Caught in the Chasm: Literary Representation and Suicide among People with Impaired Vision
[This is the penultimate draft of an article that appeared in British Journal of Visual Impairment (2005) 23, 3, pp. 117-121.)
Both fictional and factual discourses have situated visual impairment in a causal relationship with suicide. The paper compares samples of these discourses in order to suggest that the fiction may have some bearing on the facts. This alternative explanation becomes all the more thought-provoking when it is considered that not only visual impairment but visual restoration has been posited as a cause of suicide.
The premise of this paper is that “the blind” and “the sighted” are representational constructs that bear no intrinsic relationship with the people for whom they are meant to stand. People with impaired vision and people with unimpaired vision exist in society, while “the blind” and “the sighted” are products of culture, emerging from art, literature and related intellectual activities. The problem is that “the blind” are constructed as a deviant group that helps to render “the sighted” normal, a psychocultural scenario that can have a disabling effect on people with impaired vision. Indeed, because ‘representation shapes the reality that it supposedly reflects’ (Thomson, 1997: 304), a disabling culture necessitates a disabling society. In order to expand on this hypothesis the paper will consider how visual impairment is posited as a cause of suicide in literary representation, the shaping force of which will be evidenced with reference to a sample of sociological case studies. To