Saturday, 3 March 2012
Four months ago I posted a request on the French Studies discussion list francofil. I wanted to find other academics working on disability in French Studies. I got several very interesting and fruitful replies which have led to productive e-mail exchanges and possible future collaborations. But I got one e-mail which quite simply changed my life. It was from Cathy Kudlick of the University of California, Davis. Cathy is a historian who has published extensively on the blind in France. She gave me lots of invaluable bibliographical leads and introduced me to the work of Zina Weygand and to the writings of Thérèse-Adèle Husson, thus helping to shape my new research project on representations of blindness in nineteenth-century French literature. She also told me about Georgina Kleege's marvellous book Sight Unseen (Yale U.P., 1999) about which I will post soon. But Cathy also gave me something much more precious. By telling me her story, Cathy showed me that it was okay - more than okay - to be a partially blind person in a resolutely sighted world. I had never before come across a partially blind academic. Here was someone who had dealt with exactly the same challenges that I was facing. How do you involve students in a discussion when you cannot see their faces? How do you network at a conference when you cannot distinguish any of the colleagues in the coffee area even when you know them all personally? Her account of how she accepted, even embraced her blindness, how she stopped denying her difference, allowed me to finally think clearly about how I fit into the world. I am not sighted. Yet I am not blind. Like Cathy I occupy a 'special' in-between place. What I have realised, since reading this article, is that it is up to me how I define that space. By taking control of my blindness, by choosing when and how to use a cane, by relishing the challenge of learning braille, but mostly by seeing blindness as a positive thing, a thing of new possibilities and joys, I have become a different person.