Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind in France

Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind in France

William R. Paulson
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 270
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvpfj
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind in France
    Book Description:

    Paulson examines literary, philosophical, and pedagogical writing on blindness in France from the Enlightenment, when philosophical speculation and surgical cures for cataracts demystified the difference between the blind and the sighted, to the nineteenth century, when the literary figure of the blind bard or seer linked blindness with genius, madness, and narrative art. A major theme of the book is the effect of blindness on the use of language and sign systems: the philosophes were concerned at first with understanding the doctrine of innate ideas, rather than with understanding blindness as such.

    Originally published in 1987.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5858-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION: UNSEEING IN THE EYE
    (pp. 3-20)

    Why did the blind—their perceptual faculties and their surgical cure—become the subject of intense cultural interest in eighteenth-century France? How did this philosophic and speculative attention given to blindness by Diderot and others contribute to a changed presentation of the blind in literature? What effect did these developments have on the beginnings of modern educational programs for the blind, and how did the teachers in these programs contribute in their turn to the cultural fascination with those who do not see? How is this collection of discourses and activities arising from the Enlightenment related to the role of...

  5. 1 “SUPPOSE A MAN BORN BLIND …”
    (pp. 21-38)

    In the second edition of hisEssay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke exposed a problem concerning a person born blind and restored to sight that was to attract the attention of every major figure of the French Enlightenment. The Swiss philosopher Jean-Bernard Mérian, writing for the Berlin Academy in 1770, summed up its importance in these terms:

    Ce problème tient, dans la Philosophic moderne, une place distinguée. Les Locke, les Leibnitz, les hommes les plus célèbres de notre siècle en ont fait l’objet de leurs recherches. Il a été le germe de découvertes importantes, qui ont produit des changemens considérables...

  6. 2 DIDEROT: PHILOSOPHY AND THE WORLD OF THE BLIND
    (pp. 39-71)

    In the series of texts inspired by the Molyneux problem, theLettre sur les aveugles à l’usagje de ceux qui voientstands out by its fame and by its title. From Locke to Condillac, the blind enter philosophical works as examples or as abstract paradigmatic figures. With Diderot, in 1749, philosophy sets out to study them and their ways of knowing, ways that are often surprisingly like those of the seeing. Yet this resemblance can be disconcerting, as Diderot notes in reporting his conversation with a blind man whom he had visited in Puiseaux:

    Il discourt si bien et si...

  7. 3 CURING BLINDNESS: A MODERN MYTH
    (pp. 72-94)

    The blind can be cured, the blind can communicate intelligendy with the seeing; their experience can even help the seeing to understand themselves. These changed ideas about blindness, though arising from science and philosophy, were not limited to these domains in their consequences. Even the brief accounts of the cataract operations performed by Grant and Cheselden displayed a sentimental and personal side of the interest in cures of blindness. Simply stated, curability modifies the imaginary conception of the blind by the seeing, and alters their status in society. Not all the blind can actually be cured, of course, but the...

  8. 4 A MODERN PROJECT: EDUCATING THE BLIND
    (pp. 95-120)

    Diderot had distinguished two ways of approaching the Molyneux problem: the spectacular experiment and the dialogue with the blind. In the first case, blindness functions purely as an absence of perception; in the second, it is a factor determining certain relationships to signs and the world. If the dramatic moment of cure gave rise to a certain number of modern “mythic” notions about the blind, the interest in the mental faculties of those who do not see produced a more durable and concrete development: the establishment of institutions devoted to their education. With these institutions came a body of treatises...

  9. 5 FROM CHATEAUBRIAND TO BALZAC: LITERATURE AND LOSS OF SIGHT
    (pp. 121-166)

    From the Molyneux problem to the theatrics of ocular cures to treatises on the teaching of sightless children, we have been examining writings in which blindness is linked, however indirectly, to modern philosophic or scientific achievements. Without the operations of Grant and Cheselden, without the writings of Locke and Diderot, the new representations of the blind found in popular literature and institutional pedagogy could not have been as they were;ValérieandLe Sage de l’Indostanwould be inconceivable. One common trait, moreover, unites all the blind people presented in the writings we have considered: they were born blind. For...

  10. 6 HUGO: BLIND SEERS, BLIND LOVERS, AND THE VIOLENCE OF HISTORY
    (pp. 167-198)

    Evoking the deaf Beethoven’s creation of the nine symphonies, Victor Hugo wrote in 1863: “Il semble qu’on voie un dieu aveugle créer des soleils” (12:409).¹ The sentence is perhaps the most striking of Hugo’s many aphoristic formulations of the relation between blindness and artistic creation, blindness and faith, blindness and love. Can we say that Beethoven has simply been annexed to the topos of the blind bard? To do so would be to reduce considerably the power of Hugo’s metaphor. The blind god creating suns possesses not so much a second sight as the power to createex nihilo, to...

  11. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 199-212)

    The writings of Hugo demonstrate that even within the work of a single author blindness appears in multiple contexts, in different kinds of discourse. There are the blind of superstition and the blind of doubt; there are lovers whose blindness brings them innocent bliss; there are blind bards and visionaries, figures of fascination and anxiety for the poet of the nineteenth century. In the preceding chapter, I attempted to use a psychoanalytic approach to show a certain coherence of preoccupations behind these Hugolian approaches to blindness, but it is also necessary to remember the differences, for they show Hugo working...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 213-256)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 257-259)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 260-260)