|Thanks for joining me for the 2016 Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by the team at|
TWO WRITING TEACHERS. Check out more slices here.
Blindness permeates many of the texts my AP Literature and Composition students and I have read this year. But on a personal level, loss of sight is something I think about often.
My father, as I've written elsewhere, lost his sight when I was in sixth grade. When I was in seventh grade, I walked with him to the polls for the 1972 presidential election and marked his ballot. Voting and the serious responsibility of casting my ballot has guided my obsession with presidential politics.
In Blindness, Jose Saramago writes: "I don't think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see." The novel tells the story of a world in which all, quite literally, go blind. "Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are."
As social commentary, Blindness offers a poignant critique of both our refusal to see and our unwillingness to see the ugliness that pushes against us daily. Characters in the novel behave in unspeakable ways because they think they will not be seen. Yet one character does see. One character remains sighted.
These days I see an electorate metaphorically blinded--blinded by hatred, blinded by a lack of historical knowledge, blinded by ignorance of their civic responsibility, blinded by many things that should not be blinding us if we are to function as responsible members of a democratic republic. As others, including David Denby, have spoken, I can't help but wander if our politics would look different if more people read, if more people knew the stories and lessons of literature. I think it's Denby who asks if someone like Trump could have risen to popularity if more people had read Huck Finn. Of course, we can't answer this hypothetical question because it lives in the world of the imagined.
I'm a teacher who likes a certain level of decorum and respect both for myself and the students in my classroom. Indeed, I insist on it. Yet in a political world unhinged from any sense of propriety, I find it increasingly difficult to offer reasons for manners to my students. Even one of the most polite, mannerly young men recently told me that he "likes Trump." I told him I'm surprised because I see him as such a polite, gentlemanly man and see Trump as offensive to women.
"If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals." Donald Trump acts like an animal and prides himself on his buffoonery.
We often talk about the difficulty of quantifying the value of books, but Saramago offers us an undeniable qualifiable benefit of literature when he writes:
If, before every action, we were to begin by weighing up the consequences, thinking about them in earnest, first immediate consequences, then the probable, then the possible, then the imaginable ones, we should never move beyond the point where our first thought brought us to a halt. The good and evil resulting from our words and deeds go on appointing themselves, one assumes in a reasonably uniform and balanced way, throughout all the days to follow, including those endless days, when we shall not be here to find out to congratulate ourselves or ask for pardon, indeed there are those who claim that this is the much talked of immortality.
I frequently laugh at and share political jokes, and admit that those that target Donald Trump are my favorites these days. Still, we as voters must take a serious, judging glance at this wannabe duke and consider the consequence to our country for this IS the moral question of our time. This IS the possible immortality.
*I rarely write about politics directly unrelated to to education. I'm inspired by the connections to literature Robin Bates makes daily on his superb blog "Better Living Through Beowulf."