Lecture 12 - Blindness in An Essay on Blindness

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Twelfth lecture for my students in English 165EW, "Life After the End of the World," winter 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.

Course website: http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/ta/w13/

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Lecture 12 - Blindness in An Essay on Blindness

  1. 1. Lecture 12: Blindness in An Essay on Blindness English 165EW Winter 2013 20 February 2013 “Placing biological life at the center of its calculations, the modern State therefore does nothing other than bring to light the secret tie uniting power and bare life.” — Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer, p. 6 “Only the blind, reading its fault lines with their fingertips, will ever understand Junkspace’s histories.” — Rem Koolhaas, “Junkspace,” p. 178
  2. 2. A few words on papers “If I had my time to go over again, I would make my sermons much shorter, for I am conscious they have been too wordy.” — Martin Luther “My Reverend Fathers, my letters have not usually followed so closely, nor been so long. The small amount of time that I have is the cause of both. I would not have made this so long except that I do not have the leisure to make it shorter.” — Blaise Pascal “You’ll have to excuse my lengthiness—the reason I dread writing letters is because I am so apt to get to slinging wisdom & forget to let up. Thus much precious time is lost.” — Mark Twain
  3. 3. José Saramago (1922-2010) ● Nobel Prize in Literature, 1998, for his "parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony", and his "modern skepticism" about official truths. ● Ensaio sobre a cegueira (“Essay on Blindness,” 1995, translated into English as Blindness, 1997) is often mentioned as one of the works that led to the Nobel Prize. ● Depressed over Portugese censorship of his novels, he lived in Span from 1922 until his death. Photo courtesy of the Presidency of the Nation of Argentina.
  4. 4. Henri Lefebvre’s two “illusions” ● Lefebvre critiques the idea that the Cartesian- mathematical concept space is an “objective,” extra- ideological construct. ● This assumption that “objective” space is extra-ideological is produced as “natural” through … – the illusion of transparency, in which “everything can be taken in by a single glance” and according to which “[c]omprehension is […] supposed […] to to conduct what is perceived, i.e. its object, from the shadows into the light”; this is a common default position for those who are constructed socially as “educated.” and – the realistic illusion, the belief that things really are what they seem to be; this is a default position for those who are constructed socially as “naïve.”
  5. 5. Seeing and knowledge The doctor: “it’s the same with a carburetor, if the fuel can’t reach it, the engine does not work and the car won’t go, as simple as that, as you can see.” (64; ch. 5) “it had to be acknowledged that the authorities had shown great vision when they decided to unite the blind with the blind, each with his own, which is a wise rule for those who have to live together, like lepers.” (106; ch 7)
  6. 6. Some common English phrases … … that treat seeing as a trope for knowledge: ● To “see what someone means” ● Exclaiming, “Now I see” to indicate an epiphany – or “to see the light” ● The claim that “seeing is believing” ● An opinion as a “point of view” or “perspective” ● “Foresight” ● Others?
  7. 7. As Wigglesworth has it … “But we were blind,” they say, “in mind; too dim was nature’s light, Our only guide, as hath been tried, to bring us to the sight Of our estate degenerate, and curs’d by Adam’s fall; How we were born and lay forlorn in bondage and in thrall. […] “But Nature’s light shin’d not so bright; to teach us the right way: We might have lov’d it and well improv’d it, and yet have gone astray.” The Judge most High makes this Reply: “You ignorance pretend, Dimness of sight, and want of light, your course Heav’nward to bend.” (The Day of Doom, verses CLIX and CLXI)
  8. 8. Saul of Tarsus, on the road to Damascus Michelangelo, Conversion of St. Paul (1542)
  9. 9. John Newton, “Amazing Grace” Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) That sav'd a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see. – First verse, from Olney Hymns (1779) Newton, former captain of a slave ship, describes his spiritual epiphany and his decision to stop selling human beings for profit in the hymn.Unknown painter, Portrait of John Henry Newton, Jr. (ca. 1780)
  10. 10. “The [Age of] Enlightenment” ● Refers to philosophical movements in, very approximately, the 17th and 18th centuries. ● The term enters English-language vocabulary in the middle of the 18th century as a translation of a term current in French philosophy. ● Contrast the “Dark Ages.” “Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self- imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self- imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another's guidance.” – Immanuel Kant, “Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” (1784)
  11. 11. And yet, blindness … 12. Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13. But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” 15. Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16. So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? (Matthew 15:12-16 NKJV)
  12. 12. Shakespeare’s King Lear Edmund resents his illegitimate status, and plots to dispose of his legitimate older brother Edgar. He tricks their father Gloucester with a forged letter, making him think Edgar plans to usurp the estate. […] Edmund fakes an attack by Edgar, and Gloucester is completely taken in. He disinherits Edgar and proclaims him an outlaw. […] Gloucester protests against Lear's mistreatment. Wandering on the heath after the storm, Lear meets Edgar, in the guise of a madman named Tom o' Bedlam. Edgar babbles madly while Lear denounces his daughters. Kent leads them all to shelter. […] Edmund […] shows a letter from his father to the King of France asking for help against them; and in fact a French army has landed in Britain. Once Edmund leaves with Goneril to warn Albany about the invasion, Gloucester is arrested, and Cornwall gouges out Gloucester's eyes. (from Wikipedia’s summary of the play)
  13. 13. Partial vision “To this he gave me but a pitiless answer, ‘Stranger,’ said he, ‘you are a fool, or else you know nothing of this country. Talk to me, indeed, about fearing the gods or shunning their anger? We Cyclopes do not care about Jove or any of your blessed gods, for we are ever so much stronger than they. I shall not spare either yourself or your companions out of any regard for Jove, unless I am in the humour for doing so. And now tell me where you made your ship fast when you came on shore. Was it round the point, or is she lying straight off the land?” (Homer’s Odyssey, book IX) Polyphemus, by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (1802)
  14. 14. The Citizen and “egocidal terror” –The memory of the dead, says the citizen taking up his pintglass and glaring at Bloom. –Ay, ay, says Joe. –You don't grasp my point, says Bloom. What I mean is ... –Sinn Fein! says the citizen. Sinn Fein amhain! The friends we love are by our side and the foes we hate before us. (James Joyce, Ulysses, ch. 14)
  15. 15. Looking again at Lefebvre … ● the illusion of transparency, in which “everything can be taken in by a single glance” and according to which “[c]omprehension is […] supposed […] to conduct what is perceived, i.e. its object, from the shadows into the light”; this is a common default position for those who are constructed socially as “educated.” and ● the realistic illusion, the belief that things really are what they seem to be; this is a default position for those who are constructed socially as “naïve.” (From The Production of Space, 27-30) “[R]epresentational spaces [are] space[s] as directly lived through associated images and symbols.” (39)
  16. 16. Oedipus at Colonus (1788) Painting by Jean-Antoine- Théodore Giroust
  17. 17. The seer Tiresias I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives, Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives Homeward, brings the sailor home from the sea […] (T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, lines 216-219) Johann Heinrich Füssli, Tiresias Appears to Ulysses During the Sacrifice (ca. 1780)
  18. 18. Media credits ● The photo of José Saramago (slide 3) is taken from the Presidency of the Nation of Argentina Website in accordance with their Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic policy. Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2c/Cropped_JSJoseSaramago.jpg ● Michelangelo’s Conversion of St. Paul (slide 8) is out of copyright, and the faithful photographic reproduction of it is therefore also out of copyright, I believe. Original source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/4paul1.jpg ● The Portrait of John Newton, Jr. (slide 9) is out of copyright, and the faithful photographic reproduction of it is therefore also out of copyright, I believe. Original source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7f/John_Newton.jpg ● Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein’s Polyphemus (slide 13) is out of copyright, and the faithful photographic reproduction of it is therefore also out of copyright, I believe. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polyphemus.gif ● Jean-Antoine-Théodore Giroust’s Oedipus at Colonus (slide 16) is out of copyright, and the faithful photographic reproduction of it is therefore also out of copyright, I believe. Original source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ae/Giroust_- _Oedipus_At_Colonus.JPG ● Johann Heinrich Füssli’s Theresias erscheint dem Ulysseus während der Opferung (slide 17) is out of copyright, and the faithful photographic reproduction of it is therefore also out of copyright, I believe. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johann_Heinrich_F %C3%BCssli_063.jpg

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