In the first chapter of There Plant Eyes, we travel back to the formative years of blindness in the Western cultural imagination: namely, the text of The Odyssey (traditionally ascribed to Homer), where so many blind literary tropes begin with all their inherent contradictions. In particular, the idea of compensation—of the gods taking away sight and giving a direct line to the Muse. You can listen to Godin read the first bit of the chapter on YouTube (see below), or read a longer excerpt at Literary Hub.
In this chapter we consider the fact that the blind poet is codified in a written text that harkens back to a pre-literate heroic age, when the blind bard was a real possibility. Since the days of Homer—who may or may not have existed—literature has been transmitted mainly through the written word—which was fundamentally inaccessible until first embossed, then braille books came into existence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries–making things very difficult for the would-be blind writer. Borges and Godin’s experiences with the literal difficulties facing the blind writer are juxtaposed with the trope of the (ironic?) blind guide in such books as House of Leaves and Sharp Objects.
Endnotes for Chapter 1: Homer’s Blind Bard
- West, “Proclus’ Life of Homer,”
- Homer, The Odyssey, 8.62–64.
- Borges, “The Last Interview,”
- Borges, “Blindness,”
- Borges, “Blindness,”
- Borges, “Original Mythology,”
- The Odyssey, 8.65–71.
- The Odyssey, 8.260–63.
- I employ the word “literacy”—as being print-oriented—in order to distinguish it from the oral tradition, but I hope it will become clear that literacy can take many forms, including listening to books or reading with fingers. See, for example, Mara Mills, “What Should We Call Reading?”:
“The modern literacy imperative in the United States prompted the development of dozens of new formats—aural, tactile, olfactory, visual—by which blind and other print disabled people could read. ‘Inkprint reading’ became one among many possibilities, starting with raised print and Braille in the nineteenth century and joined in the twentieth by phonographic Talking Books, Radio Reading services, and a variety of electronic scanning devices for translating print into tones, Braille, vibrations, or speech.”
- The Odyssey, introduction,
- “List of Blind People,” retrieved Nov. 19, 2020: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_blind_people.
- With no hyphen, please, like email! Ebooks are generally accessible via text-to-speech and braille displays, so the snootiness some readers and writers exhibit toward them feels ableist to
- Danielewski, House of Leaves, The visual braille occupies about a third of the page of the opening of Chapter 20, and is in grade 2 braille (we checked the first few words to confirm that the note is in fact the translation of the dots): “The walls are endlessly bare. Nothing hangs on them, nothing defines them. They are without texture. Even to the keenest eye or most sentient fingertip, they remain unreadable. You will never find a mark there. No trace survives. The walls obliterate everything. They are permanently absolved of all record. Oblique, forever obscure and unwritten. Behold the perfect pantheon of absence.”
- Danielewski, House of Leaves,
- The Odyssey, 8.486–88.
- The Odyssey, 8.493–99.
- Flynn, Sharp Objects,
- The Odyssey, 11.127.