Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Case of the Colorblind Painter

Sack's account of the case of Mr. I, the painter who loses his color vision, really struck a chord with me. To lose something that enables your artistic life is frightening and devistating. Mr. I's whole life and career was built around the richness of color and using color in his paintings to express himself. It made me think of what it would be like if I lost my hearing. As a singer I couldn't imagine my world without music; without being able to hear what was coming out of my mouth. It's a nightmarish thought and I don't know how I would react if something like that happened, especially late in life. What was facinating about this particular case was how Mr. I adapted after some time to his new condition: his world in shades of grey. Sachs writes how Mr. I gradually became a "night person" and would travel to different cities and explore the world at night. Mr. I's color memory quickly began to disolve and he learned to see in a whole new way. In a way that was "highly refined". Mr. I describes how textures now stood out to him, he could read licence plates from four blocks away, and enjoys the richness of his new world. What was extremely interesting to me was, three years after his injury, when Isreal Rosenfeld suggested that Mr. I might be able to restore his color vision, Mr. I declined. "...he found the suggestion unintelligible, and repugnant. Now that color had lost its former associations, its sense, he could no longer imagine what its restoration would be like. Its reintroduction would be grossly confusing, he thought, might force a welter of irrevelant sensations upon him, and disrupt the now-reestablished visual order of his world". Sachs also writes of other cases of people who grow to embrace their deformity, as in the case of John Hull who loses his sight completely. A couple years after he went blind he came to see his condition as " a dark, paradoxical gift". These different cases that Sachs writes about really inforces the strenght of human beings and people's will to live and accept their circumstances.


james said...

This was a fascinating literature and this summary was very helpful. Thank you.

James N.
Brooklyn NY

joy said...

You might find Vikram Seth's novel "An Equal Music" interesting, if the idea of losing your hearing as a singer frightens you. (No spoilers - I won't say more!)