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Edith Wharton and Cosmopolitanism$
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Meredith Goldsmith and Emily J. Orlando

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062815

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062815.001.0001

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“Eyes Filled with Splendor”

“Eyes Filled with Splendor”

On Italy and the Saturated Gaze in The Custom of the Country

(p.210) 9 “Eyes Filled with Splendor”
Edith Wharton and Cosmopolitanism

Sharon Kim

University Press of Florida

During a sunset in Italy, Ralph Marvell’s aesthetic pleasure in the landscape crosses into a visionary experience, one distinguished by the unusual perceptual means by which he sees it. His vision resembles the “saturated phenomenon” theorized by Jean-Luc Marion, in which the presence of being becomes so concentrated in a physical manifestation that it results in a bedazzlement of vision. Because such perception does not operate in Cartesian or Subject-centered terms, it does not reduce or objectify what is seen. The saturated gaze thus presents a rare alternative to the predatory modes of vision seen in The Custom of the Country (1913) and criticized in contemporary theory. It also forms the basis of an equally rare form of cosmopolitanism, one that is not a disguised version of narcissism, provincialism, or imperialism. Ralph’s vision, however, is short-lived, disintegrating in the destructive ways of seeing that empower his wife Undine.

Keywords:   vision, saturated phenomenon, Jean-Luc Marion, Italy, cosmopolitanism, The Custom of the Country

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