Reconsider the Limitation of Ocularcentrism: John Steinbeck’s “Snake” as a Point of Departure
|Keywords:||史坦貝克，視覺中心主義，暗室，視覺，倫理;John Steinbeck, ocularcentrism, camera obscura, vision, ethics||Issue Date:||Mar-2011||Source:||中外文學||Start page/Pages:||007-043||Abstract:||
In John Steinbeck’s short story “The Snake,” a mysterious woman drops into Dr. Philips’s laboratory to purchase a male rattlesnake from the young scientist and insists on watching her snake eat a rat. Disturbed by the woman’s weird behavior, Dr. Philips loses track of time and ruins his starfish experiment. He is thrown into crisis after she leaves and even starts to anticipate her return. To his disappointment, the woman never appears again. Even though Steinbeck concedes that he himself does not know the meaning of this “damnable story,” which is based on an actual incident he witnessed, critics are not hesitant to develop multiple interpretations to unveil its mystery. The story’s concern with eyes and the act of seeing, for example, has drawn much critical attention. As we know, the doctor is said to possess “the mild, preoccupied eyes of one who looks through a microscope a good deal.” The woman’s eyes, “dark” and “veiled with dust,” immediately remind readers of the rattlesnake, whose “dusty eyes seemed to look at nothing.” If the imagery of eyes is crucial to our understanding of the story, what does Steinbeck attempt to reveal through his depiction of the scientist’s loss of the power of observation? Is he trying to endorse rationalism by characterizing Dr. Philips as a clear-sighted scientist wronged by the snake-woman? Or, on the contrary, does Steinbeck employ the snake-woman as a mirror to the scientist to help readers notice the limitation of ocularcentrism? In the first section of my paper, I argue that the snake-woman, rather than being an inhuman freak threatening to cause the scientist’s fall, compels Dr. Philips to learn the disastrous outcome of his exaltation of scientific knowledge. Refusing to look through the microscope, the woman represents a mode of looking that is unimaginable for the young doctor. The second section will analyze how the way Dr. Philips perceives the world can be likened to the Cartesian camera obscura model, which seeks to found knowledge on a purely objective view of the world. Having foregrounded the limitation of the vision-centered philosophy, in the third section I will elaborate why an alternative mode of recognition is essential for the ethics of love to take root. Teresa Brennan, Kelly Oliver and Merleau-Ponty will be drawn on to revisit the intricate relation between vision and ethical obligation.
|Appears in Collections:||外國語文學系|
Items in DSpace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.