Essay on Perspective

7 Jun
(John Berger Imitation Essay (Influenced by Drawn to that moment))

by Coriel O’Shea Gaffney

          When I was six, I learned that a parasitic disease had infected both my eyes and left me legally blind. I did not discover my handicap on my own. In fact, my school’s records indicated I had 20/20 vision. (In retrospect, I think I must have memorized the eye chart; somehow, I must have known.)Rather, while my mother and I were driving one day, she noticed one eye appeared lazy and casually brought me to be tested a couple weeks later. There was no urgency in our actions. We measure and define ourselves against others and I had no means of comparison. Is there a handicap before there is a diagnosis?

          Doctors were able to restore normal(ish) vision to my left eye but scars had already formed over the retina of my right. Since neither glasses nor surgery can correct the problem, I will never have central vision in this eye.

          Like the rest of humanity, the conclusions I draw about the world will always be based on my limited perspective. In my case, because the object I am seeing contains holes separate from the object itself, a reflection of my own eye, this means my conclusions will never be finite as they necessarily include their own relativity. My version of the world is like a drawing of itself. When we look at a drawing, we cannot escape the eye of the artist. We see not image, but image as seen through the eye of the artist. When I look at the world, my eye is reporting back to me about the process of looking, so some part of me is always conscious of the fact that this reality-thing is simply my own rendering. My world is a drawing; I am its artist and I am its critic.

          Most people are removed from the process of seeing as they look. The retina records an image, which will inevitably change, and therefore disappear, and be replaced with a new image. Each recorded image tricks the brain into believing that what it is seeing is unchanging for that second. That is how the perception of an image becomes a part of a greater narrative. The perceived constancies ground the narrative’s arc with something steady, concrete. The images my retina records, however, are incomplete, already fleeting. I will never fully believe in the illusion of constancy. Perhaps this perception contributes to my obsession with the transience of life and susceptibility to anxiety, but it also ignited my passion for poetry.

          For the first six years of my life, I assumed rooms were splotched and lopsided, that when light faded it also blurred, that the middles of things could detach at will. And so the important parts became tops and bottoms, beginnings and ends, the principal’s pointy feet, my mother’s frizzy hair. Details have always guided me and remain, to this day, more useful and important than the whole (which is never actually whole). And because I am always fighting for stagnancy, because what I see is always simultaneously forming and fading, arriving and departing, I reconstruct to fill in, to shape the haze.

       Or maybe it is human nature to turn our defenses into art.

 Coriel O’Shea Gaffney is legally blind in her right eye since childhood (and was, for a time, legally blind in both eyes) as a result of Toxoplasmosis. She received her MFA from The City College of New York where she is also an Adjunct Lecturer.  She has been a featured poet for the Turnstyle, Earshot!, Bushwick, Franklin Park Literary Series, the louderARTS Project, to name a few.  As a member of the feminist collaborative 500Genders, she has been featured at the Bowery Poetry Club, Stain Bar, and Perch Café. Publications include: Lyre, Lyre, Union Station, Scapegoat Review, Promethean and more. Coriel was the recipient of the Jerome Lowell Dejur Award in Poetry and the CCNY Teacher-Writer Award.

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