BLIND SPOTS

Blind Spots

Blind Spots

Blind Spots

By Stella Pierides

This post is about blind spots, shadows, and the darkness in our minds as readers (and writers).

There are corners and alleys in texts into which  we, as readers, may be sidetracked, trapped, and lose our way. The best illustration of this affliction I came across is from another genre, Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness” – which I very much like – and Achebe’s criticism of it. I will assume that you have either read this novel or a synopsis of it.

There had been huge praise for this novel over the years. Critics had written about aspects of imperialism, hair, clothes, rivers, language in it – yet, one aspect had gone unnoticed in so many readers’ and critics’ reading. I hadn’t noticed it myself either. Achebe, in his reading of the novel, saw a text underpinned by racism, and pointed to a need in Western psychology

“to set up Africa as a foil in Europe, a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest”

The novel presented Africa as ‘the other world’, a chaotic, corrupting continent, sharing with the West only ancient roots of kinship which were, however, long ago overcome. Such an image of Africa, Achebe pointed out, satisfied a psychological need to get rid of, to disavow what had been repressed and disowned; and it was a dangerous image to be challenged. Instead, it had to be reinforced. Achebe’s criticism – that Conrad’s masterpiece, attempting to examine the European psyche, compromised African humanity by this juxtaposition – illustrates a defamiliarization process, in which the familiar common humanity is denied and the ‘other’ is created.

While at first, years ago, I felt shocked by Achebe’s reading of Heart of Darkness (was Achebe being oversensitive, misreading Conrad’s intention of exposing undercurrents in Western culture?), I came to agree with it; it opened my eyes to the blind spots a whole community of writers and readers, every one of us, may be prone to. Achebe, in his interview in Paris Review, “The Art of Fiction”  is quoted saying:

“… all these people who see nothing about racism in Heart of Darkness, I’m convinced that we must really be living in different worlds. … Until these two worlds come together we will have a lot of trouble.”

How could such a massive failure to ‘see’ happen? Had readers, before Achebe, been reading ‘passively,’ submitting themselves to Conrad’s words without thinking, or approaching the text indeed from another world? In such a scenario, Achebe was best placed to see, and bring to our attention, the other side.

Returning to the haiku world and its readers: this is not to imply that some haiku readers, or writers, suffer from a particularly dark streak/from prejudiced thinking, but to illustrate how we are all prone to oversights, blind spots, are subject(s) to our cultural, historical, national environments’ influences. How, like Conrad’s earlier readers, we may be led to overlook, or overreact to, certain aspects in others’ and our own work. Achebe again, when asked what pointed him in the direction of writing:

“There is that great proverb – that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter… Once I realized that, I had to be a writer.”

Novels and haiku, perhaps the longest and shortest forms, also belong to different worlds, yet I tend to think we benefit from looking at the history and critical readings of both. It may spark insights, awareness of something we might have been missing. Wouldn’t it be useful to bear the possibility of blind spots in mind when we are differentiating between the various haiku traditions, when we are thinking about the content of haiku poetry? When reflecting on the issue of our identity(ies) as readers and poets? When we ponder, or pen, poems about illness, aging, the young, minorities, disadvantaged groups? When, in other words, we are faced with the ‘other’?

Achebe is widely said to have brought to our awareness the African perspective. Might we say that by doing so, Achebe, like Freud, Jung and others, made it possible to accept that our minds, even when open, even when filled with kindness, generosity, benevolence, and respect, at the same time contain blind spots and darkness?

Conrad, Joseph “Heart of Darkness” see Wikipedia for some of the history of the perceptions/reader appreciation of this novel.
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Achebe, Chinua, “An Image of Africa”, The Massachusetts Review, 18 (Winter 1977), 782-794
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Achebe, Chinua, interview in Paris Review, “The Art of Fiction
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Interested in following this issue in poetry in general? See Poets.org, “Open Letter: A Dialogue on Race and Poetry”, by Claudia Rankine (with Tony Hoagland’s response)
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And something that caught my eye during my internet travels: If something isn’t there in our field of vision: “what isn’t, what can’t be” from a poem “Blind Spot” by Beth Thomas.

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Image: Stella Pierides

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7 thoughts on “BLIND SPOTS

  1. Good article and much needed. There are a lot of blind spots as readers/commentators in haiku which in the 21st century surprises and sometimes shocks me.

    Also there is much in film and television, as well as literature that is highly wrong be it racism or sex, and in Britain I’m dismayed that so much of the Saville Culture (just look up Jimmy Saville) prevaded the TV and film industry.

    I see haiku writers as reporters after the truth, not biased, but neutral, giving us an insight into other cultures and viewpoints.

    I am so pleased that you have brought up blindspots, be it about racism or other unrewarding aspects of human interaction, or simply not reading widely enough.

    kindest regards,
    Alan, With Words

    • Thanks, Alan! I am surprised too that there is so little on blind spots. Though, were we to draw an analogy with vision: we do not see our blind spot because the visual brain fills it in, extrapolating with what is in the surround. So, neurologically speaking, there is a cover-up!

      I do believe that we as haiku poets – as much as other poets, writers and artists – might do well to remind ourselves of our propensity to blind spots… it all helps in approaching texts with an open mind…

      • I agree that sometimes we fill in the gaps, sometimes correctly, sometimes leftfield, sometimes it’s fine, but as writers we should act as a stimulus to a reader, and that the reader should be allowed to also be a stimulus to the poem, and that will fail if bring our blindspots with us like unwanted and extraneous luggage such as thick winter clothing to a place in the Tropics, or T-shirts and shorts to Alaska.

        What I personally do is learn as much as I can around each culture, and I have a willingness to learn a difficult or unknown word or phrase. If a new voice comes to haiku, or someone comes from a different culture, I embrace this, and I’m comfortable seeing any blind spots that might be my own, before I go looking for someone else’s blind spots.

        For those who are newcomers to haiku, or those who have been within the haiku culture for a long time, perhaps we arrive with too much of an inbuilt comfort zone that we are unwilling to remove ourselves from, to shed this almost “anti-writer encumbrance,” even after the vacation is over.

        I believe comfort zones produce, and disturbingly create and maintain blind spots, that interfere with the dynamics between ‘first’ author, and second ‘author’ aka The Reader.

        We must create a warning system for ourselves that show up our blind spots as soon as possible. An artist, be they prose or poetry writer, or any other kind of ‘visual’ artist, should be someone reporting from the frontline of an engagement, where developments happen quickly and because they can take time to filter through to those behind the lines, we must keep up open lines of communications so that our forward base maintains contact with Headquarters (The Readership) to mix and match war-time analogies.

      • Thanks for your thoughts, Alan. As you know from my earlier posts, I am all for keeping an open mind and heart, humbling oneself vis-à-vis the text, in order to avoid/minimize (as much as possible) blind spots! I agree, being aware of the comfort zones we have settled-in (whenever we did) is also crucial – otherwise we have nothing new to say, or understand. (Is death the ultimate comfort zone?) It seems to me these are all key elements of the early ‘warning system’ you suggest that we ought to set up for ourselves, alerting us to blind spots in our reading (as well as writing).

        Is this where writing groups/workshops, reading clubs/groups, blog posts and FB groups, social media and the internet can help? In other words, places and facilities where we are exposed to others’ opinions, thoughts, different ‘readings’ of a text? Might we see these spaces as ‘holes’ through which the light gets in; through which our understanding becomes whole? (Ooops, this is my next post!)

  2. A very interesting article, Stella. Thank you for sharing.

    I was never into history or politics when I was young (perhaps because I grew up during ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland ) and dedicated a lot of my time to painting and drawing, so I am well aware that I have blind spots. Sometimes I scare myself when I realise how much I don’t know about certain subjects! :O

    • Thanks for responding, seaviewwarrenpoint! I am glad you found this post interesting.

      I agree with your highlighting another angle in this, namely, situations in which for self-protection, we feel the need to close our eyes to certain things, even (while) reading about them – while still being aware of them going on in the background. Food for thought…

  3. Hi Stella,

    Sometimes the internet makes us have more blindspots as we don’t experience and learn because everything is a click away.

    Social media forums can help but sometimes blindspots will occur and be accepted. Because I’m determined not to have blindspots and have any of them happily highlighted, I have many students who can bring up topics or part of their culture, who know I’ll embrace those differences, and support their individual voice with passion and respect.

    I’m excited that there will be more posts. 🙂

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