Friday, March 18, 2011

DARK MATTERS or THE PRIORITY OF THE SENSES

I’m blind in my left eye. Not completely. I know if you’re wearing a collared shirt, for example, but I don’t know paisley from polka dots when I cover my nearsighted right. The rest is a cubist hodgepodge that I’ve never been able to describe, even with the normalizing reference of the functional other. Things don’t distort like a trippy mirror -- it’s not some greasy finger swipe on a Retina View iPhone. It’s more like: the things I see I also feel as real unto themselves … so they seem robbed from within, if that makes any sense at all.

And it’s not like having an eye patch -- though that household experiment will quickly show you how hilariously bad my depth perception is! Sit shotgun with me as I drive and you’ll sprout a phantom brake pedal pretty quick. And since I can only experience depth through motion, I come across as more manic in person than I am at heart. Perhaps it goes without saying, but between the cosmetic liabilities of a lazy eye and the physical liabilities of zero depth perception, I have an acute fear of … superficiality. Maybe the mania real after all.

I imagine stereoscopic vision to be a kind of tactile, not visual, gift. One uses two eyes to wrap around the face in front of you .. and the “image” you experience is not just a broader panorama, but a composite holographic reality forged in a cortex at the back of your head. (As if reading Zizek weren’t already a giddy conceptual roller-coaster, I have to say: his Parallax View takes on a boneheadedly literal significance for me. Maybe I should try reading it in Braille?) Someone on Radiolab once described sound as “touch from a distance.” Well, vision presumes distance so … stereoscopic vision must be the highest kind of touch from the greatest possible distance, yes?


It’s been this way since birth. I have no memory of its loss, at least, so I’ve had little to mourn, just a lot to learn. If I mourn anything, it’s this fanciful construction of “touch from a distance.” Nietzsche would pat me on the back in that gentle, sympathetic manner for which he was so famous and say:
Yes! But your good eye is therefore stronger! It has tyrannized over the weaker
eye and you are better for your suffering!

Lovely thought, Fred, but I have no way of knowing because once you get beyond the senses, you have to wonder how those senses shaped everything else within. In other words: because mysight is divorced from the tactile, does that mean I’m fundamentally divorced from the things I see? Or, perhaps worse, does it mean that I’m hopelessly flooded with the visual because I must experience it as an unalloyed sensation? Either option makes me feel like a walking heart-attack. And when it comes to exploding hearts, one shouldn’t seek Nietzsche as a physician.



Whenever I go to a new eye doctor and tell him “yeah, a pre-natal virus damaged my retina while I was in the womb” they always reply with this curious “uh-huh” … as if to say “that’s one explanation, sure.” I’m open to other explanations, I suppose, because I happen to need my eyes -- both of them -- for my job. I’m not an airline pilot; I’m an actor. So the only lives at stake are psychic lives, not corporeal ones. As I said, it’s troublesome for cosmetic reasons, but mostly it’s troublesome because I long to connect with my dear scene partner, who must navigate my swinging “window to the soul” as he or she navigates … you know … the actual scene we’re working on.


This isn’t an issue when I’m in my element. I’ve carved out a specialty for monsters and sufferers over the years, so I’ve learned to express more through evasion, the tangled language of shadows. I’m nearly impossible to film, so the distance and lyric suspension of live theatre gives me a place to work without too much distraction (for the audience, at least). But what happens when I have to stand tall and simply say I love you?

Thankfully, no one says anything simply in Itamar Moses’s romantic comedy Completeness. Certainly no one says “I love you.” I may be wrong, but I don’t think the word “love” comes up at all. This is all to Itamar’s credit as a writer, so for lack of a more complete word … the connection, the hunger, the (actor lexicon alert!) motivation to simply look and touch and touch-by-looking …

(ELLIOT touches her face. Her arms. Just touching her. He does this for a few moments. Then:)

MOLLY: What are you doing?

ELLIOT: I don’t know. I just love this moment when you’re suddenly allowed to start … touching someone? Like, you’ve wanted to, but of course you can’t just walk up to someone and touch them, but then the membrane is broken, and you can? Like, I’ve been thinking about touching you? More or less since the first time I saw you?

MOLLY: Sure. I mean, I’d … seen you too.

ELLIOT: Well, right, but for all I knew that was imaginary?

So after rehearsals I run away and try to build a physic couture that will say it for me …

Zoom out. Most of the universe is blind. Not merely dark or dark matter, but actively willfully blind.


Most of the universe has no need for sight. What light there is diffuses and becomes more blind as time and space goes on. The more we see from Earth, the more we see no need of sight. The farther and further we peer, the more we see how peerless our vantage is. Most of the universe is blind. Not simply blind, but blind to an overwhelming magnitude, such that vision itself becomes a trifle. Unless you don’t look to far.

Meantime, we are creatures of sight. Most of our cognitive input comes from sight. What do they say? It’s 70% how you look … 20% how you sound … and 10% semantics. So if, as Lacan says, the subconscious is structured like a language, then what top-heavy mountain of light must we move to say anything like I love you and mean it? How does what I’ve seen without ever touching shape the way I touch? Vision is another kind of desire -- not a vehicle for desire, but desire itself. It must issue from some primordial need we had, one that predated sight because it caused it.


And vision is only possible or necessary at the origin, not the extremity. One must sit close to the young, burning source of it all. The angry mash of mass that births a sun. To propagate anyward is to leave your eyes behind. On a long enough timeline, vision is not the pinnacle of evolution; it’s only the beginning. And on a big enough scale … dark matter does most of the heavy lifting.

I have to wonder, then: can dark matter do the heavy lifting here in sunny SoCal?



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