Headline August 05, 2019/ '' 'THE STUDENTS' EYE' ''


STUDENTS DEEP SOUNDING : Have begun to understand and grasp that the World at its very best, is just ''work in progress''.

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So, between Folly and Cruelty in the world, I turn to ''Writing with your eyes very closed''.

Borges, the Argentine fiction writer, poet and essayist, had Milton in mind when he observed in his 1977 essay that ''a writer, or any man, must believe that whatever happens to him as an instrument :

Everything has been given for an end. This is even stronger in the case of an artist. Everything that happens, including humiliations, embarrassments, misfortunes, all his been given like clay, like material.''

He added that ''if a blind man thinks this way, he is saved. Blindness is a gift.''

Writer Borges turned the loss of his eyesight into a gorgeous poem, ''On His Blindness,'' which notes that he can no longer savor ''the enclosed encyclopedia,'' ''the tiny soaring birds,'' ''the moons of gold.''

''Others have the world, for better or worse,'' it concludes. ''I have this half-dark, and the toil of verse.'' I have a special interest in Milton and Borges - and became aware of the Burcat - because of my own diminished eyesight.

More that a year and a half ago, I woke up with profound blurry, clouded vision in my right eye and learned that I'd had a sort of stroke of the optic nerve. The damage was permanent.

What happened to me is technically known as nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, or Naoin, which could strike my left eye, too: There a roughly a 20 percent chance of that. After I recounted this in a column, Burcat reached out to me. Naoin was the culprit in his blindness.

He and I have tools available to us - audiobooks, voice-to-text technology, enormous computer screens on which letters can be supersized - that weren't around decades, let alone centuries, ago.

But James Wilson, who was blind, nonetheless produced ''Biography of the Blind'' in the early 1800s. In the early 1900s, Helen Keller, who was deaf as well as blind, wrote autobiographical books and essays.

Homer is often portrayed as blind, though it's hard to know what to make of that : Scholars haven't determined whether Homer was one poet or group of them.

There have been enough blind or seriously visually challenged writers that Heather Tilley, a lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, wrote a book that focused just on those of the Victorian era.
It's titled ''Blindness and Writing : From Wordsworth to Gissing.''

When I spoke with her recently, I learned about  Frances Browne, an Irish poet and novelist in the 19th century who was blind from early childhood but used what she'd heard of the world for literature that betrayed little if any hint of that.

I learned about a celebrated, widely read 19th century travel writer, James Holman, who made his treks and fashioned his prose after he lost his eyesight.

''Although he relies on the people who are around him to describe things officially to him, there's also a quiet a strong sense of smell, of the motion of traveling in a carriage, of how the air feels,'' Tilley said.
''The writing feels more multisensory.''

Blind writers use their craft to make the photo album from the years before blindness permanent. It lifts intellect above flesh, erasing their impediment. It creates a world in which they can move unencumbered.

I asked Burcat, who not only finished ''Beast'' but also wrote an entire other novel after he lost his sight, how his disability influenced his writing.

He said that blindness sharpened his memory, caused him to dwell longer on physical descriptions and ''made me much more patient, more kind, more understanding.''

''I've always been sympathetic,'' he added. ''But now I'm empathetic.''

His words remind and comfort me, as I contemplate my own uncertain future, that writing isn't an act of stenography. It's a bid for connection. A search for meaning. Olivier Sacks said it well in ''The Mind's Eye,'' a book inspired by his partial loss of vision :

''Language that most human invention, can enable what, in principle, should not be possible. It can allow all of us, even the congenitally blind, to see with another person's eyes.

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