Blind Sound Walk I

Marshall McLuhan, in his “Visual and Acoustic Space,” tells the story of Jacques Lusseyran who was accidentally blinded in elementary school. Lussseyran, talking about being blinded, says:

“Sounds had the same individuality of light. They were neither inside nor outside, but were passing through me. They gave me my bearings  in space and put me in touch with things. It was not like signals that they functioned but like replies…”

After this quote McLuhan goes on to postulate that in modern society we are much more visual than aural. He says that this was not always the case and that before the collapse of oral traditions sound eclipsed sight, and we lived in a primarily audible universe.

I decided I wanted  to see what it was like to be blind. My wife and I went to South Williamsburg and helped each other do blindfolded walks around that neighborhood:

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At first it was scary, the fear of falling down or getting run over or something else outside of my control happening overshadowed the experience. After a little while of walking though, my brain/body realized Kiori (my wife) wasn’t going to let anything like that happen. Once I could let go of the fear I started to analyze sounds: oh there is a truck, oh someone is walking past me, a car over that-a-way is honking it’s horn. I was also involuntarily putting together a mental image of what I thought the space I was walking through looked like. After a little while longer of walking I let go further and this analyzing of sounds and visual imagining passed away. I found myself in a wash of sound, sound coming from everywhere of all various types. It was such a rich world, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

After completing our route we switched, Kiori put on the blindfold and I led. This time around for me the sounds had such less precedence. I found myself totally absorbed visually and not even really paying attention to the sounds. It was a completely different world! I realized how visual I really am. The way I imagined the route looking when I was blind was totally different from how it looked in reality as well.

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