Seeing Sight for What it Entails
Recently, I read a reprint of a 1993 New Yorker article titled To
See and Not See [pdf], by Oliver
Sacks. The article tells the story of Virgil, a man who had cataracts
removed from his eyes after spending nearly 50 years (most of his life)
being functionally blind. The article is the basis of the movie At
First Sight, starring Val Kilmer, Mira Sorvino, Kelly
McGillis, and Nathan Lane, among others. The musician Diana Krall even
puts in an appearance,
but I digress...
Having your vision switched on late in life,
it turns out, is no piece of cake. The experience of Virgil, and a handful
of other cases discussed in the article, underscores the part that is
played by a kind of learned visual literacy.
We actually learn to read space.
We learn to read shapes. We learn to interpret paintings, photographs, film,
video, and sculpture as representations... Seeing, it turns out, is an active
process, because there
As a result, we don't all see the same way, nor do we all see the same things.
I think that anyone who engages in creating visual work has to learn to extend
the cognition of seeing even further. If seeing involves translating distorted
impressions on the retina into a coherent sense of space, drawing and painting
first translating that construct into gestures on paper. Beyond that, the artist
has to learn how to articulate those gestures in such a way that
the finished work conveys a readable notion of space, surface, and proportion
to the viewer. Even photographers contest with related issues of representation
in the choices of format, lenses, exposures, and printing processes. Sculpture
complicates matters again, adding the manipulation of space and surface to
the required mix. No wonder people throw up their hands and say ‘I can't draw.’
The interesting thing is, many of us [with sight] can't actually see!
Wilma?! Hey, when does hurricane
The largest Atlantic storm ever recorded. What if it really does trash Florida?
But, as Twain said, 85% of the things we worry about never happen. Besides,
I'm not the FEMA director. Still, I have my fingers crossed for those folks.
The Big Flush
Some time last week, the Corps of Engineers reported that they had finished
pumping New Orleans out. Even with the over-topping from Rita, it looks like
on schedule. The process took 6 weeks.
The plan is to rebuild the levees to their pre-Katrina spec. [able to withstand
a cat. 3 hurricane] by the start of next year's hurricane season.
Let's just hope that no more hurricanes blow through the Gulf before this
season ends, and that it won't take another decade or two to upgrade
and pump system to withstand stronger storms of the future.
Three days ago, my friend ‘Dr. Zik’ Armstrong wrote:
Rita as well as Katrina, branches of the Armstrong family in New Orleans,
Lake Charles, and Beaumont are displaced– perhaps permananently. None of
ever live in the Ninth Ward again. But a lot of folks who have lived for
years on the edge of poverty have a fresh start. ...
The optimist in me is very excited about the prospect of a fresh start for
so many people who were mired in the poverty of the Lower 9th Ward. Could a
simple relocation be all that it takes to break the cycle? The sociologists
and historians have to be watching.
Somebody Up There - Who? What?
If you saw the movie The Corporation, you know that corporations often
claim to express emotion, especially love. A recent ad for DirecTV shows a corporation
The video shows satellites, their gossamer solar-panel-wings deployed
(angelically?), drifting gently above a jewel-like earth. The voice over says
‘somebody up there loves you.’ The more literal interpretation of the ad
is that those satellites are the proxies for DirecTV's people on the ground,
‘up there’ merely refers to space, and well, they want you to be happy by remaining
a DirecTV customer, or becoming one if you aren't already.
But we know advertising is always about creating emotional associations that
compel us to buy. So: space is often referred to as ‘the heavens,’ which
is god's haunt, the last time I checked. Sting's song St.
Augustine in Hell begins ‘If somebody up there loves me...,’ and
the St. Augustine character is certainly not offering a prayer to some inanimate
And of course, people will do all kinds of things, if you just tell 'em you
I guess ‘DirecTV is next to godliness’ would be a bit over the top
for ad copy.
Yeah, I'm a DirecTV customer, too.
In da Bginnin God cre8d da heavens & da earth
The son of the Scripture Director
of the Bible Society of Australia has translated all 31,173 verses of the Bible
into the style of SMS TextMessages. It took him six
weeks. The Society claims that none of the language of the bible has
been changed; only the spelling.
Perhaps that depends on how you define language... The article did say that
the text of the bible was ‘translated,’
the first definition of which is ‘to render in another language.’ But, it can
also mean ‘to express in different words,’ and more interestingly, ‘to express
This brings us to McLuhan and
the notion of how ‘the
medium is the message.’ It's debatable whether SMSpeak
is another language, but it is an important component of a different medium,
and is connected to
culture. Watch kids on a city bus with their cell phones and Nokia N-Gages,
and you'll see what I mean. If you want to bring your ideas to a new group
of people, the
want to do is learn to speak their language and appeal to their sensibilities.
That's Marketing 101.
In an interesting twist, I Googled Marshall McLuhan for this entry, and
found this treatise
on him from Probe Ministries, ‘a non-profit corporation whose
mission is to reclaim the primacy of Christian thought and values in Western
culture through media, education, and literature.’ We come
Joaquin Laguer died
at a tattoo parlor around 2pm on October 15th, in a freak accident. ‘Tattoo
Horror,’ shouted the Daily News. “Last Rites,” squawked
the Post, splitting the lead with some dirt about twenty-something lovers having
sex in public.
The gist of the two stories was that Laguer was having a tattoo
done when he started
some food he had brought with him, passed out, and fell into the case, shattering
the glass and slicing his throat in the process. He died almost instantly.
Both stories played up the idea that the tattoo had some demonic
dimension — In an article titled ‘A Bloody Tattoo Death,’ The
Daily News described it as an ‘abstract, wizardlike tattoo’ [nothing
abstract about it, by the way...]; the Post described it as the ‘face
of a devil.’
The papers could not agree on whether ‘Last Rites’ was the title
of the design or the style of the design. Looking at the photo of the design,
I'd be just as inclined to read it as a werewolf or wookie, as a wizard.
I think ‘devil’ is pushing it.
The Post leaves us with the notion that the poor guy got a devil tattooed
on his arm, felt sick out of the blue, walked over to the glass display
case, and met with his death... they leave it up to you to add the
part about the supernatural force reaching down from on high to smite his pagan
if you like...
But, there's a glaring omission in this telling.
The Daily News reports one
important additional bit of information, which does not appear in the Post:
and no medical insurance. He couldn't afford to see a specialist, and the cause
of his lifelong fainting spells went undiagnosed.
Left untreated, this man
was an accident waiting to happen, likely to pass out in some dangerous
falling onto subway tracks, into traffic, or simply hitting his head on a concrete
stairway. In a very real sense, he was a doomed man; but the tattoo had
nothing to do with it.
The Daily News ran a follow-up
story on October 16, continuing with the themes of religion
and family: The distraught tattoo artist felt guilty about the accident. He
had a ‘teary sitdown’ with Juaquin Laguer's family, and is reported
to have said
God bless that whole family. After meeting with them,
it's like I'm family.’
The issue of health insurance was not revisited
in the follow-up article.
How Newsday Got the Story [wrong]
I had the opportunity to assist with a really talented photographer named
Frank Franca in a workshop over the last two weekends. I was curious to see
his work, so I Googled him, and was surprised to see that he was quoted in
Newsday about 25-year-old Andrew Veal of Georgia, who committed suicide at
Ground Zero shortly after Bush got re-elected.
It seems that the article has been pulled from the Newsday site, but fragments
of it are quoted all over the web. I was able to piece these bits together:
Frank Franca, an East Village artist and registered Democrat, suggested the
suicide was symbolic.
“Obviously, this person
was devastated. I can see why he would come here.”
[Frank's friend Jeffim Kuznetsov, described as a student from Russia living
in Atlanta is quoted as saying]
“It’s a national tragedy. This election
is devastating to all who believe in democracy.”
Right-wing blogs like Attaboy ripped
them a new asshole:
Frank, you’re so deep. A young man, about to embark on the best years
of his life, possibly mentally ill, comes all the way to New York and kills
himself at Ground Zero, where three thousand innocent people were horribly
murdered, and you find that moving? ... Jeffim, your concepts of American
democracy are the reason why some of us wish people like you would stay on
side of the border. The fact the Senator Kerry lost demonstrates that our
form of democracy works exactly as it was intended. Perhaps you meant to
the election results was devastating to those who believed in John Kerry.
Yeah, nice, but that's not what Frank said. The ‘symbolic’ comment apparently came
from one of Veal's co-workers, and very little of what Frank actually said
got printed. Frank's comments on the incident:
You know, that whole thing with the right wing freaks online was really
distressing to me for a while. I was interviewed when I took a friend visiting
to Century 21, and we happened to be in front of Ground Zero. I was approached
by a journalist from the Newsday, and asked about the suicide... I siad "I
can imagine that the man was devastated with the results of the election,
I know I obviously was. However, the man was obviously seriously disturbed
in need of help. I on the other hand, have decided to channel my energy into
something constructive, and so I have just sent a check to the ACLU, which
is something I have been meaning to do for years. I plan to take a more activist
approach in politics"... That is not what appeared in the papers...
I felt I was misquoted, and came off really quite silly and dumb without
But now I don't even really care... More and more people need to speak out
about what is happening in Washington...
That's what I love about the press: reliable, accurate, unbiased reporting!