You are on page 1of 5

says a good word for reality.

A fusion of the ladys and the poets positions would accomplish the imaginative feat of Madeline and Porphyro (Letter). In his essay Poetry and Happiness, Wilbur explains that such a union is a miracle: As do W. B. Yeatss Solomon and Sheba, each of John Keatss lovers, Madeline and Porphyro in The Eve of St. Agnes, strives to incarnate the others dream and becomes the others vision (103). Whether the poet and the lady eventually will embrace each other in a similar fashion remains unknown, but Wilbur lets her have the last word. This arrangement may suggest his own fear of uncontrolled transcendental aspirations, for all his evident susceptibility to them. ISABELLA WAI, Auburn University Copyright 2007 Heldref Publications

corporeality, La Rose Des Vents, mutability, spirituality, Richard Wilbur

NOTES 1. These comments were made by Richard Wilbur in an interview conducted by Isabella Wai on 28 Nov. 1979 in his office at Smith College. The interview was later included as part of her unpublished PhD dissertation: Perfection in a Finite Task: Theme and Form in Representative Poems of Richard Wilbur (McMaster U., 1980). 2. Wilbur wrote these comments in a letter dated 17 March 2006 to Isabella Wai in response to her questions about La Rose des Vents. WORKS CITED Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Trans. and ed. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1961. Wilbur, Richard. Genie in the Bottle. Mid-Century American Poetry. Ed. John Ciardi. New York: Twayne, 1950. 17. . Letter to the author. 17 Mar. 2006. . Personal interview. 28 Nov. 1979. . Poetry and Happiness. Responses, Prose Pieces: 19531976. New York: Harcourt, 1976. 91114. . La Rose des Vents. Collected Poems 19432004. Orlando: Harcourt, 2004. 36061.

Saramagos BLINDNESS: Humans or Animals? In this article, I consider the blurring of the human-animal distinction in Jos Saramagos Blindness from a perspective that is far too frequently ignored. The significance of animals in the novel has already been raised

in Kevin Coles assertion that one animal in particular, the dog of tears, becomes a full-fledged character (109). Indeed, expanding on the narrators remark that the character is an animal of the human type (253), Cole has gone so far as to assert that the dog is humane. For him, the dog of tears and the doctors wife can be categorized together because both are sighted figures who act as heroic guides for their blind counterparts. When the blurring of the human-animal distinction is considered from the converse perspective, however, it becomes apparent that the canine anthropomorphism is coupled with animalization of the blind humans. The animalization is explicit at many points in the novel. A dog is identified by its scent and that is how it identifies others, asserts the doctors wife, here we are like another breed of dogs, we know each others bark or speech, as for the rest, features, colour of eyes or hair, they are of no importance (55). This animalizing declaration is bolstered by the way in which the blind humans are repeatedly depicted on all fours (62, 69, 70, 97, 131, 198, 218), as animals (96, 126, 170), as pigs (90, 92, 97, 178), as crabs (97) and [t]hieving dogs (102), not to mention the invocation of the blind-as-a-bat maxim (99). Put briefly, the novel is abundant with animalizing references to blind humans. Not always explicit, though, the animalization also takes the form of an extraordinary sense of smell, as is illustrated when the doctors wife is said to have watched the blind internees twitching, tense, their necks craned as if they were sniffing at something, yet curiously, their expressions were all the same (40), and another group stopped, sniffed in the doorways of the shops in the hope of catching the smell of food (214). Indeed, having described her eating habits by saying I kill a rabbit or chicken, And eat them raw (233), the old blind woman appeared on the landing of the fire escape to sniff out the sounds that were coming into her flat (244). The mythology of such compensatory gifts can be traced back to ancient times, according to Donald Kirtley, but Berthold Lowenfeld has stressed the salient point that comparative studies have found no sensory superiority among people who are visually impaired. The animalization also becomes manifest as uncleanness. When the epidemic of blindness breaks out, the government protects the population by gathering together in one place all those infected, and, in adjacent but separate quarters all those who have had any kind of contact with them (41). It is during this period of segregation that the blind humans become increasingly unclean. First, the newly blind doctor feels the roughness of his beard after three days without shaving, saying, Its preferable like this, I hope they wont have the unfortunate idea of sending us razor blades and scissors (66). Second, the narrator describes the doctor as dirty, dirtier than he could ever remember having been in his life. There are many ways of becoming an animal, he thought, this is just the first of them (89). Third, the

unused mental asylum into which the blind humans are herded is reduced to a state of unimaginable filth, for owing to what the narrator calls the lack of respect shown by some inmates and the sudden urgency of others, the corridors and passageways are turned into latrines: The careless or impatient thought, It doesnt matter, no one can see me, and they went no further. When it became impossible in any sense, to reach the lavatories, the blind internees began using the yard as a place to relieve themselves and clear their bowels (12526). Because these examples of uncleanness are incremental, following an apparently natural regression from blindness to absolute filth, it is worth emphasizing that not even the first has any factual grounding. That is to say, the actual onset of visual impairment does nothing to negate the bearers ability to shave, let alone wash or use a toilet. The animalization is also evoked by a marked lack of empathy. After all, when the doctors wife addresses the girl with the dark glasses by saying, I am blind with your blindness (281), the sense of empathy is just as explicit as when the dog of tears laments the discovery of a mans rotting body, for the narrator asserts that the trouble with this dog is that it has grown too close to human beings, it will suffer as they do (294). However, it is apparent that such empathy will be unreciprocated by the blind humans when the doctor warns his wife against the exposure of her solitary vision: Think of the consequences, they will almost certainly try to turn you into their slave, a general dogsbody, you will be at the beck and call of everyone, they will expect you to feed them, wash them, put them to bed and get them up in the morning (127). Again, the underpinning assumptions about visual impairment are erroneous, but the point to note is that Saramagos blind and sighted humans must be kept apart for not only biological but also sociological reasons. It is as though the blind humans want to project their suffering onto their sighted counterparts. Accordingly, when the doctors wife offers sympathy to an injured blind man, placing her hand on his forehead to wish him good night, he is supposed to have grabbed her by the arm and drew her towards him obliging her to get close to his face, I know you can see he said in a low voice (67). Indeed, the intentionality of the contagiousness becomes still more dramatic when one of the blind internees addresses a sighted soldier by saying, Ill gouge your eyes out (105). The objective here is not to deny Coles assertion that more than being humanlike, the dog of tears is humane, but to emphasize the converse point: Saramagos blind humans are more than doglike; they are inhumane. Humanity will manage to live without eyes, says the narrator, but then it will cease to be humanity (241). The expected retort is that the reading has missed the whole point of the novel, that the representation of people who are visually impaired is purely allegorical. The trouble is, however, that the tenor of the allegory relies on the stereotypical assumptions of its vehicle, meaning that people who are

visually impaired must be perceived as helpless if their portrayal is to represent the metaphysical bewilderment of humanity convincingly. In other words, the allegory will not bear scrutiny because it is grounded in the mythology of blindness as opposed to the facts about visual impairment. DAVID BOLT, Maybank, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, United Kingdom Copyright 2007 Heldref Publications

animalization, anthromorphism, Blindness, Jos Saramago

WORKS CITED Cole, Kevin L. Saramagos Blindness. Explicator 64.2 (2006): 10910. Kirtley, Donald D. The Psychology of Blindness. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1975. Lowenfeld, Berthold. The Case for the Exceptional. 1946. Berthold Lowenfeld on Blindness and Blind People: Selected Papers by Berthold Lowenfeld. New York: American Foundation for the Blind, 1981. 20509. Saramago, Jos. Blindness. London: Harvill P, 1995.

You improve them, my boy!: Insanity and Self-Discovery in Gardners GRENDEL In John Gardners Grendel, the title character refuses to accept lifes circumstances, instead rebelling against what he considers an absurd world. Beowulf, the archetypal heroic figure of the age, lives according to the cherished heroic ideals of that world. After hearing Beowulf speak of those ideals, Grendel muses: The stranger said it all so calmly, so softly, that it was impossible to laugh. He believed every word he said. I understood at last the look in his eyes. He was insane (142). Earlier, when he hears a young priest enthusiastically preach to the peopleThe gods made this world for our joy! (121; emphasis in original)Grendel casually remarks: It does not impress them, one way or the other, that hes crazy (121). When, as a frolicking youngster, Grendels foot is caught between two tree trunks, a few of Hrothgars men happen along and believe him to be an angry spirit killing trees. The men then try to kill a helpless Grendel: Youre all crazy, I tried to yell, but it came out a moan (21). To Grendel, there are plenty of men who, because of their craziness or insanity, are objects of derision. Yet at times, Grendel also encourages the reader to laugh at his own excessiveand, in its own way, crazybehavior: Ah,