“With small cuts Cro-Magnon man recorded the moon’s phases on the handles of his tools, thinking about her as he worked. Animals. Horizon. Face in a pan of water. In every story I tell comes a point where I can see no further. I hate that point. It is why they call storytellers blind–a taunt.” -Anne Carson, Short Talks
Ursula Le Guin comments that humans use sight as their primary tool in exploring the world, and that of all our senses, sight gives us the most control. Try as I might, with my hands holding my head, I can still hear. I can feel what’s against my skin. But I close my eyes, and you disappear. Even with my eyes open, there’s too much in any space to take in. I see what I focus on, what I turn toward. I see what I choose.
In every story I write, I stumble to the point Anne Carson describes, the point where I can’t see what’s next. We don’t live fictions, but we do live narratives (or maybe we tie our lives to narratives), and I have the same experience there: I can almost never see past where I’m standing. I can see duties, possibilities, friends, and sometimes when I work at it I can see where I am, but anything “further” is on the other side of the water’s surface. (“I am to imitate a mirror like that of water (but water is not a mirror and it is dangerous to think so),” writes Carson in her introduction). I’m not sure I ever knew why I was teaching high school, except that it felt important and I could do it. I’m not sure I know why I’m at the University of Illinois, or where that’s headed, except that it felt like the most balanced step I saw how to make when my foot was coming down. Looking forward from this point, looking at the water’s surface, I see reflections of what’s behind me and shadows of what I hope for and ripples from the current. I can see no further.
Maybe the trick is to go on anyway. Maybe we’re not supposed to be able to see the next step, and the next, and the entirety of a path. Maybe storytellers stumble through their hopes, keeping their fingers on the wall, their toes on the floor. (What philosopher was it who pointed out that, as two legged creatures, we move forward by starting to fall?). Maybe you can learn where you start and balance for your steps, and walk, choosing your direction, but you can’t see where you’ll end up. I wonder what the world would be like if our society focused on touching or hearing, instead of seeing. If we started with the roughness of bark against fingers, the touch of a dog’s bark in our ears, instead of the light that plays tricks with our eyes. We call our prophets seers. What would our world be like if we pulled our wisdom from a different sense?