What would you do to see like Cézanne?

September 19th, 2010

Joshua Wolf Shenk on learning to love his vision:

[...] I'm at my desk now, wearing the glasses that resulted from my most recent exam, and enjoying the precision they afford me. On the computer screen, I can see the curves and dashes of every character: the dewdrop apostrophe, the skinny I staking out its lonely ground, the playful j snaking underneath the n in enjoy like a girl nudging her boyfriend under a restaurant table. In the kingdom of my room, I am a sultan in leisurely possession of every visual detail – every label on every product I own, every angle on every crack of light.

But over the last six years, I've been conducting an experiment with vision in which I occasionally abdicate this power. I've gone whole days without my glasses. I've walked through the woods without them. I've laid my fingers on the computer keyboard, going by touch, deliberately blind to the exacting world, longing to be open to one that lies beside it, where I might discover a different kind of clarity.

My experiment started by accident on a lousy Saturday in April 2001. [...]

As it happens, I had to spend a day without his glasses last week after their frame snapped shortly after I got into the office. I found the experience more irritating than exhilarating, but as much as anything else that was because I was stuck in a situation where I couldn't arrange my activities around my poor eyesight.1 I might have to try this experiment out one day when I'm not at work. My gut reaction is that I'll mostly get irritated at all the things I'm not seeing. We'll see.

[Via longform.org]

  1. As luck would have it, my main task that day was to check a couple of thousand entries on a spreadsheet, a task that had to be done that day without fail. I ended up having to crank the resolution on my monitor down to 800 x 600 and sit about a foot away from the screen, squinting all day. Not fun.

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