Friday, February 1, 2013

The Eyes Have It

I should have been born wearing glasses, but I didn't get my first pair until age five. I've lost count of just how many different styles of frames I've worn over the years, although I'm certain it's well over twenty.

Yesterday my newest pair and first rimless ones arrived. I ordered them a month ago and have anxiously awaited them since January 2.

For visually impaired readers, glasses are pretty important. These days eye wear serves both a fashion and utilitarian function. This makes me think about the semiotics of eye wear and literature that references both the eyes and glasses.

When I think about my own eye problems--Strabismus, near-sighted, astigmatism--the text I recall most is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart":

I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture --a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees --very gradually --I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

I, too, have been vexed by my eyes, especially the left one. I've had three surgeries to correct the misalignment, two on the left and one on the right. I stress about this constantly, as I know what it's like to look at a student and have the student say, "Are you talking to me?" because my ornery eye decides to disobey my brain's command to look where I choose.

When I was a kid, I frequently endured taunting because of my "lazy eye," with the epithet of choice being "Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion" from the television show "Daktari" (1966-1969). The teasing ceased in junior eye, until Gilbert Vincent reminded my classmates midway through eighth grade.

These days children receive treatment early, generally as young as six months, but I didn't have my first surgery until eighth grade. My English teacher told my classmates that I'd have to exercise caution to prevent my eye falling out of the socket! That made me somewhat of a celebrity in my small town.

The Great Gatsby probably appeals to me in part because of it's eye symbolism. I'm anxious for the new Baz Luhrmann film, although I won't see it in 3-D since my eyes don't function together. First Fitzgerald introduces Doctor T. J. Eckleburg:

But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust, which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic--their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

For many readers, Doctor T.J. Eckleburg symbolizes an omniscient god. Indeed, Nick talks about following Tom

along the road under Doctor Eckleburg's persistent stare (28).

When I first read the first passage, I glossed in the margin of my book: "Is God saddened by what's happened to the dream?"

I've never had a pair of yellow glasses, but I have had white, blue, brown, turtle, bronze, silver, pinkish-purplish, and now my first pair of rimless and my second embellished with crystals.
Jane Austin 1st editions, and
the pink/purple glasses.

The owl-eyed man would fit right in with those who wear glasses primarily as a fashion accessory rather than from necessity since like so much in Gatsby, his glasses are real but not much else about him is authentic.

Just as Piggy's glasses in Lord of the Flies are an essential part of him, so too are my specs an essential part of me. I think about semiotics and rhetoric when I choose new frames. What do I want to communicate about myself?

My last pair, the pinkish-purple Lieber frames, had a row of crystals along the top that sparkled as I bent my head to grade papers. My new frames are rimless. A former student commented, "They open up your face." When I showed a picture to my friend Ann, she said, "They show more of your face."

Prior to those remarks, I hadn't thought much about my glasses as something to hide behind, although I'm sure some might choose frames with that in mind. I have small facial features and a strong prescription, so both factor into my choice of small glasses. In the past the technology hadn't advanced enough for me to have rimless, although I've longed for them over the years.

For the boys, Piggy's glasses are a technological advancement that Jack wants to use as "burning-glasses."

But when we first meet Piggy, he

wiped his glasses and adjusted them on his button nose. The frame had made a deep, pink V on the bridge.

Indeed, dealing with the sweat issue is challenging but not nearly as much as when the lenses were glass.

Of course, the biggest worry is breakage, something Piggy knows all too well. Piggy

saw more clearly if he removed his glasses and shifted the one lens to the other eye; but even through the good eye, after what had happened, Ralph remained unmistakably Ralph. (155)
Piggy took back his glasses and looked at the smoke with pleasure. (162)
He was a chief now in truth; and made stabbing motions with his spear. From his left hand dangled Piggy's broken glasses. (168)

Like Piggy, I'm nearly blind and very vulnerable without my glasses and to see

I got to have them specs.

Until next time, "Here's looking at you, Kid!"