We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Metanarrative of Blindness

A Re-reading of Twentieth-Century Anglophone Writing

David Bolt

Publication Year: 2013

Although the theme of blindness occurs frequently in literature, literary criticism has rarely engaged the experiential knowledge of people with visual impairments. The Metanarrative of Blindness counters this trend by bringing to readings of twentieth-century works in English a perspective appreciative of impairment and disability. Author David Bolt examines representations of blindness in more than forty literary works, including writing by Kipling, Joyce, Synge, Orwell, H. G. Wells, Susan Sontag, and Stephen King, shedding light on the deficiencies of these representations and sometimes revealing an uncomfortable resonance with the Anglo-American science of eugenics. What connects these seemingly disparate works is what Bolt calls “the metanarrative of blindness,” a narrative steeped in mythology and with deep roots in Western culture. Bolt examines literary representations of blindness using the analytical tools of disability studies in both the humanities and social sciences. His readings are also broadly appreciative of personal, social, and cultural aspects of disability, with the aim of bringing literary scholars to the growing discipline of disability studies, and vice versa. This interdisciplinary monograph is relevant to people working in literary studies, disability studies, psychology, sociology, applied linguistics, life writing, and cultural studies, as well as those with a general interest in education and representations of blindness.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Corporealities: Discourses of Disability


pdf iconDownload PDF (65.1 KB)
p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (371.1 KB)
pp. i-vi

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (75.7 KB)
pp. vii-viii

What a thrill it is for me to have this book published. For my work to become part of the field-defining Corporealities series is a great honor indeed. But after only a moment of pondering this prospect and bearing the unavoidable pride, I am struck by the sheer number of people to...


pdf iconDownload PDF (41.7 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more

An Embodied Introduction

pdf iconDownload PDF (109.1 KB)
pp. 1-15

The decision to write about blindness has hit some academics like the proverbial bolt from the blue. This is illustrated by, for instance, Jacques Derrida in Memoirs of the Blind (1990) and Naomi Schor in “Blindness as Metaphor” (1999).1 Both were writing in a prompt response to the onset of their visual impairments, the one temporary and the other permanent...

read more

Community, Controversy, and Compromise: The Terminology of Visual Impairment

pdf iconDownload PDF (476.1 KB)
pp. 16-34

On the topic of terminology, as noted in David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder’s introduction to The Body and Physical Difference (1997), there has been “much debate within the disability community” (25), from which we may infer a couple of things that are germane to this chapter: first, that there has also been much debate without the disability community...

read more

Character Designation: Normate Reductionaism and Nominal Displacement

pdf iconDownload PDF (111.9 KB)
pp. 35-50

So disability may be understood as a malleable identity that links other identities, and because we are all visually limited a continuum may be identified between those of us who have high visual acuity and those of us who do not perceive by visual means. This postmodern, indeed dismodern perspective recognizes that complex, temporary, and variable...

read more

Come-to-Bed Eyes: Ophthalmocentrism, Ocularcentrism, and Sumbolic Castration

pdf iconDownload PDF (109.9 KB)
pp. 51-66

As we consider the mechanics of the way in which labels such as blind girl and blind man invoke the metanarrative of blindness, it becomes clear that blindness-castration synonymy is something of a cardinal motif. Though easily traced back to ancient times, the motif is used in many ways and afforded new significance by Modernism, especially in relation...

read more

"A Hand of the Blind Venture Forth" : The Grope, the Grip, and Haptic Perception

pdf iconDownload PDF (104.7 KB)
pp. 67-79

If we wish to be unprejudiced in our actions and attitudes, then we do our utmost to resist metanarratives that perpetuate negative stereotypes. That is an undeniable fact. Yet so-called positive stereotyping too frequently remains unchallenged or unnoticed. Extraordinary senses constitute the...

read more

Social Friction and Science Fiction: Alrerity, Avoidance, and Constructs of Contagiousness

pdf iconDownload PDF (109.7 KB)
pp. 80-94

The link between contagiousness and avoidance is obvious, for many if not most of us endeavor or at least wish to avoid anyone who has pretty much anything deemed contagious. But avoidance is also a common act of prejudice, as noted in the introduction to the present book, positioned, as it is, in Gordon Allport’s list of worsening behaviors that...

read more

Visual Violation: Staring, Panopticism, and the Unseen Gazer

pdf iconDownload PDF (110.6 KB)
pp. 95-110

Be it via the look, the stare, or the gaze, uninvited scrutiny is unwelcome for many reasons and on many levels. Indeed, there can be no denying the ubiquity of ocularcentric notions, behaviors, and practices, yet the rendering of vision as the supreme means of perception has profound implications for us all. For example, in identifying members of social...

read more

Culturally Assisted Suicide: The Mourning and Melancholia of Blindness Deconstructed

pdf iconDownload PDF (108.6 KB)
pp. 111-125

Many self-help books are written to explain how people can “endure” or “triumph over” impairments, observes Michael Davidson, and several figures are deemed exemplary in this respect—as illustrated in chapter 5 with reference to the fictional community named after Mary Keller. This ableist ideology serves both to shape a “fragile sense of embodiment”...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (85.1 KB)
pp. 126-132

Though not in a position to make any overarching claims about literature, I can assert that evidence of the metanarrative of blindness is recurrent in twentieth-century writing. If I speculate a little about why this is so, I wonder if it is simply because authors who do not have visual impairments can nonetheless close their eyes and imagine blindness, albeit distinct from the experiential knowledge of people who have...


pdf iconDownload PDF (146.3 KB)
pp. 133-154

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (94.1 KB)
pp. 155-162


pdf iconDownload PDF (86.3 KB)
pp. 163-168

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029587
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472119066

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Corporealities: Discourses of Disability