This project is an interdisciplinary investigation of the ways in which the beauty which the sighted experience in primarily visual terms registers itself on the awareness of the blind. I present portrayals of the experience of blindness by three sighted playwrights as a medium through which to place recent shifts in aesthetic theory and various discourses on the experience of marginality into meaningful relation to one another.
In the first chapter I demarcate the conceptual boundaries within which the investigation is conducted. I present an account of the different levels at which theorists and artists are endeavoring to undo the traditional hegemony of vision and isolate instances of ocularcentric conceptions of beauty for further investigation. I trace a connection between a postmodern weariness of the traditional spectatorial approach to beauty and a recent literary tendency towards a brightening of what Georgina Kleege terms the “Oedipal gloom.” I explain the reasoning behind the restriction of the enquiry to non-metaphorical conceptions of blindness and my deliberate avoidance of ocular rhetoric which is laden with metaphorical connotation.
Chapters Two to Four represent the literary section of the thesis. They consider in turn Synge’s _The Well of the Saints_, Yeats’s _On Baile’s Strand_ and Friel’s _Molly Sweeney_. I place the portrayed aesthetic experiences in the context of conventional accounts of certain aspects of the ‘universal’ aesthetic experience and consider the extent to which Synge’s musicianship and general sensitivity as a listener, Yeats’s immersion in the visual arts and captivation by visual beauty in general, and Friel’s fascination with the limits of language, can be said to inform their respective renderings of a non-visual aesthetic.
Chapter Five serves as a connective between the theoretical and literary sections of the thesis and the sampling of relevant extracts from the autobiographies of the blind which follows in Chapter Six. The fifth chapter examines some aspects of the psychology of perception which help to generate an understanding of the way the theory, the imaginative portrayals and the lived experience interface with one another. The final chapter is dedicated almost exclusively to the testimony of the blind. I contrast the type of order which tends to be a feature of their everyday existence with the order which is commonly hailed as a primary component of the aesthetic experience. I then detail the type of dramatic restructuring which the onset of adventitious blindness generally prompts and explain its role in the development of an appreciation of non-visual sites of beauty. I contrast the impediment that residual visual memory comes to assume within the aesthetic experience of the blind with the perspective brought to their task by the sighted dramatists who undertake a portrayal of the condition.
What surfaces at the end of the investigation into the translations between theoretical, imaginative, and lived accounts of blindness, is a description of the tendency among the sighted to aestheticize blindness on visual terms, and a review of the rewards awaiting the sighted artist who manages to resist that particular temptation.