February 2, 2005

Impediment as gift: "Cathedral"

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" Ugh. Nasty cliche, but accepted as truth in certain circles. What happens if the beholder is blind? Is the beholder beholding?

What about people with sight? Are we really seeing beauty for what it is? What makes a beautiful thing beautiful?

The last question is linked to sensory impressions, but in "Cathedral" by Carver, one sensory impression is not when a blind man visits a couple. The wife has been in contact with him over the years through taped conversations, and her new husband isn't enthused about the blind man's presence in his home.

However, instead of focusing on the blind man, the wife, and the situation at hand, I was pulled to the narrator: his racial prejudices, illegal smoking habits, and bitter sarcasm.

With responses to the blind man's marriage, such as, "All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like," the reader knows that, as he directly states, "it [a blind man's life] was beyond [his] understanding."

Throughout the story, the narrator consistently relates that Robert is "the blind man," never permitting him to have an identity outside of his supposed impediment. In fact, this impediment may even be construed as a gift when the narrator discovers, to a certain degree, what freedom one may find:

"Well? he said. "Are you looking?"
My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn't feel like I was inside anything.
"It's really something," I said.

While the reader does not know if he has a positive or negative lilt in his voice, from the previous indications of drawing a cathedral with fluidity and grace: "His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now," I inferred that this was a positive experience. From the short, choppy sentences to this rather long description, the reader knows that something has changed.

Perhaps now the narrator will understand his wife's poetry attempts.

As the narrator discovered from Robert, beauty may be discerned from all the senses, and by impairing one sense, we may heighten our reactions in the remaining ones. Though beauty is usually associated with sight impressions, there is much more to it than that; in breaking that restraint, beauty or ugliness can be seen everywhere, in the eye, or ear, or nose, or hand, or tongue, or heart (a sixth sense, if you will) of the beholder.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at February 2, 2005 8:57 PM | TrackBack
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