary task” and guiding imperative of the work of Barbara Johnson, one of
the most original and infl uential literary critics of her generation.1 Why seek
the surprise of otherness? Because such an encounter, Johnson explains, can
alert us to an ignorance we never knew we had. And ignorance is an abiding
preoccupation of Johnson’s work. We should reevaluate our purely negative
view of ignorance as a simple gap that additional knowledge can fi ll, she
proposes, and recognize the transformative power of truly experiencing our
doubt, which can change the nature of what we thought we knew. In studies
that intrepidly cross cultural traditions, historical periods, and academic
disciplines, Johnson investigates the role of what we do not know— the “power
of ignorance, blindness, uncertainty, or misreading”— in shaping meanings
and lives.2 In par tic u lar, “through the careful teasing out of warring forces
of signifi cation,” Johnson’s work explores the consequences of uncertainties
that attend language.3
Previous Page Next Page