Home Disability Ebook Overview: ‘The Nation of the Blind,’ by Andrew Leland

Ebook Overview: ‘The Nation of the Blind,’ by Andrew Leland

Ebook Overview: ‘The Nation of the Blind,’ by Andrew Leland


THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND: A Memoir on the Finish of Sight, by Andrew Leland

After studying Andrew Leland’s memoir, “The Nation of the Blind,” you’ll have a look at the English language in a different way. You’ll even have a look at the phrase “look” in a different way. (And, at intervals: “studying.”)

Leland is a prolific podcaster and longtime editor on the literary journal The Believer, whose troubles lately had some wags calling it The Beleaguered. He’s additionally beleaguered by — or, his e-book suggests, perhaps blessed with — a uncommon genetic situation referred to as retinitis pigmentosa that’s step by step inflicting him to lose his imaginative and prescient. Whereas posing appreciable challenges, this has given him what most authors of nonfiction crave: a definitive Huge Matter.

Leland’s consciousness, and dread, of his illness’s progress jogged my memory of Charlie, the protagonist of the under-remembered “Flowers for Algernon,” who is aware of halfway by means of the novel that the intelligence he’s been granted by medical doctors will inevitably wane. However that was a tragedy, and this can be a narrative of journey journey, bumpy however rewarding.

For now, Leland is generally a customer to the “nation of the blind,” a title borrowed from an H.G. Wells quick story: making ready for what, barring medical breakthroughs, will likely be everlasting residence. He’s studied its customs and considerations, and his liminal state lets him act as tour information to an oblivious sighted citizenry.

Wells’s story is however the first of Leland’s many literary allusions, blindness being a basic allegory: Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex”; Beckett’s “Endgame”; Shakespeare’s “King Lear” (intermittently waggish himself, Leland, a grandson of the playwright Neil Simon, considers naming a podcast Vile Jelly, after Cornwall’s famously brutal line).

All through historical past, it’s additionally been a trait that provides dimensions to authorship and artistry. Homer is believed to have been blind; John Milton positively was. So, little by little, grew to become Jorge Luis Borges (“A Blind Author With Perception,” learn the head-smacking headline of a 1971 profile in The New York Instances), and James Joyce, whose good friend Beckett helped him by taking dictation of “Finnegans Wake”: “a supremely aural (and oral) novel,” Leland reminds, “stuffed with multilingual puns and invented onomatopoeia.”

His personal prose is jazzy and clever: loaded with statistics and research in some locations, lyrical elsewhere, with licks of understated humor. Blindness is just not often the blackout that many sighted individuals think about, Leland takes care to clarify, however “an efflorescence of blind varietals” with completely different sorts of lights, shadings, colours: some disturbing, some soothing, all fascinating. (Anybody myopic — for whom taking out contact lenses at night time and throwing the day’s cares into delicate focus is a part of the sleep ritual — can relate.)

He notes how “the expression on the face of a blind gazer paused on this planet takes on an inwardly whirring, computational, deep-listening facet” and describes, completely, feeling “pinned to my chair by a delicate harpoon” when a macho acquaintance, “chewing the meat he’d grilled,” interrogates Leland’s spouse at a yard barbecue about being married to a blind man.

The second half of his spouse’s hyphenated surname is Wachter, which suggests, in considered one of life’s beautiful linguistic felicities, “Watcher,” and Leland slips in deadpan that they met on a blind date. He’s forthright about their conflicts and grateful when she speaks out about ableism, as when a rabbi at their synagogue reads a poem that exhorts the congregation, “Fall to your knees and thank God in your eyesight.” Periodically, their adorable-sounding younger son Oscar pops up and pipes up, defending what his dad had tried to cute-ify as “dangerous peepers” and inspiring him by means of a tough session studying a bedtime story aloud utilizing Braille.

However “The Nation of the Blind” is much from a feel-good household chronicle. Leland rigorously explores the incapacity’s most troubling corners. Some individuals, in fact, are blinded not congenitally however by horrible accidents: Louis Braille at 3 with a pruning knife. We be taught of youngsters damage by poison oak, a good friend’s arrow throughout archery observe, a mentally unwell neighbor’s assault with sulfuric acid.

Mentally and bodily, Leland is a stressed explorer: touring to conventions, the place the sound of 1 cane tapping crescendos all of a sudden right into a symphony; interrogating technologists; devoting chapters to how each racism and sexism are aggravated and softened by blindness. (I assume one ought to cheer that PornHub has provided audio descriptions for its hottest movies?)

Most profoundly, he invitations readers to contemplate whether or not imaginative and prescient deserves “the privileged place it holds on the prime of the hierarchy of the senses.” Covid-19 reminded us of the preciousness, even primacy, of odor and style. And the early textual content and pictures generated by synthetic intelligence — these disturbing, completely competent however barely off photos and paragraphs which can be simply starting to flood screens — definitely problem optic supremacy, as does the resurgence of audio, sexier than motion pictures in the meanwhile (sorry, Barbie).

After Oscar’s tactile steering by means of the American Museum of Pure Historical past — his small hand taking the form of talons to explain an owl diorama — his father writes, “I felt like I’d unlocked a brand new, ethereal chamber in my life as a blind individual.”

Like that museum, with its huge chambers containing previous and future, “The Nation of the Blind” is an excellent cross-disciplinary wander. If every now and then its deluge of knowledge overwhelms, that is the place one reviewer’s outdated cliché about eyes glazing over enters eternal retirement.

THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND: A Memoir on the Finish of Sight | By Andrew Leland | 368 pp. | Penguin Press | $29



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