sight: a dominant metaphor


We’ve just come off talking about Raymond Carver’s story “Cathedral” in intro to lit. The discussion came down to the eye and the question of sight so important to Wyatt, Moore and Gibbins, Shakespeare, and Bacon.

“‘Take a look. What do you think?'” Robert asks Bub, the protagonist of “Cathedral,” after they’ve drawn a cathedral on paper.

“But I had my eyes closed,” Bub responds. “I thought I’d keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do. . . . I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything.”

Here’s where Bub resolves his problem. The story ends with “insight.” In the story Bub’s blind to lots of things and in the end he looks inside. As Bacon would claim, there are problems with a reliance on the sense of sight as a means to draw conclusions. Case in point is Lear who point blank asks Goneril and Regan in King Lear to confiscate his eyes, a metaphor for judgement. He is blind to their trickery.

Likewise, Satan appeals to Eve’s sense of sight as she “eyeballs” the fruit of the forbidden tree. Watchmen tests our judgement in the graphic tale by building multisequential narrative lines into single panels.

Sight is a complex metaphor. It’s drilled into the language that we use.

Here’s a question: do we “see” music?

11 thoughts on “sight: a dominant metaphor

  1. neha

    So, when does teaching actually become gratifying for you? When you “see” your students “seeing” better? Honestly, I’ve begun to think that everything that my eyes touch is an illusion-either that,or everything comes with a deeper meaning attached. Even a can opener. So I suppose that the next time I hear music, I’ll be able to see the notes floating around, having a merry lil’ picnic, hovering right over my head.

  2. D

    i think that ‘seeing’ here goes beyong visualisation. it is proabably metaphor for ‘feeling’ in a the sense of experiencing.
    music can be seen in the way that it makes us feel, it can be understood and enjoyed, simply for that.

  3. neha

    C’est should be in the Brit Lit class. We’ve spent half a semester going over the metaphor of “sight”.

  4. D

    well, personally i think it’s beyond literture. its not as much about the writing as about the writer,. and thats probably why some form of writing appeals more than others. its identifing with a state of mind that has been verbally addressed. so i think anyway.

  5. ersinghaus


    All of western culture can be inferred from a can opener: what is its material, what is its form, who made it, and what is its purpose. Beyond that, how will it be used, on what industry is it dependent, what other materials does it link to, and then we move to cans.

  6. J

    You can see music if you allow it to infiltrate the senses. I can “feel” my memories if I close my eyes and summon each cell to bring forth their individual memory, as each one does have the capacity to retain it. It can simultaneously be heart wrenching and an incredible gift – another “fine line” It’s all about sensory perception.

  7. Mike Arnzen

    This is such an important lesson. I recommend an old book on this topic — John Berger’s “WAYS OF SEEING” (also available on bbc video, I believe).

    I’m trying to figure out who’s eye that is in the graphic you posted… it looks like me when I’ve spent all day on the computer. ;-)

  8. Katherine Nowakowski

    Ah, can one see music? It’s something I enjoy experiencing every day. I agree with J, you must let music infiltrate your senses to really appreciate what it can do. Try listening to different types of music while reading and notice the differences when you try to interpret the text. Listen to anything by Godspeed you! Black Emperor, then write or create some art and see what you come up with. And what about dancing? Dancing can be a visual interpretation of how music makes you feel. If you get a chance, see the film Baraka (it’s playing at the Cinestudio on the Trinity campus at the end of this month)there’s no dialog, just music and film from around the world. The music interprets the film and vice-versa.

  9. Bob Brown

    I’m not in any of Steve’s classes, but he sends me Lettuce Head updates, so I figure that means I get to comment, too.

    In any event, the whole issue of sight as metaphor, and whether we can “see” music, touches on a question that has long fascintated me. The question is why we–at least we in the West–seem intent on separating the functions that go to make up a single entity.

    In the modern West, I guess, we can start by tracing the notion back to Descartes: mind-body separation, “I think, therefore I am,” etc. But that begs the larger question: Why have we glommed onto the whole notion of functional separation with such enthusiasm? The idea has been a powerful justification for a variety of modern innovations–the assembly line, for example, and the whole notion of individualism. But that, too, doesn’t get at why we seem determined to separate rather than to unify.

    I agree with what other posters have stated: You can “see” music, just as someone without sight can “see” a cathedral. Similarly, a deaf person can hear. (Beethoven wrote the 9th Symphony after he turned deaf.)

    We do this, I think, by turning inside, where unity rather than separation is the natural condition. If it’s so obvious, though, why don’t we do it? What in us, which is to say what in our culture, makes us so resistant?

  10. ersinghaus

    The esteemed Professor Brown makes an interesting point.

    But I’d say that part of the answer to his final question demands a Miltonic response.

    We eat the fruit because we can.

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