The Cannibal’s Gaze: A Reflection on the Ethics of Care Starting from Salvador Dalí’s Oeuvre

Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 29 (2):276-284 (2020)
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Starting from two paintings by Salvador Dalì (The Enigma of William Tell and Autumnal Cannibalism), the article explores Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung’s idea of erotic cannibalism. The fear of being eaten is an archetype of the collective unconscious, as fairy tales clearly reveal. Following Jacques Derrida’s reflections, the author suggests that the fear of being eaten is not limited to anthropophagic cultures, because there is a sort of symbolic cannibalism which has to do with the capacity for annihilation. The petrifying gaze of Medusa, described by Jean Paul Sartre, is a good example of this symbolic cannibalism. On the opposite side of the spectrum, compared to the petrifying gaze, we find the recognizing look of a mother toward her child. For the child, the mother embodies the good subject, which is reassuring and nonthreatening (the fairy who stands in contrast to the devouring ogre in fairy tales). Sara Ruddick explicitly refers to this motherhood model in her book Maternal Thinking, where she lays out the methodology for the ethics of care. The maternal, or recognizing gaze, as the opposite of Medusa’s gaze portrayed by Sartre, is well described in a compelling text by the Italian novelist Luigi Pirandello. At the same time, it plays an important role in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s The Phenomenology of the Spirit. Finally, the article returns to Salvador Dalì, showing how in his life, the artist experienced the Other’s gaze in both forms: the objectifying one, represented by the artist’s father (portrayed in The Enigma of William Tell), and the recognizing one, embodied by his partner Gala (portrayed in Autumnal Cannibalism).



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Care, Normativity and the Law.Rita Manning - 2015 - In Daniel Engster & Maurice Hamington (eds.), Care Ethics and Political Theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 127-145.


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Fabrizio Turoldo
University of Venice

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Hygini Fabulae.Henry T. Rowell & H. I. Rose - 1964 - American Journal of Philology 85 (4):453.

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