I will tell you how to be blind but only when first you tell me how it is to be sighted. You will tell me what you see which has very little to do with the matter. You cannot help yourself. To see, seeing is this sail turning before the wind, this nearly transparent orchid. When your thoughts turn atavistic your vision has much to do with being a prey animal for humans have a great deal in common with horses.
So by turns, given this is what you believe about sight—that it is the sum of its contexts and each “peep” stands for something universal—you must believe the absence of sight is nothing more than a mineral blank.
You think there’s a tribe called “the blind” and we are pulling off a sinister trick by our very attempt to live in the world. You want to ask: “how can you live if you can’t see?” You know you want to ask it. A famous fiction writer once asked me during a job interview: “How can you write so clearly if you can’t see?” Translation: “How exactly are you fooling us? Maybe you can see? In any event you must be dishonest.”
Blindness is dishonesty to many sighted. If I can be called “blind” you can be called “sighted” though I prefer mis-sighted for you. In any event you believe you’re the sum of your sights however poorly apprehended.
Yes, you see as through a glass darkly. Most of you know it and are afraid. “Why if I lost my little peephole it would be like death itself.”
The blind are, to the poorly apprehended, the walking dead.
Yes. The blind are zombies to the P.A. kids.
Yes. The poorly apprehended are just kids.
Children who believe they’re the sum of their toys.
Seeing is toy collection.
Wouldn’t life without toys be impossible?
You’d have to be a zombie.
Not long ago while visiting a famous arts colony I heard a notable writer say that henceforth the famous arts colony would no longer be blind and poor when it comes to appreciating outlier forms of art. He said it twice during a formal speech.
And there I was with my guide dog. I’ve spent the last thirty years writing six books which argue that blindness is a rich way of knowing.
I was insulted and remain so. Yet this is business as usual for the poorly apprehended who can’t describe sight but imagine they know it thoroughly and think the blind are among the sighted “on sufferance” and yes, we make the P.A. tribe nervous by our very appearance.
I share with my black and LGBTQIA pals and all my foreign friends a capacity to make the poorly apprehended nervous. All of us are believed to be “here on sufferance” but there’s something especially dishonest about the blind, the lame, the halt.
The dishonest thing is that you, the sighted, unable to tell me what vision means, and only able to describe your toys, you fascinations as it were, the majority of you have no spiritual center. Without this you can’t imagine the glory of life itself. You think sight seeing is the secret to living.
And if you believe this, then you also must believe that language isn’t much of a thing.
My answer to the famous writer who wanted to know how I could write about the world with clarity was simple: all nouns are images. Horse. Battleship. Rose bush.
All I have to do is jot down a noun and voila! I saw what you saw little dude.
Or: of course I didn’t see it. But according to neurological findings, neither did you.
ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.
(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger