I stopped wearing contact lenses; sadly, the medieval period still advances on us

by Yule Heibel on September 14, 2004

An early winter has settled on Victoria — at least, that’s what it feels like. Drought and heat are just a memory: gone the searingly empty summer air incinerated to elemental oxygen, replaced instead by palpably moist air, a veritable wet blanket that encourages the unspeakable undercover doings of moss and fungus and all things close to the ground. This is the fastest summer sign-off I’ve ever seen, the quickest seasonal switch from one extreme to another, and it seems uncannily permanent. Sure, there may yet be a return to “Indian Summer” at some point, there may indeed be something more seasonal just around the corner, but somehow it doesn’t feel like it.

Just now, I wasted twenty minutes looking through an old journal, and found this entry from March 6, 1988, which made me laugh. I wrote it when I was in my second year of the PhD program at Harvard, where I was (among other things) preparing for my General Exams (including the dreaded “Connoisseurship”), working in the Print Room at the Fogg Art Museum, finishing my Qualifying Paper (a kind of mini-thesis) prior to Exams, teaching as a Teaching Fellow for a course I described as “Vogon poetry,” and, worst of all, teetotalling to keep myself “in training.” It was …uh, stressful, a really high-pressure time. Today, other things might freak me out, but I don’t wear contact lenses anymore:

Yesterday at 10 I dozed off on the couch and awoke some time later to find that my contacts were glued to my eyeballs. When I tried to remove them, they literally were stuck, and came off only after some tugging. The strange thing was that this experience brought me within hair’s breadth of passing out. I struggled very hard against blacking out, and after I safely removed the lenses, I spent 10 minutes on the bed, deep breathing, fighting back the nausea that accompanies fainting, trying to regain consciousness, fighting back the tunnel vision and blackness. It made me think of strange things. It didn’t hurt, that wasn’t it, but it made me think that maybe the organs — like the eyes, for example — have their own consciousness, which, if impinged on in the wrong way, can take over and do strange things to you even if you don’t think that it’s the appropriate response. It has to do with the notion of the author, I guess. We like to think that that space between our ears is our author, and then an organ does something of its own accord, and this makes the whole authorial edifice crumble. It reminded me of medieval thought, or of thinking, for example — since we’re on the subject of eyes and seeing — about the belief that color and light are properties of objects: that object is such and such a color not because it reflects light rays at such and such a frequency — light rays that come to it from elsewhere and that are the carriers of optical color — but rather it is such and such a color because that is its property, and the color emanates from it. Likewise that the eye could be a sense organ with some kind of power of its own, not just a servant of the brain, of the author. It made me think that with the authorial edifice in disarray in this our “pomo” age of deconstructivism, we are regressing to some kind of medieval comprehension of the world. My contacts stuck to my eyes and my fainting reaction were my contribution to retro-medieval sensation.

Medievalism wasn’t my field of study of course. It was Modernism specifically, and “18th century to the present” generally. My journal entries, however, badgered subjects that went beyond those silly limits. For one thing, there is so much stuff about the body and feminist theory in these notes, and it’s all weird and terribly complicated, but oddly provocative, as though orifices had eyes and the body of theory had contacts stuck everywhere. One day I should sort through it all, perhaps to emerge at the other end. Refracted or digested? Offering a screen or a dish? Something to view or to chew on?

What’s the relationship between allegory and dialectics?

Enjoy this picture: it is not medieval:

{ 1 comment }

maria September 16, 2004 at 12:47 pm

The excerpt from your diary was a fascinating read, Yule. It rand a few bells of recognition for me, in the wake of own organs having their own little pre-Renaissance fair on me this past summer. But what I really wanted to say was to encourage you to cull and put together your writing on the body and feminist theory. I would love to see more on that….

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