I was delighted to share space with Amy Amantea on her Accessing Art with Amy podcast! We chatted about the importance of blind culture as well as my converging and diverging paths of art and academia. We managed to pack quite a bit into her fast-paced half-hour podcast, including a brief reading from the There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness audiobook, and an oldie but goodie joke from The Star of Happiness: Helen Keller on Vaudeville?!
Tap Tapping from TPE
Here’s the text I read from There Plant Eyes Chapter 9, “The Tap, Tapping of Blind Travelers”:
“Mr. Bloom walked behind the eyeless feet, a flatcut suit of herringbone tweed. Poor young fellow! How on earth did he know that van was there? Must have felt it. See things in their forehead perhaps: kind of sense of volume. Weight or size of it, something blacker than the dark. Wonder would he feel it if something was removed. Feel a gap. Queer idea of Dublin he must have, tapping his way round by the stones. Could he walk in a beeline if he hadn’t that cane?”
To his final question, I think the answer is obvious: no. The blind stripling needs that cane to tap through the bustling Dublin streets. Bloom’s pity is strong, but his curiosity is perhaps even stronger. And it is this curiosity, this desire to explore the darkness for himself, that allows him to move beyond pity, at least a little bit. Bloom “slid his hand between his waistcoat and trousers and, pulling aside his shirt gently, felt a slack fold of his belly. But I know it’s whitey yellow. Want to try in the dark to see.”28
This yearning to see in the dark echoes the meandering thoughts of the younger of the two protagonists in an early scene in Ulysses, when Stephen Dedalus (analogous to Odysseus’s son Telemachus as well as to Joyce himself) experiments with blindness while walking on the beach. In an attempt to circumnavigate the “ineluctable modality of the visible,” he closes his eyes and uses his ashplant walking stick as a blind man’s cane. “I am getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it: they do.”
Even if Joyce felt some kinship with the blind stripling, he was still a sight-oriented person who might think, as Stephen does, of the blind as “they,” as the other. Even so, Stephen notices that the moment he closes his eyes he hears things he’d not noticed before, namely the crunching of rocks under his feet: “Crush, crack, crick, crick.” And then he finds himself contemplating “the ineluctable modality of the audible,”30 reminding us that our perceptions are to some degree a matter of attention, and that the attention itself is gripping.
A Joke from SoH
If you have eyes that yearn to see me doing my performance art thing—lying onstage wearing silver and black goggles and boa and silver fingerless gloves telling a sexy joke into a microphone—here’s that video clip from The Star of Happiness: