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Chapter 8 - Borderlands: Extinction and the New World Outlook in Sea of Cortez

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 July 2021

Gavin Jones
Affiliation:
Stanford University, California
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Summary

Sea of Cortez is part travelogue and part marine biology textbook that Steinbeck coauthored with his friend Ed Ricketts. This chapter examines Steinbeck’s interest in science, in species, and in the possibility of a shift in human consciousness offered by his encounter with Mexico. Placing Steinbeck’s book in the context of theories of the borderland and ideas of the Global South, together with his education in biology and “non-teleological thinking” gained from Ricketts, we uncover Steinbeck’s ecological vision that rejects progressive, goal-directed thinking. Sea of Cortez imagines an ideal of humanity, in harmony with its environment, found in moments of deep observation and passive description of other species. This descriptive method enables a complete understanding of other animals, an ecological sense of species interrelationship, and the possibility for new ways of being on the planet in the face of human extinction. The chapter ends by tracing Steinbeck’s understanding of Mexico’s indigenous population, which offers the potential of a holisitc, non-teleological existence, even as Steinbeck cannot fully transcend the barriers and prejudices of race.

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Reclaiming John Steinbeck
Writing for the Future of Humanity
, pp. 147 - 167
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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