Happy 2nd Birthday Blind Spot Blog
I may not mention my research very often but it is still the driving force behind this blog. My thoughts on blindness in the modern world are always informed by the work I am doing on nineteenth-century French fiction (and increasingly the reverse is also true). Indeed the most interesting of the 40 or so novels featuring blindness I have worked on so far are the ones which challenge or critique some of the misconceptions about both disability in general and blindness in particular which still haunt modern society.
The figure of the passive blind beggar is a recurrent feature of nineteenth-century French literature. The way that he is often used as a symbol of failure or tragedy finds a sinister echo in contemporary images of blindness such as the offensive advert I wrote about last year. Such depictions insidiously emphasise that blindness is a disaster, a tragedy, almost a fate worse than death. But my research shows that not all nineteenth-century French writers were happy to accept this predominant stereotype. One such example is a 1892 primary school textbook by Vessiot which includes a short story in which two schoolgirls discover the hitherto unsuspected intelligence of their local blind beggar. Like another story which appeared in 1887, 'L'Aveugle' by Alphonse de Launay, this seemingly innocent tale in fact encourages a whole generation to rethink their preconceived notions of blindness by teaching them that appearances can be deceptive. One of the things I will argue in Visions of Blindness in French Fiction 1789-2013, the book which will eventually come out of my research, is that it is only by understanding how and why the blind were depicted throughout history, whilst also analysing the works which critique such depictions, that we can hope to finally rid society of its pervasive and devastatingly negative view of blindness.