Sightlessness is another country (WIP) #whatimwriting

This is a difficult one to write, half resolved thoughts, a tiny idea that hasn’t been fully birthed.

I’ve been writing about sight loss. I take a privileged western man, and strip away his freedom, then to add to his nakedness, I take his sight.

I’ve been reading about post colonialism, because I know that I’m writing a western view on Africa. I need to take Adam from his home, from everything that keeps him safe, in order for him to change as a person. I’m taking him as far as I can out of his comfort zone, into new territory where he isn’t his own person, where he loses his identity, needs to find a new self.

I always consider what it means to write this as a woman, what it means to write about a man.

Somewhere in this I can see a thread linking sightlessness, sight loss, with landlessness, with colonisation, where the country you thought was yours is no longer yours, no longer home. Some place where unclear boundaries, wavering borders cause pain and trauma. Somewhere, land and gender, aid and disability, the relationship between doctor and patient all interlink. In this place, I challenge ‘I know what’s best for you’, in a place of self and other, of subject and object, of having and of loss. What I’m writing observes the shift between observer and observed, between seer and seen.

In the first version of Blindsided, the most experimental format, I wrote,

See. Seeing: we see without thinking, we ‘look, behold; observe, perceive, understand; experience, visit, inspect’. I see: I follow what you are saying. I see: I have (a) vision. Also, See, ‘throne of a bishop, archbishop, or pope’ from Latin sedem ‘seat, throne, abode, temple,’ related to sedere ‘to sit’. I do not see, I am unseated. “

Going back to the New Immortals, someone used the phrase, ‘The chaos of the indeterminate body’… ‘people don’t know how to die.’ Nothing prepares us for death, nothing prepares us to lose a sense, a limb, an ability. I couldn’t walk age thirty eight. That was a shock. And maybe that’s why everything I read is about death, why I see death in everything I read. This time, I want to be prepared. Or must we always be blindsided by what life throws at us? Are we inevitably unseated? Is the very unpredictability of life, of the human response what makes us want story? Are stories are a way that we can be prepared?

Returning to geography and disability, identity and power phrases that come up in my reading that resonate … unsettled states … nations without borders …missing borders … unclear borders. In writing about a rebel group in West Africa I need a clear strategy for what they are rebelling against. What is the identity that they are seeking to protect? What borders do not match with communities? What power do they lack? In writing about sight loss, I cast Adam into a space where he is seeking boundaries, where there is safety in limits and borders and danger in an unseen edge. He is dragged into a place where he can’t see the boundaries that used to be clear, and those borders he thought were stable, his identity as a man, a doctor, an employee, a volunteer, have all gone.  In the last part of the book Adam spends most of his time by the sea, a place where the border between land and water changes constantly. In this place of uncertainty, though, he finds something that he’d lost.

rassembler: to assemble, gather together
rassembler ses idées: to collect one’s thoughts
rassembler ses esprits: to gather one’s wits
rassembler son courage: to screw up one’s courage

Virginia Woolf writes, “As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” (From Three Guineas, Woolf’s take on Patriarchy and Fascism) Looking up other people who have written about this quote, about the feminist politics of place, I stumbled across Adrienne Rich’s Notes Towards a Politics of Location. Rich expounds on the need to understand your ‘country’ … that she is, that I am writing as a middle class, privileged, white woman. She writes about ‘the body’, ‘my body’ and the difference between the two, the latter plunging her into ‘lived experience’. In writing a world where Adam is pulled from sighted to unsighted, from where he is privileged and in control to a situation where he has no power, where he loses a sense, I want him to be forced into a place of change, where he examines his privilege, that which he takes for granted.

The phrase ‘No Nation’ keeps recurring in my research – Robert J C Young uses it to paraphrase Woolf, and I’ve written about the film, Beasts of No Nation, based on the novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala. I’ve not yet found the source for Iweala’s title. In what I’m writing I’m aspiring to see what happens to a man when he loses his nation, his privilege, his seat, his sight. Rich writes, “We… often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously.” I guess I’m tying into knots the threads of white privilege and ability. I’m not sure about the final part of the book where Adam, sightless, returns to the home where he grew up. It is the easiest thing for him to do, in some ways the only choice he has as he struggles with his new self, but it is a choice of the privileged. He has a home to go to. And perhaps I need to change that, or maybe he needs to prove that he has changed against his former background. I don’t know.

There’s a lot of things I don’t know. Yet. This is a rough cascade of thoughts which I will return to.

To be continued …



2 thoughts on “Sightlessness is another country (WIP) #whatimwriting

  1. This is such a very thought provoking post. When I create my characters, I also find myself asking these questions, especially when the characters are far removed from my everyday world. I love that you have written this : “I always consider what it means to write this as a woman, what it means to write about a man.” There is so much more to creating characters and a story. And I find that sometimes what I have fleshed out do not even make it unto the page but it does give the character his distinct voice and somehow helps mould the story. I will be following your journey.

    • Thank you. It’s an ongoing issue, and one that I’m delving back into this month as I start back in on draft 2!

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