Thursday, November 23, 2006

Kate's reply

I thought it would be a good idea to post Kate's reply to my pathetic attempt to answer her question. Also after reading her answer I became somewhat interested in the book by Pierre Villey "The World of the Blind" (Le Monde des Aveugles). Kate did mention however that the book is from the 30's and it might be a bit hard to find... Anyway here are her comments:

Hi Victor,

Thanks very much for your reply. The story re: the roller coaster was fascinating. Sorry about the length of the article--I know Byatt doesn't mention proprioception, although it seems that she does, without using the exact term. Anyways, your mentioning of Victor Hugo was extremely interesting--I recently read parts of Pierre Villey's "The World of the Blind," and he makes special reference to Hugo being popular with blind readers. (He suggests, however, that the "muscular images" that Hugo depicts--for example, the increasing/diminishing of the concrete space surrounding the reader--are especially evocative).

I think the "map or description capacity" is very interesting, especially in regards to spatial representation. I am looking at Milton's "Paradise Lost" (Milton had late-onset blindness) and he does create mapping (on a cosmic level) in his poem. I wonder, though, if mapping could take place within specific images. For example, the initial appearance of Satan in Paradise Lost seems to "map out" muscular movements (that the reader could proprioceptively sense or image, perhaps?):

Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and
combustion down
To bottomless perdition...
(I, 44-47)

To me this image is especially evocative in terms of the "muscular impression" it makes--especially by avoiding the visual--but I have full vision, and so am not sure.

Again, many thanks for your response!


Sunday, November 19, 2006

My reply to Kate - or at least an attempt at a reply...


Apologies for the delay. The truth is I am really not sure how to answer your question. I finally managed to get my hands on the Byatt article (longer reading than I expected) and agree with the idea of imagery. In fact, I believe good poetry (and this is what a good friend told me last summer when I was writing) has the ability to place/situate the individual. The first lines of the poem are crucial in giving a sense of space- almost forcing the individual to imagine a location or a situation. Good writers can easily do this - I am currently reading "Les Miserables" and the courtroom scene when Jean Valjean admits his guilt is a perfect example. But we are not talking about imagery but proprioception and here I suspect it is more difficult – but not impossible.

Just to clear things up. I think proprioception should be interpreted at least in this case as some type of "muscle memory". When I first read your question, what immediately popped into my head is that dizzy, swinging or rocking feeling you can get when you go to bed after having spent the entire day at an amusement park riding the roller coasters. Although our vision does play a great part in giving that "strange" feeling in our stomach, I think it cannot be denied that the actual feeling is the result of a transition of states - by this I mean a movement (or constant movements) that we are and our bodies are not accustomed to and are capable of making an impression. Vision does play a role in this as we can see a changing state/perpsective and we can almost appreciate what is going to happen just by looking at the rollercoaster or any form of ride. Vision however is not necessary. Or to quote Susana Millar “vision is neither necessary nor sufficient.” Two years ago I happened to take some of my students to an amusement park in Brighton (nothing like La Ronde) and it did not surprise me at all that we all shared the same feelings when riding the rollercoaster. In fact my blind students probably felt more as there must be a certain amount of surprise and anticipation - something like riding a rollercoaster in the dark like in Disney.

Anyway... the fact that these individuals can appreciate these types of sensations and that these can be at least involuntarily evoked means that that some of these sensations are transferable. So now we get back to poetry. Are we able to transfer these sensations when reading a piece of poetry? I think that yes but it is not as simple as it is done with imagery. Here we are assuming that the congenitally blind are capable of imagery (something I really believe that is possible and think it is crucial to this argument). The reason I say that it is possible but not that simple is because I believe it to be a two-step process - at least when it is a voluntary experience. It requires individuals first to put themselves in the situation through the description and then if the placement is accurate enough, in the sense of evoking similar (not necessarily identical) muscle experiences, then the individual might feel something.

I think a better answer but one that does not necessarily apply to poetry but fiction is the map or location description capacity of some authors. This I think is a much simpler and better answer to your question.

Rafael Sabatini, Alexandre Dumas and to some extent Hugo were able to give very good descriptions of the streets of Paris, or the plantations in the Caribbean or whatever they wanted to describe. Hugo writes about the Architecture of the whole of Paris in “Notre Dame de Paris. In fact the whole book can be seen as a critique of architecture and some chapters are filled with details. Dumas did the same in his 3-musketeer saga. He depicts the streets of Paris in great detail (although sometimes he made some serious mistakes). In most cases these descriptions were narrated by the author both placing the and the hero individual directly in the setting. He describes for example when D’Artagnan walks from his house to the Louvre or Place de Greve or to the pub and these were accurate descriptions – map like descriptions. In this manner a proprioceptive transfer would consist of reading (and remembering these descriptions) and putting them to use when face or walking in these streets or having walked these streets (or circuit) in the past, feeling what the author is writing because of a prior experience that was registered through a type of muscle memory - here we assume that the person is blind and his/her recollection is purely based on movements that were once made.

I am not sure I am making much sense and I think that with the fear of over extrapolation I will stop here… Let me know if you think this is complete nonsense!


Saturday, November 11, 2006

A reply to Kate from McGill University: A.S Byatt, proprioception, poetry and the blind

Last night Kate from McGill University left me this comment:

"Hi, I'm a student at McGill University, and wondered if proprioception could possible be evoked through poetry. A.S. Byatt published a paper in the TLS a month ago or so about mirror neurons being fired when reading certain works of poetry (she cited Donne). But perhaps the reader could also have a proprioceptive experience through reading poetry, particularly the blind? This may have gotten away from the main argument of your blog entry, but I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks."

Kate, I'm not really a neuropsycholgist but the question really does interest me - at least in the sense of mental representation in the abscence of vision and proprioception. Give me a few days, I actually want to read what Byatt wrote (do you have the article?) and I'll see if I can come up with something coherent.

For now I found these two blogs that might interest you: So Many Books & Musings from Lehigh Valley

btw - I did my undergraduate at Concordia University :)

Have a good weekend,