Sunday, September 27, 2009


Among the vast repertoire of symbols available to the lyricists of popular music, one of the most frequently used is blindness. A famous use of blindness, in the oft-recorded “Amazing Grace”—I was blind but now I see—corresponds to the dramatic moment named by Aristotle anagnorisis, recognition, the movement from ignorance to knowledge, a moment of sudden, acute insight. Hence blindness more often figurative than it is literal, and this figurative use listeners understand without even thinking about its status as poetry. Moreover, blindness is not only, figuratively speaking, a state of ignorance, but also signals a state of crippling self-absorption or self-preoccupation, leading to selfish, insensitive behavior. However, when writing about the symbolic use of blindness in films, Raymond Durgnat observed:

Terrible as this fate is felt to be, a sentimental style easily transforms it into something almost voluptuous, a kind of graceful helplessness (Chaplin’s City Lights, 1931; Mark Robson’s Lights Out, 1951). Because of our impulsive pity, a barking, aggressive blind person, brutally rejecting it, is not only admirable (for his courage, like Rochester) but frightening, almost magical (Anna Massey’s witch-mother in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom). Blindness is, strangely enough, associated with the all-seeing eye. . . . The Peeping Tom, with his apparatus for seeing (camera, mirror) and his spiked tripod is ‘seen through’ by the blind woman. (Films and Feelings, p. 229)

Durgnat might also have included the figure of the blind woman played by Audrey Hepburn in the suspense thriller Wait Until Dark (1967). Of course, he wrote these observations some years before the 1972 debut of Kung Fu on American television as well, a series prominently featuring the blind sage, Master Po (Keye Luke), imbued with a magical, if not superhuman, power of sight, at the continual amazement of Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine). In the western world, the model for the blind but all-seeing sage can be traced back to the poet Homer, generally considered to have been blind, then Tiresias, the blind hermaphroditic prophet of Greek mythology, then John Milton, who claimed that because the ordinary way of seeing was prohibited him, his blindness was compensated by an inner “celestial light”—hence his strong identification with the figure of the blinded Samson in his great poem, Samson Agonistes. (Samson’s figurative return was in the form of the Who’s Tommy.) But one can also be blinded by the light of sudden insight—“knocked cold,” stunned—as the Biblical story of Saul of Tarsus reveals. Struck blind, he could then see, an experience leading to his spiritual conversion by which he became the foremost Christian apologist, Paul.

Ten Songs Of The Blind and Blinded:
Tim Buckley – I Must Have Been Blind
Thomas Dolby – She Blinded Me With Science
Everlast – Blinded by the Sun
Lefty Frizzell – Blind Street Singer
Korn – Blind
Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now
Bruce Springsteen – Blinded By the Light (Manfred Mann’s cover is more famous)
Talking Heads - Blind
The Who – Pinball Wizard
Johnny Winter – Blinded By Love

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