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(in)visible: Blindness or an essay on the (innocent) eye….

The following text was kindly submitted to the writingplace by Portuguese architects Carolina Coelho* and Bruno Gil**. With it, we open a series of fascinating contributions to our monthly topic (in)visibility and further initiatives to come. – J.M.H.

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 “The green light came on at last, the cars moved off briskly, but then it became clear that not all of them were equally quick off the mark.[…] Some drivers have already got out of their cars, prepared to push the stranded vehicle to a spot where it will not hold up the traffic, they beat furiously on the closed window, the man inside turns his head in their direction, first to one side then the other, he is clearly shouting something, to judge by the movements of his mouth he appears to be repeating some words, not one but three, as turns out to be the case when someone finally manages to open the door, I am blind.”  [1]

 

(In)visibility  can be taken on by many outlooks, but as Portuguese architects, intending to encapsulate architecture and literature, we eventually linked our José Saramago and the living experience in a particular space, though invisible, but certainly not blank. In his essay, “Blindness” (or specially in his original Portuguese title “Ensaio sobre a cegueira”: essay on blindness), Saramago depicts a world – his imaginative but very honest world – where a massive outbreak of blindness questions individual and mostly society’s principals and virtues… in a world where no one could see, and foremost be seen, the novel lays bare what was not seen before… the blind recognize now what people once did not show… their thoughts and their deepest feelings and behaviors arise…

On our path through the reading of the book, and despite the blindness of its characters, our senses become alive with each glimpse of a scent, sound or touch that is thoroughly or even slightly portrayed…. Readers are not blind before this reality, they become more and more aware, alive and sensitive, when they behold the not so innocent people that try to come out of this situation by laying out their hidden, but surely felt and believed thoughts and proceedings.

As for the characters, the falling into blindness and its sharing with others, pushed them to perceive a space as they did not before. The asylum of Saramago’s essay is a raw set for unravelling the basic instinct of survival. At the same time, survival as a critical state is mediated by the viewpoint of the sole character that persists to be able to see, or metaphorically, to critically be aware of her surroundings. As highlighted by the author: “If you can see, look. If you can look, observe” [2].

To unveil invisibility is to reach the outside space where every single thing of the inside space gets free of fuzziness, appearing as they are, independently, or as found for the very first time, condensing the archaic and the future within the same perspective, almost as an independent individual within a group, conquering the light of the unseen. Through the words on the outsideness of Elizabeth Grosz : “to see what cannot be seen is to be unable to experience this inside in its own terms. Something is lost—the immediate intimacy of an inside position; and something is gained—the ability to critically evaluate that position and to possibly compare it with others.” [3]

Perhaps, that is why the “innocence of the eye” of John Ruskin[4] was actually already a shy availability for the virtual condition of a modernity, stripped bare of the realism of the moment and conquering the duration of time, ultimately as an expanded modernity where the present is anything but an instance of the zeitgeist and the resilience towards “Les yeux qui ne voient pas”….


[1] SARAMAGO, J.(1997). Blindness: [a novel]. Giovanni Pontieri (trans.). New York: Harcourt Brace & Company. Original Portuguese ed. 1995, pp. 1-2.

[2]Book of Exhortations APUD Saramago

[3] Grosz, E. A. (2001). Architecture from the outside: Essays on virtual and real space. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, p. XV.

[4]innocence of the eye, that is to say, of a sort of childish perception”

 Ruskin, J. (1857) The elements of drawing: in three letters to beginners. London: Smith, Elder, and Co, p .64.

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Biographical Note:

Coelho + Gil

* Carolina Coelho, is an architect graduated from the Department of Architecture of the Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Coimbra, in 2008, author of the graduate thesis: “The matter of the architect: the Portuguese society and the architect, today”. She is currently investigating Life within architecture, participatory design processes and user research studies, applied to schools buildings today.

** Bruno Gil is an architect graduated from the Department of Architecture of the Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Coimbra, in 2005, where he presented his graduate thesis “Architecture School, Today.” He was co-founder of the architecture magazine NU in 2002. His research interests focus on issues related to the practice of architectural research, identifying disciplinary specificities, research cultures, topics and methods, assessing the context of research within schools of architecture and its reflections on practice.

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