I have been working on my 'Blindness' research project for a few months now and this weekend I will be presenting my first paper on the work at the Tenth Annual Conference of the Society of Dix-Neuviemistes in Limerick, Ireland. The paper looks at ways in which accidental or apparently insignificant references to eye-contact might dismantle the prevailingly negative metaphors associated with blindness in nineteenth-century France. My paper is all about reading in detail and this approach has grown out of the specific way that I have always read. To read small print I use a very characteristic pair of glasses which magnify the text so that I can read even the tiniest print in relative comfort. I got my first pair of reading glasses when I was 8 or 9 and have had many pairs since.
The drawback of this way of reading is that because I have to hold the text so close to my eyes, I can only see one or two words at a time. I used to see this way of reading as a disadvantage. It is considerably slower than the skim-reading of the sighted and it also makes me feel isolated from the world around me and vulnerable when I do this kind of reading in public. But recently I have realised that my way of reading has its advantages. The fact that I am attentive to each word means that I sometimes notice things that other readers have missed. I am fascinated by a text's microcosmic detail and the way in which a word or phrase from one text might resonate with a word or phrase from another. This way of reading has developed into a methodology which now informs all the academic work I do.
Helen Abbott's fascinating blog post on the musicality of poetry reminded me that that the other senses can also be used to 'read' in detail. In my paper, I assert that sight always comes at the top of the hierarchy of the senses. I wonder how Helen and our other fellow attendees will feel about that? I suspect Cheryl Krueger - whose wonderful writing on the smells of the Paris metro has made me pay much more attention to my own sense of smell - would disagree. Perhaps the conference will give us a way of re-evaluating the hierarchy of the senses and thus a means of challenging the negativization of blindness which seems so embedded in our society.