Romancing the Serpent

By: Chia-wen Kuo  

Ernest Cassirer notes in Mythical Thought that totemism enhances the kinship between man and animal’s their immediate union is magically felt while the sacrifice spiritualizes the sensory world in order to sensualize the spiritual world as the sacred and profane permeate one another indissolubly. Prior to the genesis within The Bible, where serpent functions as a symbol of evil that persuaded Eve into the degradation of Adam, both birds and snakes represented the omnipotence of Grecian/Roman goddesses over human birth, death and rebirth, such as Aphrodite, Athena, Hera and Medusa, particularly with the snake-haired Medusa. Serpent as a totem is relatively neutral in the Neolithic and Bronze Age of Europe as it works as a symbol of archaic matriarchy before patriarchal dominion circa 4000-3000 B.C. In Chinese culture, the Chinese sometimes romanticize the image of a snake stereotypical in The Legend of White Snake, which got first published in 981 C.E. during the Tang dynasty. White snake in this tale is a fairy-like lady who embodies all the divine feminine qualities in China: Ethereal, docile and loyal enough to die for her lover, she is neither corruptible with inadequate sexuality as the serpent in The Bible nor fearfully powerful as Grecian/Roman goddesses. Further, serpent’s body was borrowed to create the auspicious creature – Dragon, said to be the ancestor of all Chinese people. Consequently, the spiritual domain of Chinese cultural subjectivity gets romantically sensualized through the sacrifice of Madame White Snake - the totem of snake/dragon that strengthens China’s internal cohesion.

Totemism, Mythical Thought, Serpent, Madame White Snake, Chinese Cultural Subjectivity
Religious Commonalities and Differences
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Chia-wen Kuo

Chia-wen Kuo (Veronique Kwak) is a PhD graduate of the English Department in Taiwan’s National Cheng-chi University. Her research field is popular literature and popular culture, and she has diverse interests covering various genres, including cult fiction, the idea of kitsch and camp in the cultural context of postmodernity, and the literary and social connections between America’s Great Depression literature and its classic Film Noir that thrived during the Second World War. At present, she intends to extend the range of her studies of intercultural cinema into the domain of a globalized Neo-Noir.