There Plant Eyes
A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness
From Homer to Helen Keller, from Dune to Stevie Wonder, from the invention of braille to the science of echolocation, M. Leona Godin explores the fascinating history of blindness, interweaving it with her own story of gradually losing her sight.
There Plant Eyes probes the ways in which blindness has shaped our ocularcentric culture, challenging deeply ingrained ideas about what it means to be “blind.” For millennia, blindness has been used to signify such things as thoughtlessness (“blind faith”), irrationality (“blind rage”), and unconsciousness (“blind evolution”). But at the same time, blind people have been othered as the recipients of special powers as compensation for lost sight (from the poetic gifts of John Milton to the heightened senses of the comic book hero Daredevil).
Godin—who began losing her vision at age ten—illuminates the often-surprising history of both the condition of blindness and the myths and ideas that have grown up around it over the course of generations. She combines an analysis of blindness in art and culture (from King Lear to Star Wars) with a study of the science of blindness and key developments in accessibility (the white cane, embossed printing, digital technology) to paint a vivid personal and cultural history.
A genre-defying work, There Plant Eyes reveals just how essential blindness and vision are to humanity’s understanding of itself and the world.
Praise for the Book
“…elegant, fiercely argued.” —Wall Street Journal
“‘The dual aspects of blindness—that it is a tragic horror on the one hand and a powerful gift from the gods on the other—remain stubbornly fixed in our cultural imaginations,’ Godin, a blind writer and performer, asserts in this thought-provoking mixture of criticism, memoir, and advocacy.” —The New Yorker
“There Plant Eyes is so graceful, so wise, so effortlessly erudite, I learned something new and took pleasure in every page. All hail its originality, its humanity, and its ‘philosophical obsession with diversity in all its complicated and messy glory.’”
—Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts
“Godin guides readers through the surprising twists and turns in Western blind history, from ancient seers to contemporary scientists. The lively writing style and memorable
personal anecdotes are delightful. This book is a gift to both blind and sighted readers.”
—Haben Girma, human rights lawyer and author of the bestseller Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law
“This sighted disabled person learned so much from There Plant Eyes! The book took me on a cultural journey that showed how blindness is beautiful, complex, and brilliant.”
—Alice Wong, Editor, Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century
“In the fascinating There Plant Eyes, Leona Godin moves effortlessly from erudite explorations of the construction of ‘blindness’ in the times of Homer and Milton; to incisive and often funny examinations of technology that helps—or does not—the blind individual; to personal stories of her own life as a writer and performer. I was only a few pages in before I realized that what I thought about being blind was either wrong or woefully insufficient. The reader will be lost in admiration for the breadth and sweep of Godin’s gifts as a writer and cultural critic.”
—Riva Lehrer, author of Golem Girl: A Memoir
“I’ve been waiting most of my life for a book like There Plant Eyes to demystify what it means and doesn’t mean to be blind. With eloquence and wit, M. Leona Godin articulates what our culture has gotten wrong for centuries. Blindness, she makes clear, is a feature, not merely a difference. I’ll be recommending this book every chance I get.”
— James Tate Hill, author of Blind Man’s Bluff
“We are inevitably blind to realities outside our own experience, and it takes a sensitive writer like Godin—with her poet’s ear—to give insight into sightlessness.”
—David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Stanford, author of Livewired
“…erudite, capacious…As Godin wonderfully shows, we’ve come a long way in our quest to understand what blindness means.”
“By turns heartfelt and thought-provoking, this is a striking achievement.”
—Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
TPE & me in the Media
Thanks to the radio shows, podcasts, magazines, and other media outlets that help get the word out about the ideas, people, and culture I wrote about in There Plant Eyes. The following list is in reverse chronological order stretching back from the little flurry surrounding the paperback release on August 30, 2022 to the original June 1, 2021 hardcover release…
October 26, Freedom Scientific FS Cast
Delighted to talk with Glen Gordon on the FS Cast podcast brought to you by the makers of my text-to-speech and Braille software, JAWS! And here’s a link to the episode transcript as well. I discuss JAWS a few times in There Plant Eyes, and even quote from an FSCast episode in “Chapter 14: The Secret Life of Art and Accessibility.”
September 6, Letters and Politics on KPFA
June 3, Embodied on WUNC
March 3, Accessing Art with Amy
February 28: Hobart
Delighted to be included in this lovely article by Nikki Lyssy: “Three Blind Voices: Insight into Writing, Publication, and Vulnerability.”
September 25, CBC Radio’s Writer’s and Company
I’m so excited to share my conversation on CBC Radio’s Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel , who’s interviewed everybody who’s anybody in the literary world—John le Carré told her at the end of their interview: “You do it better than anyone I know.” Check out “M. Leona Godin on the Metaphor and Reality of Blindness in Literature and in Life” wherever you get your podcasts.
September 24, Penguin Random House Higher Education
With an eye on next year’s paperback publication of There Plant Eyes (pun intended!), I wrote “Reading A Drop of Patience Through a Blind-Culture Lens.” It was a great opportunity to think about intersections of blindness and blackness in A Drop of Patience by William Melvin Kelley—the guy who coined the term “woke”. And, perhaps it goes without saying, but if you would be interested in bringing me and/or my book into your classroom, please reach out.
August 27, The Rumpus
Kerry Kijewski, a Canadian freelance writer, sensitivity reader, advocate, and podcast host of the show Outlook On Radio Western, interviewed me for The Rumpus. “Fighting the Weightiness of Metaphors: A Conversation with M. Leona Godin,” elaborates on many of the cultural threads that animate There Plant Eyes and so much of my academic and artistic work.
August 23, Inside Edition
I was delighted to share some thoughts on misconceptions about and faulty portrayals of blind people in the media and beyond on Inside Edition!
August 12, A Mighty Blaze
I was delighted to speak with Jane Roper on her weekly The Zeitgeist on A Mighty Blaze, a very cool YouTube and Facebook channel created during the pandemic to help writers get the word out about their books.
August 9, Perkins Global
One of the legendary schools for the blind in the world, @PerkinsSchool, makes several appearances in There Plant Eyes, so I’m honored that they chose to feature me and my book on their news site in “Author recounts her perspective on blindness in new book.”
August 7, Mosen at Large
I was absolutely delighted to speak with the smart and charming Jonathan Mosen on his international blind tech and culture podcast about some of the themes in There Plant Eyes, such as how we might move from the stigma of blindness to a formulation of blind pride alongside other pride movements.
July 8, The Colin McEnroe Show
So cool to talk to Colin McEnroe about the engrained tropes of blindness on this episode called “A Personal and Literary Exploration of Blindness and Sight.” Our conversation was wide-ranging and fun, and I was only a little intimidated to be live on Connecticut’s WNPR radio!
July 8, The Richard Crouse Show
What a delight to speak to Richard Crouse all the way from Canada about my punk roots, sighted assumptions, and so much more on this episode that just happened to also feature an interview with a filmmaker who made a documentary about the Queens bar scene during COVID—including my old neighborhood bar, The Sparrow! What are the chances?
July 2, Speakers Forum
July/August Poets & Writers
Thanks to Dana Isokawa for giving me the opportunity to praise the lit mags and editors that gave me the experience, confidence, and community to become a published author and founding editor. In this edition of “Literary MagNet,” I talk about Catapult, Quail Bell Magazine, Newtown Literary, Danse Macabre, and my very own Aromatica Poetica.
June 22, Lit Century
I was delighted to talk to Catherine Nichols about Helen Keller’s The World I Live In (1908) on this Literary Hub podcast that dedicates one show to each year of the Twentieth Century. Listen to us discuss Keller’s politics, her time performing in vaudeville, and her perceptual experience that so many of her critics dismissed as insufficient on “How Language Limits Our Ability to Describe Smells.”
June 15, Electric Literature
It was an utter delight to put together this list of “8 Memoirs by Blind Authors,” that includes some wonderful writers who I’m proud to call friends, including Haben Girma, Stephen Kuusisto, Georgina Kleege, James Tate Hill, Laurie Ruben, and Jim Knipfel.
June 15, This Is the Author
At the end of the long and arduous (and sometimes fun) recording of the audiobook of There Plant Eyes for PRH Audio, we did a short interview about the process, which is featured in this cool podcast that goes behind the audiobook scenes to tell all about what it’s like to record your own words. For me, recording my own words was by ear using my passionless text-to-speech synthesizer as electronic Cyrano.
June 7, Literary Hub
Thanks to Literary Hub for publishing the opening pages of “Homer’s Blind Bard,” which is the first chapter of There Plant Eyes. And if you really want to geek out with TPE, check out our idiosyncratically hyperlinked endnotes for the chapter HERE!
June 1, Stephen Kuusisto
Thanks to poet and memoirist Stephen Kuusisto for taking the time to write “M. Leona Godin’s There Plant Eyes: A Bold New Assessment of Cultural Blindness,” a lovely and personal response to There Plant Eyes on his blog Planet of the Blind (named for his wonderful first memoir).