Literature has taught us to think of intentional blinding as an atrocious punishment, a fate worse than death. Samson had his eyes gouged out by the Philistines, Gloucester's eyes are removed in punishment in Shakespeare's King Lear and perhaps most famously of all, Oedipus scratches out his own eyes when he realises the extent of his guilt. In her wonderfully clever Sight Unseen (Yale University Press, 1999, pp. 68-73) Georgina Kleege lists more modern books, from Bronte's Jane Eyre to Shreve's Eden Close which associate blinding with punishment. Kleege argues that this persistent association contributes to the negativity still associated with blindness.
She might be right. Given the unremitting negativity associated with the always vindictive act of intentional blinding, it is not surprising that Tina Nash, who was blinded by her boyfriend last year, said she felt 'buried alive' and 'like a ghost' after the attack. Tina's choice of words is revealing. For her, as for the characters Kleege describes, life without sight was a kind of living death.
But unlike the victims of blinding found in literature, Tina has not succumbed to these associations of blindness and death. This interview describes how Tina now feels. She describes herself as 'surviving' because she has decided to get on with her life, to not let her blindness stop her from bringing up her children. It is significant that Tina rejects the epithets of 'courageous' and 'amazing' that the interviewer dangles in front of her. By doing so, Tina does much to demonstrate that blindness in itself is not a tragedy: rather, it is the sighted world's view of blindness which might be described as 'disabling'. If I described Tina as 'an inspiration' I would be undermining my own argument by buying into the 'disability as tragedy to be overcome' mindset. So I'll just say that hearing her voice on radio 4 this morning made me glad to know that she is there.
UPDATE: August 28th 2012: Click here to read an angry response to this post and my response.