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speech at Stanford, 2005


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Based on Roland Barthes’ analysis of the flood in Paris, 1955, this essay aims to examine the ravage of tsunami in Japan, 2011 with a similar semiotic approach.

The big flood brought by a massive tsunami of March 11, 2011, caused numerous deaths and serisous damage in the northeast coast of Japan. Despite the trials and agonies inflicted by Nature, the flood takes on two implications--- festivity and solidarity. 

To begin with, the so-called festivity means the abrupt change of the daily routine. In a festival, ordinary things are suspended and replaced with something unusal. So is the phenomenon of flood. In a flood, everyday objects, like houses, cars, trees, even landscape itself are all displaced. All is torn away from their roots---houses carried away, cars reduced to their roofs, household items drifting everywhere. Such a threatening sight dazzles our gaze but distances the real horror experienced by the victims or survivors of the disaster. Either the newspaper photographs or TV broadcast are a collective means of consumption of the flood. When we watch the flood scenes, our sensation remains calm, occasionally with pity and fear elicited by sensational scenes, like separated family reunited or ferocious flood engulfing everything in its path. All this is a break from the ordinary life, and what we see is already a finished act. That’s why we can just feel its terror vicariously. For those who are not the afflicted residents, the flood becomes a sensational show without the real horror of a catastrophe. For some, the flood has even created a more accessible world, a world manipulable with the pleasure a child takes when playing with his toys. The swampy wasteland littered with rubble is the replica of children’s sand castle---the houses no more than cubes, the cars stuck in mud, the utensils lying untidily. An ordinary landscape becomes unusual with the submerge of everything in a landscape. Unconsciously, each spectator of the flood experiences it as a festival in the sense that it disrupts the order of daily life (power blackout, shortage of clean water), turns the inside out (household items swept out onto the ground), tears the lofty apart (the high-rise buildings knocked down), and most importantly, it elicits the hidden emotions when witnessing a show, be they fear, pity or even relish (for a rival country).  

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海明威於1899年出生於美國的伊利諾州,從小喜歡釣魚或打獵等戶外活動,他熱愛大自然,也因此他的作品多有人與大自然接觸的經驗。此外,他本身也相當喜愛拳擊、鬥牛以及足球,是位喜愛運動的作家。高中時期開始,海明威在寫作方面逐漸嶄露頭角,並擔任學報編輯。高中畢業後,他不顧父親的反對,堅持不就讀大學,而在堪城星報(Kansas City Star) 當記者。數月之後,他辭去記者一職,參加了美國軍隊,希望能在前線親身體驗第一次世界大戰。雖然海明威身材健壯,但由於視力不好,被分發到救傷隊工作。在戰場上,海明威充分體驗到戰爭的殘酷與無情,人類在死亡邊緣的無助與渺小。也因此他早期的作品都與戰爭相關。在一次大戰之後,他繼續擔任作者一職,先後在多家報社工作,並開始了他的寫作生涯。在這期間,他陸續發表了一些作品,但成績並不是很理想。直到1926年,海明威發表了一部長篇小說《旭日又升》(The Sun Also Rises) ,藉由故事表達人們在戰後感到失落與茫然。這部作品讓他開始嶄露頭角,隨後的《戰地春夢》(A Farewell to Arms) 、《戰地鐘聲》(For Whom the Bell Tolls)和《老人與海》(The Old Man and The Sea)都是相當受到喜愛的長篇小說。其中又以晚期作品《老人與海》最受到肯定,海明威因這部小說得到普立茲獎與諾貝爾文學獎。 

《老人與海》的主題似乎很明確,人對抗大自然,即便最後一無所獲,仍堅毅不屈,不因挫折而喪志。故事中的老人費盡千辛萬苦,終於把魚釣到,但返回港口時,發現魚肉早已在回返途中被大魚吃掉,最後他得到的,只是魚的殘骸和眾人的嘲笑罷了。看似單調的情節,卻富含深意。大部分的人把它解讀成海明威式的人生哲學---(man v.s. nature),故事凸顯的是不畏惡劣的環境,仍奮力抵抗,雖敗猶榮的強人。但另一種詮釋卻更加精采。老人辛苦所捕獲的魚,不就是我們一生汲汲營營所追求的各種有形、無形的成就嗎?學位、名利、財富等,就是老人手中的那條魚。只是當我們生命要結束時,就如老人返港之時,卻發現手邊空無一物,唯有殘骸以見證一生所經歷之奮鬥罷了。殘骸何用,只能引來眾人訕笑,但我們卻還要緊緊抱持著它,捨不得放手。所謂一生的成就,到頭來只成空,在他人眼裏不過是廢物罷了。,只能在自己的記憶中憑弔。莎士比亞在皆大歡喜(As You Like it) 一劇中,早已看透此生命相狀。老人與海的主題,可以用莎翁的經典佳句來涵括: ---

"a soldier, / Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,  / Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, / Seeking the bubble reputation / Even in the cannon's mouth."---老人拼命與大自然搏鬥,就像火氣方剛、準備壯烈犧牲當砲灰的士兵。老人為了證明自己的勇氣,士兵為了留取丹心照汗青。但那顆丹心恐怕來不及被寫入歷史,就已淪為泡沫了吧!

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