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Friday, 11 November 2016

My Love Affair with Audio Books

2016 has been a dark year for me. I'm not (just) using 'dark' here for its metaphoric (and ocularcentric) meanings of ''sad' and 'gloomy'. I also mean that my two cataract operations, not to mention the broken leg, obliged me to spend a lot of time lying in the dark. It is no coincidence that 2016 is also the year that I rediscovered the wonder of audio books. When I was a child, commercially produced audio books were hard to find. I had two: The Railway Children and Black Beauty and I listened to them both so many times that I wore them out. But not before I had learnt them off by heart. When my reading glasses were perfected, I abandoned audio books in favour of much more readily available print books. Five years ago I discovered kindle which let me read large-print even as my eyes were failing.

My love affair with audio books began again at Blind Creations when writer and musician Romain Villet introduced me to his electronic reader Victor. The Victor Stream is a pocket-sized machine which reads texts in almost any electronic format (except PDF) out loud using a pretty convincing text-to-speech voice. I find it particularly useful for reading long documents quickly: not only can I accelerate the reading speed, I can also skip material, make notes and highlight important passages. Listening to text will never be as quick as reading it, but I am getting closer. I read Jean Giono's Le chant du monde this way in May and it is perhaps for this reason that I noticed the novel's extraordinary non-visual, multisensory, prose, which I discuss here.

Blind people have listened to stories for as long as blind people have existed. But audio books have only very recently become widely and easily available to the non-blind public.. Libraries now use services like overdrive to deliver audio content electronically, and companies like Audible encourage busy people to multi-task by reading as they run, drive or cook.

I was sceptical about Audible's offering at first. I thought their books were over-priced, especially as the RNIB's talking book service gives me free access to books read by volunteers. Crucially though, it takes the RNIB a while to provide access to recently published books and they do not always have the books I want when I want them;  they also have next to nothing in French. Audible, on the other hand, often has books available at the same time as the print versions are published. This means that I can read the same books as my family and friends; now more than ever I feel like I am part of contemporary literary culture.

But for me the main advantage of Audible is the way their books sound. Their narrators are professional performers who deliver their texts in compelling and creative ways. They sound like they have thought about how to read the story; they adopt different voices for different characters, they change the tone, speed and volume of their voice to match the prose and they pay attention to dialects, accents and regional contexts. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's wonderful Americanah is an excellent example of the difference a good narrator can make. The novel, which is about a Black woman's experiences in Nigeria and America, is read by Black actress Adjoa Andoh and produced by Whole Story Audiobooks. In what might be the audio equivalent of free indirect speech, I immediately felt a powerful connection with the narrative voice through the narrator's voice. In addition, when Adichie's narrator talks about the different accents she encounters in Nigeria, and how a person's voice does or does not reflect their personality or social situation, Andoh's voice cleverly mimics the different accents that her protagonist is describing. Because of its narrator,  I am convinced that listening to Americanah was a more immersive, enriching and fulfilling experience than reading it would have been.

To my great delight, Audible also offers audiobooks in French and I have been devouring Fred Vargas's Commisaire Adamsberg books this year. In the fifth book in the series, Sous les vents de Neptune (Wash this Blood Clean from my Hand), produced by Audiolib, Adamsberg and his colleagues travel to Quebec and spend time encountering, deciphering and discussing the impenetrable Quebecois accents and vocabulary of their Canadian colleagues. The narrator, Francois Berland has a lot of fun putting on Quebecois accents and there is no doubt that his different voices improved my experience of reading this novel.

Audiobooks are a great example of what disability studies would call 'blindness gain': they were first developed for blind people and have now become widely available to everyone. They used to be an assistive technology for a marginalised population; they are now widely and easily available. Non-blind people are now lucky enough to be able to access the wonderful world of audio, a world which was once the closely guarded secret of blind people.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Towards a Multisensory Aesthetic: Jean Giono's Non-Visual Sensorium

Next week I am delighted to be travelling to Montreal to speak at the International Visual Literacy Association Annual Conference. Along with my Blind Creations co-organiser Vanessa Warne, and Blind Creations speakers Georgina Kleege, Florian Grond and David Johnson, I am presenting some of the work from my forthcoming book Visions of Blindness in French Fiction in a panel organised by Piet Devos and wonderfully entitled: 'The Distorting Mirror of Blindness: Visual Literacy and Non-Sighted Aesthetics'. Whilst I am in Montreal I am also looking forward to exploring some of the places evoked by Jacques Semelin in his recent blind travel journal Je veux croire au soleil and I will be presenting some of the highlights of the Blind Creations conference at a talk (in French) at the Institut Nazareth et Louis Braille. (Click here for more details about this event and how to watch and listen via videoconference).

Below is a sneak preview of part of my work on Jean Giono which I will be presenting at the IVLA conference:

La nuit. Le fleuve roulait à coups d’épaules à travers la forêt, Antonio avança jusqu’la pointe de l’île. D’un côté l’eau profonde, souple comme du poil de chat, de l’autre côté les hennissements du gué. Antonio toucha le chêne. Il écouta dans sa main les tremblements de l’arbre. (Night. The river was shouldering its way through the forest, Antonio went as far as the tip of the island. On one side was deep water, as supple as a cat’s fur, on the other side the whinnying of the ford. Antonio touched the oak. He listened with his hand to the quivering tree.)
These opening lines from Jean Giono’s 1934 novel Le Chant du Monde, are a characteristic example of the kind of sensuous prose description Giono has become famous for using to describe his beloved Provençal landscapes. Giono’s descriptions have long been celebrated by critics for their power to capture the beauty of southern France. But if we look closely at this passage, we notice that it somewhat unexpectedly rejects the kind of visual description we expect from the realist novel in favour of a sensorium more overtly focused on a powerful combination of touch and sound. This challenge to the usual hierarchy of the senses is in fact announced in Giono’s decision to begin the novel in the dark. The novel’s opening words, ‘la nuit’, tell us that because the sighted protagonist Antonio - through whose consciousness most of the third-person narrative is filtered - does not need sight to navigate, the reader is also asked to imagine the setting without recourse to visual elements. Instead of telling us what the river looks like, Giono evokes it through Antonio’s perception of it, that is, by how it feels (as supple as a cat’s fur) and how it sounds (the whinnying of the ford). The surprising use of words associated with animals to describe a body of water adds to our sensory immersion in the scene by combining different sense impressions in vivid and evocative ways whilst reminding us that we are in a profoundly natural setting. The ford does not really sound like a whinnying horse: through the noise it makes, which is impossible to capture in language, it reminds Antonio of the unpredictable power of a skittish foal. The combination of touch and hearing is continued in Antonio’s relationship with the oak tree. The phrase ‘il écouta dans sa main’ (he listened with his hand) uses a synesthetic combination of the sense impressions of touch and hearing to capture the strength of Antonio’s feeling for the tree. 

Passages of this kind are found throughout Giono’s oeuvre. But their relevance only becomes clear when they are read alongside Giono’s depiction of the blind character Clara whom Antonio encounters later in the novel. Antonio and Clara are mutually fascinated by each other’s relationship with the senses. When they talk about blindness and sightedness the usually visually reliant reader is invited to rethink their preconceived notion that blindness is a kind of lack.

When Clara asks Antonio to describe night, day and light to her, Antonio struggles to evoke darkness without recourse to visual language. Like blindness, darkness is here unspeakable because it exists outside the limits of ocularcentric language, a language whose very existence depends on a celebration of sight and thus a negation of sightlessness. Antonio emphasises this link between darkness and blindness by evoking the one in relation to the other, and by paradoxically using a vocabulary of seeing to describe this non-sight. Clara, on the other hand, is not hampered by the constraints of ocularcentric language. Her insistent questioning of Antonio’s language encourages not only Antonio but also the reader to analyse what lies beneath the words non-blind people too often take for granted. She can thus combine sense impressions in creative and liberating ways. In an echo of the description of the river at the novel’s start, she merges two distinct sense impressions, (non)sight and smell, in her assertion that for her, ‘day is smell’.

Later, Clara offers us a more immersive and sustained experience of her impressions of the countryside. Rather than detecting spring through its visual clues, she can tell its arrival by its smells and sounds. As she explains: « Ça sent […] et puis ça parle » («It smells and also it speaks ».). Clara tries to explain how she experiences the world. She recognises flowers but does not give them the same names as everyone else. According to her it is not the names of the flowers which are important, but the multi-sensual way in which she experiences them: 

Toutes les choses du monde arrivent à des endroits de mon corps (elle toucha ses cuisses, ses seins, son cou, ses joues, son front, ses cheveux) c’est attaché à moi par des petites ficelles tremblantes. Je suis printemps, moi, maintenant. (Everything in the world comes to a place on my body (she touched her thighs, her breasts, her neck, her cheeks, her forehead, her hair) it is attached to me by tiny trembling threads. I am spring now.)

Clara’s relationship with the world is intense, multi-sensorial, corporeal and all-encompassing. She combines sense-impressions to create highly evocative and sensual descriptions of nature in a way which reminds us again of the novel’s opening lines:

Dans toute la colline il y a des pattes, des ongles, des museaux, des ventres. Entends-les. Des arbres dures, des tendres, des fleurs froides, des fleurs chaudes. Là-bas derrière, un arbre long. On entend son bruit tout droit. Il fait le bruit de l’eau quand elle court. Il a de longues fleurs comme des queues de chats et qui sentent le pain cru. (All over the hill there are feet, claws, muzzles, bellies. Listen to them. Hard trees, soft trees, cold flowers, warm flowers. Over there a long tree. We can hear its noise straight ahead. It sounds like running water. It has long flowers like cats’ tails which smell of uncooked bread.)

These descriptions are striking because they evoke the landscape with no need for visual references. But importantly these descriptions do not alienate the ocularcentric reader. Clara’s evocation of nature is so powerful that we are immediately immersed in it without even noticing her lack of reference to visual elements. It is only because Giono foregrounds her blindness that we notice her non-visual language. By describing her non-visual acquisition of knowledge as ‘seeing’, Clara rids the verb of its associations with eyesight and thus disentangles notions of perception and detection from their persistent association with physical looking. Giono is thus using Clara to destabilise the hierarchy of the senses,

The ease with which Clara discusses her multi-sensual way of not seeing, together with the way in which non-visual descriptions of nature are incorporated into the novel’s prose even when recounted via the consciousness of a sighted character, invite us to read both Clara and Antonio as authorial figures whose discussions function as reflexive comments on Giono’s own non-visual creative processes. In addition, Clara’s non-visual relationship to nature functions to overturn sight’s expected place at the top of the hierarchy of the senses whilst celebrating the creative potential of the non-visual senses. Giono’s prose thus redefines notions of ‘sight’ and ‘seeing’ by detaching them from the physical act of looking, in order to encourage his reader to rethink her own relationship with the visual.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Shades of Blindness

I think it is fair to say that my cataract operations were successful. For the first time in three years I can read print, the world is so bright and colourful it feels like I am on the set of The Wizard of Oz, and all my friends and colleagues look about twenty years older. But whilst my sight is better than it was when I was an undergraduate student, I am still legally blind. I feel like I can see again but it turns out I still can't read the eye chart, see detail close up or at a distance or recognise people. Navigating in crowded or unfamiliar places is still tricky and stressful and I still need my reading glasses, my telescope and my white cane. And now I also need shades. I used to hate wearing sun glasses. By blocking out what little light made it into my eyes, they made me even blinder than ever. But now I can't go out without them. My new cataract-less eyes are amazingly sensitive to light. Even with my shades, I can see colours more brightly than I could before. But wearing shades has a drawback I hadn't expected. By hiding my eyes, the shades also hide my blindness. And because my eyes look different they work a little bit like my white cane - they tell people that because my eyes do not look the same as theirs, I might not see the same as them. So when I go out with my shades but without my white cane I look completely sighted. And this can cause problems. Last weekend I went to a music festival with my family. We had a lovely time camping, eating bacon sandwiches and drinking wine (not necessarily all at the same time). But when I went down to the front to watch a band (without my white cane), a rather irate lady accused me of pushing in. I honestly had not meant to push in front of her and was genuinely shocked at her anger. I was also upset because I realised that I do not in fact see as well as I thought. I still miss visual cues (and clues) and without my white cane this makes me look at best clumsy, and at worse rude. So even though my cane is heavy and cumbersome, and even though my new sight makes me wonder if I am really as blind as the medics' measurements suggest, I will still be using my cane and still proudly defining myself as 'partially blind'.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Book Review: 'Jules' by Didier van Cauwelaert

Since I discovered his Goncourt-winning Un aller simple in 1995, I have always loved Didier van Cauwelaert's quirky, touching and gently ironic novels. But my heart sank when I learnt that his most recent work Jules (Albin Michel: 2015) tells the story of a blind woman whose sight is miraculously restored. I was worried that this would be a simplistic celebration of the cure whereby Alice's new sightedness would bring her all the happiness and hope denied her by her blindness.

The novel's opening page did nothing to allay my fears. When the sighted narrator Zibal first glimpses still-blind Alice, his lascivious gaze objectifies her by its insistence on her physical appearance:

Hauts talons canari, minishort rouge et top turquoise, elle ne risquait pas de se faire écraser par temps de brume. N’eût été le labrador qui la guidait au bout d’un harnais, ses grandes lunettes noires seraient passées pour un accessoire de star soucieuse qui son incognito se remarque. Les cheveux blond-roux maintenus par un chignon en broussaille, les seins libres sous la soie quasi transparente, un sourire de rendez-vous amoureux allongeant les bavures de son rouge à lèvres, c’était une aveugle particulièrement voyante qui faisait bien davantage envie que pitié. (Jules, Didier Van Cauwelaert (Paris : Albin Michel, 2015, p. 7)
Zibal’s emphasis on her physical appearance reduces Alice to nothing more than a collection of sexual attributes without taking any account of her personality, context or even name. She is nothing more than an anonymous ‘aveugle’ who is completely defined in relation not only to how she looks to him but also how she does not look at him. In addition, the form of the text further emphasizes Alice’s objectification. She appears to be defined according to the controlling gaze of a male first-person narrator whose words are motivated by his desire not only to possess her sexually, but also to possess her metaphorically by capturing her in and via his text. This dual act of possession is rendered possible precisely by the very thing which makes Alice attractive to the narrator, namely her blindness. Alice is unaware that she is being looked at in this way and is thus even further objectified by the silence of the controlling gaze and the conspiracy between the sighted gazer and the reader which it establishes.

Happily, this narrator-reader complicity is shattered by the irruption of Alice's voice into the text. As the narrative progresses, Alice and Zibal recount alternating chapters so that a dual first-person perspective is established which destabilizes what the reader thinks he or she knows about both blindness and sightedness. Unlike her friends and colleagues, Alice is not overjoyed when she regains her sight. Far from it. She is horrified by the world she can now see and feels abandoned and lost without her guide dog Jules:

L’enthousiasme autour de moi, l’émerveillement que suscite ma guérison me laissent un sentiment de solitude honteuse que jamais le handicap n’a provoqué. Le devoir de bonheur auquel je m’astreignais, par fierté et instinct de survie, est remplacé desormais par un simple code de décence. Je n’ai plus le droit d’aller mal. (pp. 86-7)

By regaining her sight, Alice has lost one of her defining features; she is no longer herself. It is almost as if she is in mourning for her blindness. She hates the person she has become almost as much as she hates the way her friends celebrate her cure. She sees every congratulation as a betrayal of her blind self, evidence that despite the fact that she was happy being blind, all her sighted acquaintances secretly thought she would be better off sighted.

Van Cauwelaert's sensitive depiction of Alice's reactions to her new state of sightedness is a startling reminder that blindness is not a tragedy. Through a fast-paced (if somewhat far-fetched) tale of love, loss and loyalty we meet a collection of wonderfully eccentric characters who encourage us to abandon our own misconceptions about beauty, happiness and the tyranny of appearances. Without giving too much away, this is a thought-provoking, surprising and engrossing tale about how we see each other and ourselves. Highly recommended.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Bravo for live Audio Descrption at Euro 2016!

When I applied for tickets for the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament I did so because I wanted to experience the passion and excitement of live high quality football and I wanted to do so in my favourite country. I have attended live football before and know that nothing beats the thrill of the build-up, the noise of the fans and the atmosphere inside the stadium. I also (thought) I knew that it would be almost impossible for me to actually follow what was happening on the pitch. The players would be blurry smears of contrasting colours and the ball would move far too quickly for me to follow. I would have to guess the general pattern of the match from the reactions of the crowd around me and would fill in the gaps later by watching the highlights with my nose inches from the television screen.

Imagine my excitement when I discovered that a team of volunteers would be providing live audio description at the match! Armed with my portable FM radio and headphones I duly tuned in to 91.8 once settled in the stands. AD can often be fraught with technical problems so it was a relief to immediately hear a recorded message informing me that the service was working and that live commentary would start shortly before the match. Coincidentally, our seats were next to the press stand from where the audio description would be delivered: as soon as the technical team spotted my white cane they came over to check that everything was working and they lent me some special headphones so that the commentary would not be drowned out by the very noisy Swedish fans sitting round me. When I explained that I have a professional as well as a personal interest in AD they even introduced me to the two volunteer describers.

Lucas Carcano and Leandra Iacono are studying sports journalism in Nice and they have been specially trained in live football audio description. When we met before the match they described the layout of the stadium to me, gave me an idea of the look and behaviour of the two groups of fans and told me a little bit about the players’ warm up which was going on below us. Most importantly, they explained the system of zones they were going to use during the description. By dividing the pitch into four areas, labelled A-D, they could accurately give me the position of the ball throughout the game: for the first time I would be able to get a real sense of where the ball was on the pitch and follow the players as they moved around it. Like a television camera focusing in on the part of the pitch in play, Lucas and Leandra’s references to zones would allow me to focus my attention on the requisite section of the pitch.

Unlike AD tracks on film, which begin at the same time as the film does (thus rendering ads and trailers inaccessible), Lucas and Leandra started their description with the pre-match ceremony and described the arrival of the players, the display of flags, the national anthems and the fans’ reactions to it all. Without them I would not have known that all the Swedish fans were jumping up and down in unison whilst unfurling a giant flag with a tribute to Italy in one corner. By making me feel more involved in the build-up, their words pulled me into the atmosphere in a way I have never experienced before.

 As the game began I was immediately astonished and delighted by the energy and enthusiasm my describers put into their work. It was very soon apparent that as well as being accomplished journalists they were also extremely knowledgeable and passionate football fans. Without ever seeming to pause for breath they told me who had the ball, where they were passing it, who was waiting to receive it, who was tackling whom, when there were fouls and what the referee was dong about them and how and why the crowd was reacting as it did.
As well as focusing on the detail of the match, they also managed to give me a sense of the teams’ positions as a whole and how their tactics varied. I learnt that Sweden prefer long balls which are not always successfully recuperated, that the Italian goalie takes his time before every goal kick, that some players get up immediately after falling whilst others lie there moaning. They told me about near-misses and awkward turns, substitutions and injuries, yellow cards and free kicks; off-sides and corners. In lulls in the action they gave their impressions of the game, who was playing well, who looked tired, who was having fun. They combined detail with knowledge and facts with analysis in a unique and very appealing way: I felt not only that I knew what was happening on the pitch but also that I understood why it was happening and what it might lead to.

I was astonished by how much their audio description differed from radio commentary. Whilst radio commentators give more of a sense of the game’s action than television commentators do, they (paradoxically) fall far short of the detail of AD. Radio commentators tend to do as their name suggests: they comment on the action, often comparing the current game to previous performances or listing statistics and interesting facts about the players. They privilege banter over description and lapse into silence without explaining why the game has paused. On the other hand, Lucas and Leandra worked really hard to provide a rich and enriching aural experience. Whilst they did include some helpful background information, such as which players on opposing sides were team mates in club football, and how they were dealing with this on the pitch, they were focused on the flow of the game. This meant that I felt more immersed in the experience that I have ever done before. I must have experienced hundreds of match commentaries on television and radio. But this is the first time that I have felt so involved and included in the action. It was as if the detail of television close-ups was combined with the thrill of live action. There is no doubt that I got just as much - and probably more – out of the game thanks to Lucas and Leandra than the sighted fans around me.

After the match, and after I’d thanked them both about a thousand times, my describers asked me how they could make the service even better. I couldn’t really think of much that they themselves could do to improve what had been a truly remarkable description. But perhaps live sporting events could take some inspiration from current practices in accessible theatre: as well as offering live AD of selected performances, some theatres also offer pre-show touch tours where blind audience members are able to familiarise themselves with the set and even the actors. No doubt my experience would have been even more memorable had I been able to walk the pitch, touch the goal netting and perhaps even fondle Ibrahimovic’s muscles…

Lucas and Leandra are on duty again tonight for the match between Russia and Wales and I wish them both 'bon courage'. I also wish I could be there with them. Nothing I experience on TV or radio in the next weeks of the tournament will come close to the intensity and impact of their amazing live audio description.

With thanks to Julie Bertholon from the Federation des aveugles de France for telling me about the service, to my Dad for accompanying me to the match, to all the volunteers who helped me find seats, toilets and transport, and of course to Lucas and Leandra for quite simply transforming my experience of football.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Book Review: 'Je veux croire au soleil' by Jacques Semelin

Jacques Semelin, Je veux croire au soleil (Paris: les Arènes, 2016)

Part travel journal, part guide to living creatively with blindness, Jacques Semelin’s humorous description of his stay in Montreal is a charming and honest account of the day-to-day annoyances and joys of life as a blind academic.

Readers familiar with Semelin’s first memoir, J’arrive  je suis étranger (which I write about here) will remember that his gradual journey from sightedness to blindness was not an easy one. Semelin's internalised ableism meant that he spent many years doing his best to 'pass' as a sighted person before finally 'coming out' as blind. In Je veux croire au soleil he celebrates the new creativeness which his blindness has given him and reflects on how to make sense of his non-visual life for a sighted reader:
Je me suis mis en quête d’un autre vocabulaire, de métaphores, de mises en scènes, bref, de tous les moyens de mieux saisir le réel par l’imaginaire.

I found myself identifying particularly strongly with Semelin's description of the 'saut psychologique' (psychological leap) he had to make from independence to dependence. Like him I spent years finding ingenious ways of doing things for myself. And like him I resisted asking for help for as long as I could:
Se faire aider conduit bien plus tôt à reconnaître un effondrement de soi. On ne peut plus faire ceci ou cela. […] Se faire aider revient ici à devoir admettre son infériorité physique en quelque chose, une infirmité en somme.

Whilst the wealthy willingly pay for assistance as a way of asserting their dominance, Semelin recognizes that asking for - and knowing how to graciously accept - help is one of the hardest things a blind person must do. Having to be helped can feel like a loss of personhood and an acknowledgement of inferiority. But knowing when to accept help can feel like a liberation. I recognise in Semelin's references to pride and honour my own (sometimes unhelpfully stubborn) reluctance to ask for help. Perhaps this explains my dislike of taxis and my preference for public transport.
Il faut trouver la force de se pousser dehors. Quand on n’y voit pas il est toujours tentant de rester bien au chaud dans un lieu clos. L’extérieure reste angoissant. Mais la volonté de se prendre en charge et la curiosité de la découverte peuvent aussi vous attirer vers l’inconnu de la rue.

As well as learning how to fight his natural urge not to ask for help, Semelin also describes how he forces himself to leave his cosy flat and explore Montreal. His description of his solitary adventure down the busy rue Saint-Denis is a powerful illustration of the appeal of the sensual world he inhabits. His descriptions of snippets of conversation, cooking smells and the changing feel of the air on his face provide a non-traditional - but equally valuable - visitor's guide to one of Montreal's most famous streets. Semelin's sensual appreciation of Montreal is an evocative celebration not only of non-visual travel but also of the unexpected pleasures of being blind and alone in an unfamiliar environment. Semelin's wanderings are often punctuated by encounters with strangers and these chance meetings, and the stimulating and rewarding conversations which ensue, are a reminder that blindness's enforced dependence on others is a gateway to a shared humanity which is often denied the more self-reliant sighted traveller.
Les personnes qui n’ont pas l’habitude de côtoyer des non-voyants ont souvent tendance à craindre le pire pour leur sécurité à tort.

One of the most appealing aspects of Semelin's memoir is that it is not unremittingly cheerful. He is frustrated and annoyed by his landlady's pessimistic prediction of the problems he will have with dustbins and domestic appliances. Whilst appreciative of the new technologies which make his academic work possible, he is also right to point out that screen readers and talking smart phones are hampered by their reliance on sight-dependent software:
Ce sont les instruments quotidiens d’une dictature qui ne dit pas son nom et qui transcende les régimes politiques, celle de l’image.

In both Montreal and Ottawa Semelin was disappointed that museums - especially those dealing with the persecution of minorities - were largely inaccessible to him. I wonder what he would make of Canada's new human rights museum which recently opened in Winnipeg and which I write about here.
Pourtant une certaine amertume ne m’a pas vraiment quitté. Cette promenade a-t-elle ravivé la mélancolie que je sais toujours au fond de moi comme une nostalgie pour ce monde dont j’ai dû abandonner les rives voici bien longtemps ? Cela fait des années et des années que j’en suis exclu mais quoi que je fasse, une vieille douleur se réveille de tems en autres, comme en ce moment.

Semelin's work made me both smile and cry out in recognition. But it also made me nostalgic. Unlike him, I do not miss the sighted world, but I do miss the time when I too was a lone traveller in a francophone land. Maybe I'll go alone to Montreal one day. And maybe like Semelin I'll do battle with a recalcitrant microwave, relish the sounds and smells of the rue Saint-Denis and explore the wonderfully multisensory Cour des Sens at the Jardin botanique.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Jacques Lusseyran colloquium

I have recently been reading the work of blind academic Jacques Lusseyran in preparation for the one-day colloquium about him which I am honoured to be speaking at along with several friends and colleagues. The day is taking place at the Fondation Singer-Polignac in Paris on 28 June 2016 (coincidentally, and rather wonderfully, the first anniversary of Blind Creations at which Zina Weygand spoke so eloquently about him).

Although I do not necessarily agree with everything he says about blindness, I would argue that Lusseyran's celebration of 'inner vision' paradoxically celebrates the non-visual senses. He also advocates a no-nonsense approach to physical activity for blind people which echoes my adventurous approach to skiing.

This image shows the poster for the colloquium

The colloquium is free to attend and is open to all, but pre-registration is required. Click here for more information.