Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sight and Insight

Professor Weidhorn afforded me an interesting insight today. We're learning Milton's Paradise Lost, and we just started Book 3. Professor Weidhorn explained how Milton began the book somewhat egotistically by including autobiographical references to himself, more specifically to his blindness.

    Seasons return, but not to me returns
    Day, or the sweet approach of Ev'n or Morn,
    Or sight of vernal bloom, or Summers Rose,
    Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
    (Book 3, lines 41-44)

I've always thought that one of the most horrible things that could happen to someone who loves to read and write would be to become blind. I've always thought about the fact that I could no longer read my favorite books, or write my ideas down in Microsoft Word, or intake knowledge in the form to which I am accustomed. For some reason I avoided the obvious and what is most tragic about blindness- not the inability to read, write and learn, but the inability to see this beautiful world that I take for granted.

Milton wrote the line "human face divine," and that caused me to think about people- all of us- in a completely different light. What would life be like if I couldn't see you, only put my hands to your face, and groping, try to identify your features? What would life be like if I could no longer look at my brothers, watch them grow up into strong, healthy young men? What would life be like if I were forever in a world of darkness after having lived so long in a world of light; if the hustle and bustle of New York meant nothing to me, if I couldn't revel in the glorious costumes of a Broadway show, if movies held no joy for me, if I couldn't try to read people's faces or gain any insight from their body language, but had to rely only upon their cool, modulated tone?

This of course led me to Isaac, our forefather. Either he was blind from the time the angels dripped tears into his eyes, or he became blind in his old age (perhaps from the smoke from the idolatrous offerings his daughters-in-law raised to the heavens). While we often think about his predicament only in light of the fact that it allowed Jacob to successfully engage in subterfuge, I wonder now about Isaac the man, Isaac the blind. What must that have been like? Those eyes, that had drunk in the nectar and honey of the Land of Israel, that had bathed in the affectionate glow of his mother, beheld his father and their likeness- now dimmed? Now no longer to look upon his children, his wife? Blind Isaac, aged and venerable, blessed with a keen sense of smell, able to discern the fragrance of the Garden of Eden, a keen sense of taste, reveling in the delightful food his son Esau brought him, yes, these were his, but his eyes, those were dimmed forevermore.

Blindness on a whole is a compelling idea in literature; Milton takes comfort in the fact that Tiresias and Homer were blind. Samson was blind, his eyes plucked out by his enemies; Oedipus blinded himself with the buckles of his wife and mother's gown. Gloucester's eyes are plucked out as well, and the eyes of various evil people in fairytales are plucked out by ravens. The blind are traditionally seen as having other qualities that compensate for their lack of physical sight; their other senses are more attuned or keen, or, as Milton explains, rather than having sight, the blind retain insight.

    So much the rather thou Celestial light
    Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
    Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
    Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
    Of things invisible to mortal sight. [ 55 ] (Book 3, lines 51-55)

I find that idea really interesting- that the blind are more attuned to God. That works by Samson, for instance- his last plea is to regain his former strength in order to crush his enemies when he himself falls, and that is granted him. However, God did not inform Isaac of the deception that was being practiced upon him, although he allowed it to occur, which suggests differently.

Anyway, it's an interesting topic, but most amazing is that my concern was for my books when it ought to have been for this very world...for the "human face divine."


Anonymous said...

I am going to introduced myself as a girl in Olivia's article who have usher syndrome. My doctor told me there is no cure for my eyes' diease. When i first found out that i have it. My world crashed at me. I was in the bottom of the world. I was arguing with Hashem, "You took my hearing away, but that's ok because i have vision and cochlear implant to survive but some reason, You are not satisfied and therefore You taking my vision slowly which I need most." Because of these arguments, my perpective changed. I took my vision as granted. Now I am not, I tried to involve in everything which it has to with vision like to see the world, most recent is China, Italy then panma canal. Chana, you may not understand what I am going through, but you know the words that would described my feeling that i am going through. I thank you to put into words which I have problems with it to express my feeling into world. I am glad you are trying to not take granted on your vision which is one of many wonders that Hahshem gave us.

Chana said...


It seems appropriate to quote the following lines out of context, as they were written for you.

"a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead."

~Rainer Maria Rilke, 'Buddha in Glory' (as translated from German)

Erachet said...

It's funny, I used to think about that stuff too (and still do, on occasion). I also would worry about not being able to read or write (or see Broadway shows, since I love them to pieces). I think we worry most about what is most immediately dear to us, even if there are greater things to be worrying about. That's why we have to thank Hashem every single day for everything He gives us. So many people take completely for granted that they can see, hear, speak, smell, walk, throw a baseball, taste - anything.
I mean, you know all this. This is just me rambling at two in the morning and making use of my fresh, shiny, new blog (yay new blog!). (And if you haven't guessed, this is Shira. I made a blog after reading your post about the play).
So, goodnight!