Philosophy and the Mirror Nature – Story Review

I’m not sure what to make of the story. Even though it’s short, especially by Wallace standards, he packs a lot of information into it. A son and mother are suing a cosmetic surgeon for a botched surgery to remove crow’s feet that permanently ricters the woman’s face into a look of abject terror. Meanwhile, we also learn the son is on probation for not taking proper precautions in keeping poisonous spiders in his garage, something discovered by a kidfalling through the roof and into the glass enclosures that were housing the spiders.

The bulk (entirety?) of the story takes place through narration by the Son as he rides with his mother on the bus, has him talking about  how he goes with her to protect his mother while carrying a briefcase with little breathing holds tacked into it because he also brings some of his black widow spiders with him.

In a way it explores the horror of disfigurement. The result of the botched surgery on the mother’s face causes such discomfort in those who see her that the son has to literally protect her on the street and find the best possible seat on the bus for shielding his mother’s face from other passengers. But Wallace doesn’t focus on the ostracizing aspects of the disfigurements. It would have been the most natural, and easiest, path for the story to take but the only way the mother is touched on is a tower of different ways of saying she looks terrible and the affect this malformity has on those who see her. The bulk of the story is her son saying (and showing) how much he is willing to care for her and for his spiders, while attempting to absolve himself of any blame in regards of the incident regarding said spiders and how the black widow is actually a timid coward, especially in comparison to the recluse spider.  IN fact, the Son is almost motherly towards the spider, doting on them and praising them as if they were his children. Meanwhile, we’re ot given any reason to believe he has been praised at all by anyone. He is clearly helpful towards his mother but I don’t believe he ever mentions her noting his kindness.   She just seems to go with him out of necessity of the situation. And despite his occasional mentions of looking out for her due to the extreme of public reactions to her appearance, it seems he is just as unemotionally paired with her as he must be with her due to his probation because of charges brought against him when the kid fell through the garage and into his spider cages.

With the help of this class wiki (or maybe it’s just a message board system, not sure on the difference) I was keyed in on a possible connection to a philosphical take to the story with a similarly named paper from 1979: Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature by Richard Rorty. unforunately, much like the person who made the post at the wiki (or message board), I’m unable to tease out much of a meaning in the connection, either. This makes me wonder if there is a connection, though, considering Wallace’s background, I assume there has to be.

What I do sense is a certain hopelessness to the Son character. He takes actions of his own, namely his collection of Black Widow spiders, but he doesn’t seem to have much control over what is actually happening in his life. A kid crawling across his garage, an intruder as it were, falls into his spiders and manages to get the Son in legal trouble over it. The legal trouble ties him to his mother who is forced into greater dependency on him because of a horribly botched cosmetic surgery that left her permanently looking like the woman in the shower scene from Psycho.

And maybe this is where the only real connection lies to the Rorty work. From what I’ve been able to gather, Rorty’s paper is largely a call for philosophy to deal with problems in a real way that ignores pointless argument for a view of the bigger picture. in effect, if something works, that’s what matters. Not what color the shirt is of someone taking part. with the life of the son, there are few extraneous matters. He is constantly dealing with what needs to be dealt with how they need to be dealt with. In effect, he is finding what works and focusing on it rather than a bunch of ancillary things that don’t have any connection to the ends he is trying to make meet.


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