11 January 2016

Borges on blindness

"A writer, or any man, must believe that whatever happens to him is an instrument; everything has been given for an end. This is even stronger in the case of the artist. Everything that happens, including humiliations, embarrassments, misfortunes, all has been given like clay, like material for one's art. One must accept it. For this reason I speak in a poem of the ancient food of heroes: humiliation, unhappiness, discord. Those things are given to us to transform, so that we may make from the miserable circumstances of our lives things that are eternal, or aspire to be so.

If a blind man thinks this way, he is saved. Blindness is a gift. I have exhausted you with the gifts it has given me. It gave me Anglo-Saxon, it gave me some Scandinavian, it gave me a knowledge of a Medieval literature I had ignored, it gave me the writing of various books, good or bad, but which justified the moment in which they were written. Moreover, blindness has made me feel surrounded by the kindness of others. People always feel goodwill toward the blind.

I want to end with a line of Goethe: "alles Nahe werde fern," everything near becomes distant. Goethe was referring to the evening twilight. Everything near becomes distant. It is true. At nightfall, the things closest to us seem to move away from our eyes. So the visible world has moved away from my eyes, perhaps forever.

Goethe could be referring not only to twilight but to life. All things go off, leaving us. Old age is probably the supreme solitude—except that the supreme solitude is death. And “everything near becomes far” also refers to the slow process of blindness, of which I hoped to show, speaking tonight, that it is not a complete misfortune. It is one more instrument among the many—all of them so strange—that fate or chance provide.
--Jorge Luis Borges, in his essay "Blindness," in Seven Nights.


  1. Thank you for posting this piece. I've been losing my vision for the past nine years, after cataract surgery that didn't go well. Now I'm totally blind in one eye, and have foggy vision in the other. I expect that it won't be much longer before I'm completely blind. So reading what Borges said about blindness--about it being a gift--fills me with encouragement and much warmth.

  2. From my grandfather's perspective being blinded as a result of an accident with refrigerant in the late 40's going blind was a gift. He was blinded as a man, 35, and he said it made him a better person.


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