Blindness and the Extraordinary Compensatory Sense
Mrs Charlotte MakepeaceZoom
This 20-minute paper will explore one of the common tropes associated with blindness - compensatory powers, senses or perception. It will combine a literary history of the trope, personal experience (as I am blind myself) and textual analysis of D.H. Lawrence’s 1922 short story ‘The Blind Man’. ‘The Blind Man’ is about Maurice Pervin, a soldier who was blinded in the First World War, and his wife, Isabel, who are visited by Isabel’s friend Bertie, an effeminate ‘man of letters’. This story contrasts notions of vision and superficiality with the depth and intimacy provided by the other senses (particularly touch) through its depiction of these two men.
I will begin by giving a brief literary history of compensatory sense; tracing it from Greek mythology (Tiresias, a figure present in both the in the plays of Sophocles or Homer’s Odyssey), through to twentieth-century detective fiction. I will also examine how compensatory sense is present in our society today (through comics such as Daredevil and common stereotypes) and its damaging effects. As a trope, it suggests that blind people are imbued with extraordinary abilities, rather than acknowledging the work that goes into adapting to blindness.
I will conclude by exploring Lawrence’s complex portrayal of compensatory sense in ‘The Blind Man’. Maurice does have uncanny perceptions that border on the extraordinary (an almost mystical communion with nature and his body), but Lawrence also highlights how Maurice has adapted to blindness (a thorough knowledge of his surroundings) and that what appears extraordinary is merely a different way to knowledge (a haptic knowledge, as opposed to a visual one).