This article argues that the central episode in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India is not the incident at the Marabar Caves, as decades of critics have argued, but the car accident preceding the expedition to the caves. Focusing on the specifics of the accident, and especially the figure of the hyena upon which the accident is blamed, it proposes that the novel advances an indeterminate ethics of alterity that prefigures the insights of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida. Tracing the cultural histories of the hyena in West and South Asia, as well as in England, it argues that the hyena is a marker of ambiguity and indeterminacy implicitly bound up with questions of race, sex and sexuality, and ethics. Following Forster’s language closely, the article illustrates how Forster links the figure of the hyena together with a thematics of spectrality that crosses cultural boundaries in the novel. Finally, it suggests that this dynamic is characteristic of modernism more broadly and indicates a crucial means by which modernism anticipates and paves the way for later theoretical insights.

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